Simply put, saline is salt water. The water inside our bodies (like in our skin, eyes, and organs) has salt in it. You may have used saline drops to help moisten your eyes, or saline nasal spray to moisten your nasal passages. This is called “isotonic” saline, which is a fancy way of saying that it has the same level of salt as the water in your body. It feels refreshing. If you’ve ever gotten tap water (which has less salt in it than what is inside your body) in your nose, you’ll know it because it hurts!
There is also something called “hypertonic” saline. This means that the level of salt is higher than what is inside your body. The best example of this is ocean water! If you’ve ever gone swimming in the ocean and gotten “pruney,” with wrinkled hands and feet, it’s because of the hypertonic saline. The high level of salt in the ocean water actually draws water out of your skin and dries you out. This is why they say to never drink salt water if you’re thirsty – it will actually dry you out.
How can saline help?
Studies have shown that hypertonic saline can offer medical benefits. This is especially true in people who have cystic fibrosis (CF). By breathing in hypertonic saline in the air, water gets drawn out of the lining in the lungs, the same way it gets drawn out of your skin when you swim. Since people with CF have thick, sticky mucus in their lungs, that extra water can mix with it and make the mucus thinner and easier to cough out. People can get hypertonic saline treatments at home or in a hospital, but guess what is much more fun to do, for people who are healthy enough – surfing!
How did we learn surfing could be helpful for people with CF?
A group of researchers in Australia noticed that people with CF who surfed seemed to be in better health than people with CF who didn’t surf. This led them to study why that was, and they discovered it was the hypertonic saline in the ocean air that was helping. Since they published their research in 2006, many studies have been done to show how breathing in hypertonic saline can help people with CF. This research paper inspired James and Charlie Dunlop, both lifelong surfers, to start Mauli Ola Foundation.
Christy graduated from CSU Sacramento with a BS in Biological sciences. For four years she taught science and coached basketball at a continuation high school. In 2006, she began graduate work at UC Davis in the Genetics Graduate Group, studying autism, and graduated with a MS in Human Genetics. She then went on to earn an MS in Genetic Counseling from UC Irvine, and practiced prenatal genetics for four years. In 2014, she decided to make the move to industry, where she can combine her love of genetics (especially pediatric genetics) with her passion for research and technology. She is currently the product manager for pediatrics at Ambry Genetics.