Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can benefit people with respiratory symptoms or dry skin.
There are several ways to use humidifiers in the home or office, but there are also some risks.
In this article, learn about the benefits of humidifiers, how to use them correctly, and precautions to take.
Dry air can cause moisture to evaporate from the skin and respiratory symptoms to worsen over time. Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can counteract these problems.
Humidifiers can help people who experience:
- dry skin
- irritated eyes
- dryness in the throat or airways
- frequent coughs
- bloody noses
- sinus headaches
- cracked lips
Some people experience respiratory symptoms in the summer months, when the weather is hot, and the air contains more allergens. Air conditioners and fans can circulate dry air through the room, and air conditioners remove any moisture from the air. A humidifier may be beneficial during this season.
However, people are more likely to benefit from a humidifier in the cold months, when cold air dries out the lungs, nose, and lips. Also, some types of central heating can dry out the air indoors.
Benefits of a humidifier may include:
1. Preventing influenza
Authors of one study noted that humidifiers might reduce the risk of catching the flu. After adding the influenza virus to the air with a simulated cough, researchers found that humidity levels above 40 percent rapidly deactivated virus particles, making them much less likely to be infectious.
2. Making a cough more productive
Dry air can cause a person to have a dry, unproductive cough. Adding humidity to the air can get more moisture into the airways, which can make a cough more productive. A productive cough releases trapped or sticky phlegm.
3. Reducing snoring
Increasing the amount of moisture in the air can also reduce snoring. If the air is dry, a person’s airways are less likely to be sufficiently lubricated, which can make snoring worse.
Adding humidity to the air by running a humidifier at night may help to relieve some symptoms.
4. Keeping the skin and hair moist
Some people notice that their skin, lips, and hair become dry and fragile in the winter.
Many types of heating units pump hot, dry air through the house or office, which can make the skin dry, itchy, or flaky. Cold air outside can also dry out the skin.
Using a humidifier to add moisture to the indoor air may help to reduce the occurrence of dry, cracked skin.
5. Benefits for the home
Moisture from a humidifier can be helpful around the home. Any moisture-loving houseplants may become more vibrant, and wood floors or furniture may last longer. Humidity can also help to prevent wallpaper from cracking and static electricity from building up.
Humid air can also feel warmer than dry air, which could help a person to save money on utility bills in winter months.
While most humidifiers have the same basic function, to add moisture to the air, many types are available:
- Steam vaporizers: These use electricity to create steam, which cools before it leaves the unit. However, there is a risk of burning the skin, and people should avoid using steam vaporizers around children.
- Ultrasonic humidifiers: Instead of electricity, these units use vibrations to vaporize water.
- Evaporators: These produce humidity by blowing air past evaporating water.
- Impeller humidifiers: These are generally child-friendly and use rotating disks, rather than heat, to vaporize water.
- Central humidifiers: A person connects one of these units to the central air conditioning in the home or office to add moisture to the entire space.
Sizes can vary. Console humidifiers are large enough to add moisture to an entire house or office, while personal humidifiers are portable and easy to carry.
A humidifier can be a great way to add moisture to the air, but there are some risks to consider.
Humidifiers turn water into breathable vapor in the air. If the unit’s water tank is dirty, the vapor a person breathes will also be dirty.
A dark, humid tank is an environment that fosters germs, but regular cleaning can help to prevent any issues.
Always clean a humidifier thoroughly as directed by the manufacturer. Water should not sit in the humidifier for too long. If the humidifier has a filter, be sure to replace it often.
Too much humidity
Some humidity in the air can be a good thing, but excessive levels can make breathing difficult and some allergy symptoms worse. For example, common allergens, including dust mites, mold, and mildew, thrive in damp environments.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor humidity levels should be between 30 and 50 percent. Humidity levels above 60 percent are too high.
Anyone using a humidifier should also have a humidity meter, or hygrometer, in the room. Some humidifiers have built-in ways to measure humidity, while others require a standalone meter.
Using hard water or tap water
Many manufacturers recommend using only pure, clean water in their humidifiers. There are a few reasons for this.
Unfiltered tap water can contain higher levels of minerals and other particles than purified or distilled water.
Minerals from hard tap water can build up in the machine, causing it to wear down faster than expected.
The humidifier can also push these minerals into the air, and a person may inhale them. The particles may also settle around the room as dust.
While using a humidifier can help with dry sinuses, it can also cause harm. Dust mite and mold growth is promoted more in humid environments, so if people are allergic to dust and mold, or if they have asthma, using a humidifier could aggravate these conditions.
Some other risks associated with using a humidifier include steam burns from units that use heat and the growth of mold where moisture has accumulated on walls and ceilings.
Anyone using a humidifier should avoid getting too close to the machine. When using a humidifier in a room with a child, it is important to supervise them.
Basic tips for using a humidifier include:
- keep track of humidity levels
- change the water in the humidifier regularly
- clean the humidifier regularly
- change any filters as instructed
- use only distilled or purified water that does not contain minerals
- exercise caution when using a humidifier around children
- follow the manufacturer’s instructions
Humidifiers can benefit people with skin issues or respiratory problems who live in areas with low humidity.
It is essential to remember that humidifiers cannot treat underlying conditions, such as asthma. They may be beneficial, but they should not replace medical treatment.
Anyone experiencing new or worsened symptoms when using a humidifier should turn it off and contact a doctor.