Should I Use a Humidifier?

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The Pros and Cons of Using a Humidifier

Now that cold dry weather is finally here, you may be thinking about getting out your humidifier to put some moisture back in the air. A humidifier is a device that increases the level of humidity or moisture in the air of a room. While humidifiers can be very beneficial in the dry winter months, they also carry some health risks that everyone should be aware of, particularly if they are not used and maintained properly.

Humidifiers have a lot of health benefits in helping to keep you from getting sick and reducing allergy and asthma symptoms. Humidifiers can also help prevent the spread of airborne viruses. This is because moistened air makes it more difficult for germs and bacteria to travel. Humidifiers are often also used to help get relief from dry skin, dry throat, dry cough, chapped lips, nose irritation, sinus congestion, nosebleeds, or irritated vocal cords.

In fact, a recent study done by Stephanie Taylor, a Harvard Medical School graduate and lecturer, found that dry air was one of the biggest factors associated with infection in hospitals. In her study, she and her colleagues studied 370 patients in one unit of a hospital to isolate factors associates with patient infections. Surprisingly, at low relative humidity, indoor air was strongly associated with high infection rates. Dr. Taylor explained that when the air is dry, droplets and skin flakes carrying viruses and bacteria are launched into the air and travel farther and longer. Moreover, dry air also harms our natural immune barriers that protect us from infection.

Pediatricians may also recommend using a humidifier in a baby’s nursery. A baby’s skin is especially sensitive to dry climates. Also, babies tend to be more prone to illness because their immune systems have not fully developed. For these reasons, a humidifier can be very beneficial in a baby’s nursery.  

Despite all the health benefits, there are also some risks associated with using a humidifier. For example, it is actually possible that a room can have too much moisture. If your humidifier is set too high, it can result in the proliferation of dust mites which can trigger allergy symptoms. The ideal humidity setting for most homes is approximately 40-60% humidity. You can measure the amount of relative humidity in your home by using a device called a hygrometer. These devices are relatively inexpensive at about $10 and widely available for purchase at major retailers like Amazon and Target.

Additionally, regular cleaning and maintenance of a humidifier is absolutely essential. This is because harmful organisms and bacteria can breed and grow inside humidifiers that are not properly taken care of. It is extremely important to clean the humidifier at regular intervals and replace any filters inside. It is also important to check the humidifier for any film that is collecting on the surface and that there are no signs of hard water deposits forming inside. Failing to properly clean and maintain your humidifier can result in serious health conditions such as pneumonia since uncleaned units are basically just spreading the bacteria they are growing inside all around the room.

The bottom line is that a humidifier can be a beneficial and useful tool to help prevent and reduce cold and flu symptoms in the dry winter months. However, this is only true when the units are properly cleaned and maintained in order to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.