During cold winter months (or in the heat of the summer when your AC is on), you may notice that the air in your home is dry. Just like very humid air could be bad news for your health, dry air may cause nose and eye irritation in otherwise healthy people. One solution is to use a humidifier if the air in your home is too dry. Below, you will learn how humidifiers work, the benefits of using one in your home, and how to choose the right one and use it correctly.
- Humidity levels and health benefit
- 5 Benefits of using a humidifier during sleep
- Other humidifier benefits in your home beyond health
- Which humidifiers to choose?
- Tips for using a humidifier in your home
Humidity levels and health benefit
Very dry and very humid air can affect your health and the condition of your home. When air is too humid, it can encourage mold and mildew growth and contribute to health issues, as well as cause potential damage to your home. If you have asthma or another respiratory illness, dry air may make it worse.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that dry air may cause problems including:
- Dry eyes
- Sore throat
- Dry nasal passages
- Bloody nose
- Make colds and flus worse
- Chapped skin and lips
- Itchy, dry skin
- Worsened asthma and allergy symptoms
Keeping the air in your home from becoming too dry may help with many of these health issues. Depending on where you live, controlling indoor humidity is not always easy. This is where a humidifier may offer benefits. It is best to keep your home’s humidity within an optimal range–not too high and not too low. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you keep the air in your home between 30 and 50 percent humidity.
5 Benefits of using a humidifier during sleep
Humidifiers may be beneficial for adults and children during sleep. Sleep itself aids in repair, rejuvenation and maintenance of our immune system. Adding a humidifier to your bedroom can bolster the effects sleeping naturally provides. Here are some of the benefits you can get from sleeping with a humidifier in your room.
- Air that is not too dry may help you avoid colds and flu: Viral colds and flu can feel awful and can severely affect your sleep. In the winter months, they might seem to pass from person to person with no signs of slowing down. Thankfully, air at acceptable levels of humidity that is not too dry may lessen the infectivity of airborne viruses. Research has found that a humidity level of 40% or higher decreased infectivity levels of influenza virus to about 14%. At less than 23% humidity, almost 75% of the virus retained infectivity (Noti et al., 2013). Higher humidity allows viruses a better chance of attaching to water vapor droplets and falling out of the air, instead of viruses clinging to us and infecting us directly. This helps to explain why the dry climate of winter can leave us more susceptible to illness. Moreover, studies have shown that sleep deprivation is linked to our body’s immune systems–particularly in suppressing immune activity i.e increasing inflammation and reducing antibody response to Hepatitis A and influenza immunizations (Cohen et al., 2009).
- Higher humidity may help loosen congestion: Dry air may cause mucus to become dry and thick, which can result in clogged nasal passages. In turn, this may lead to a stuffy nose, sore throat, and sinus pain. Humidifiers may help by adding moisture to the area, which might help break up phlegm in your nose and chest.
- Cold and flu symptoms may be alleviated: If you do get the flu or a cold, using a humidifier while you sleep may help you recover faster. In addition to loosening congestion, it may help lubricate your nasal passages, allowing you to breathe a lot easier. This may also help alleviate a sore throat and, for some people, sinus headaches, and restore a restful sleep. Moreover, cold and fever symptoms could be worse at night as lying down puts you in a compromised position. Cold, dry air, in addition to a prone sleeping posture can affect how mucus builds up in the nasal cavity and the lack of adequate draining while lying down can create that mucus build up and exacerbate cold and flu symptoms. A humidifier may help alleviate this by adding more moisture to the air.
- Moist air may help prevent dry skin: Dry air may cause dry skin. When your skin is dry, it may crack and wrinkle more easily. This can be incredibly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, when you have dry air in your home, using lotion and chapstick may not be enough to rehydrate skin. One way to help is to have acceptable levels of moisture in the air, so your skin can absorb it. Skin-related conditions that cause itchy skin such as eczema can disturb sleep. The National Eczema Association states that a damaged skin barrier coupled with uneven humidity levels can exacerbate these symptoms. A humidifier, along with creams, may help sufferers retain skin moisture, reduce scratching, and promote uninterrupted sleep.
- It can help keep your hair and scalp healthy: Just like the skin on the rest of your body, your scalp may become dry and irritated when there is a lack of moisture in the air. This may cause your scalp to itch and worsen dandruff. Your hair may be affected, too. Since it is made up of collagen, your hair needs a certain amount of moisture. When exposed to dry air for too long, your hair might become dry and brittle. Acceptable levels of humidity may help with this.
Humidifier benefits for snoring and sleep apnea
Humidifiers may help alleviate dry airways that cause snoring. Snoring results from a constricted airway, resulting in a dry mouth and relaxed throat. This dryness causes the respiratory airways to overcompensate by producing more mucus and therefore more constriction and likelihood of uttering an audible vibration such as snoring. Relieving the causes of snoring, such as dry airways, may help those sleep sounder as well (Stuck et al., 2015).
Habitual snoring could very well indicate an underlying problem such as sleep apnea. Typically this breathing condition would be treated with the use of a CPAP machine in the most severe of cases. Those with snoring issues or sleep apnea could benefit from adding a humidifier to the CPAP treatment. The American Sleep Apnea Association suggests adding a heated humidification (HH) with CPAP to mitigate some problematic features of the CPAP. However, research has shown that HH may not influence CPAP users to continue to use CPAP nor improve sleep itself, but it does improve naso-pharngeal symptoms. (Yu et al., 2012). Since the nasopharynx is part of the nasal cavity of our respiratory system, symptoms such as swelling of the lymph nodes or any other obstruction in this area may cause snoring. We can deduce that those who snore from a naso-pharngeal symptom, may find a heated humidifier useful.
Too much humidity can disturb sleep
Studies by NASA indicate that the ideal humidity level for the optimal sleep condition is between 50-60% (Flynn-Evans, Caddick & Gregory, 2016). Though there are benefits to using a humidifier during sleep, excessive use may actually disrupt sleep patterns. For example, high humidity alters the perception of the room temperature of an enclosed room; the higher the humidity, the hotter the room feels to us. Conversely, if both humidity and heat are elevated, the sweat response will become disrupted, preventing the natural cooling relief of evaporation when we sweat. This can decrease REM and cause you to stay awake. (Okamoto-Mizuno & Mizuno, 2012)
Humidifier benefits for babies and children
For babies and young children, dry air could cause health issues. Using a humidifier may help keep the air within acceptable moisture levels. The main benefits of using a humidifier for babies and kids include:
- Potentially protects their sensitive skin from becoming too dry: When air is dry, a baby or young child may experience dry, irritated skin and chapped lips. It may also aggravate eczema and other chronic skin conditions. Putting moisture back into the air could help your child’s skin stay moisturized.
- Could help them breathe easier: Stuffy noses and coughing can make it hard for children to get a good night of rest. A good humidifier can keep the air in your child’s room moist, which may help keep their nasal passages clear. It may also help loosen congestion.
Of course, your child does not need to be sick or have dry skin to possibly benefit from the use of a humidifier. Moist air in the right amounts may be beneficial for health and could potentially help keep them from getting sick.
Other humidifier benefits in your home beyond health
A humidifier may provide benefits to your home, as well.
- Moist air could be good for your houseplants: To survive (and thrive), plants need water from their soil and the air. Dry air may leave your plant shriveled up.
- Humidity may warm up your home’s air, saving you money on utilities: The more humid the air in your home is, the warmer it can feel. In the cold winter months, you probably spend more on heating than you would like. Running a humidifier may cost less than using your heating system and can make the air feel warmer.
- Humid air might reduce static electricity: When the air in your home is dry, you may notice that touching certain fabrics, other people, or your pets can cause a little shock. A little moisture in the air may help alleviate this annoyance.
- Humidifiers may help protect the wood in your home: Wood exposed to dry air may shrink, split, and crack. This is bad news for your wooden furniture, as well as the doors and trim in your home.
Possible benefits of a humidifier in the spring and summer
Depending on where you live, the weather may have an impact on when the air in your home feels dry. For example, if you live somewhere with high levels of outdoor humidity, you probably run your air conditioner a lot in the summer. Air conditioning may dry out your home’s air. Using a humidifier may help counteract this. If you live somewhere with dry air, a humidifier might be good to use year-round.
Since pollen and mold counts tend to be higher in the spring and summer, using a humidifier in your home may also help keep your sinuses from becoming inflamed.
Which humidifiers to choose?
There are five main categories of humidifiers. Each works in a different way but the end goal for all of them—adequate moisture conditions in your home—is the same. The type you should choose depends on your needs. Let us take a look.
- Evaporators — This type uses a fan to blow air through a moistened filter. Evaporators are an affordable option but may be problematic if they put too much moisture in the air. Excessive humidity can contribute to mold growth and more problems with dust mites, which can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms.
- Central humidifier — This type of humidifier is built into your home’s central heating and air conditioning unit. The benefit of this is that it helps with humidity levels throughout your home instead of just one room. It is the most expensive option.
- Impeller humidifier — Rotating disks that run at high speeds expel moisture into the air in the form of a cool mist. These could be more child-friendly since they do not cause burns. Similar to evaporators, overuse may trigger asthma and allergy reactions.
- Ultrasonic humidifier — With both cool and warm mist options available, ultrasonic humidifiers are versatile. These produce a mist with the help of ultrasonic vibrations. They may also be available in varying sizes.
- Steam vaporizer — These humidifiers are the most portable and least expensive you can find. They work by heating water and then cooling it down before pushing it into the air.
Pros and cons of using cool mist or warm mist humidifiers
Humidifiers release either warm or cool air to help add humidity to a room. Either type could be beneficial, though they each have pros and cons. Which you choose could depend on whether you have children or pets, how big your space is, and your personal preferences.
Some of the benefits and drawbacks of cool mist humidifiers include:
- They use less electricity than warm mist humidifiers.
- They do not contain hot water, which makes them a safer option to use around children.
- They can be noisy since they use fans to propel the water into the air.
- The cool mist can cause the air to feel chill.
The benefits and disadvantages of warm mist humidifiers are:
- They tend to be quieter than cool mist humidifiers.
- The boiling process can help remove waterborne mold and bacteria.
- They only work best in small areas.
- They contain boiling water and are a burn hazard.
- The boiling process requires more electricity to use.
- They can be more difficult to clean due to the minerals left behind from boiling the water.
Tips for using a humidifier in your home
Any time you use a humidifier, you should take care to use it properly. Not only will this extend the life of your humidifier, it can ensure that you and your home receive benefits and are not adversely affected.
- Use distilled or demineralized water — Tap water can contain minerals that can encourage mold to grow. If possible, use filtered water. This will help ensure your humidifier—and the air you breathe—does not encourage mold or bacteria growth.
- Change the water daily — Standing water can cause mold to grow. Be sure to change the water in your humidifier every day.
- Clean it weekly — Again, bacteria and mold are two things you want to avoid. Wipe down the inside of your humidifier with a disinfectant regularly.
- Change filters regularly — Not all humidifiers have filters but if yours does, make sure to change it as often as recommended by the manufacturer. If you do not change it enough, trapped mold and bacteria may be released into the air– definitely not what you are looking for.
It is clear that dry air can affect your health. Adding a bit of moisture to the air with a humidifier can be an easy solution to this problem. Take care not to use one excessively so that moisture levels are too high, which can encourage mold and dust mite problems. Using an air purifier at the same time can also help improve indoor air quality.