Controlling your indoor environment, specifically your home humidity, is a critical component of any overall effort to reduce your allergy symptoms. As home humidity and allergies are linked, air that is either too humid or not humid enough can significantly contribute to increased allergy and/or asthma attacks. Here's how:
High Home Humidity and Allergies
While allergy products like allergy relief bedding and microfiber dust cloths deal with allergens directly, products that control humidity have an often unseen, but nevertheless significant, impact on two of the most common allergens in your home: dust mites and mold.
Dust mites thrive in humid environments. As you probably know, dust mites eat shed skin cells. When the environment is humid, our skin absorbs this ambient moisture, making these sloughed-off skin cells a feast of softened tissue for dust mites. In addition, high humidity allows dust mites, like other insects, to absorb the moisture they need to survive (insects don't rely on respiration/breathing like we do and instead often absorb it directly through their bodies).
Ample nourishment means more dust mite feces, the primary component of dust mite allergen, and stronger/more dust mites, who will propagate accordingly. All in all, humidity is good news for dust mites which is bad news for the majority of people dealing with any type of environmental allergy (since the majority, regardless of specific diagnosis, are also affected by dust mites). This same link between home humidity and allergies extends beyond dust mites and also applies to cockroaches, another household pest whose shed skin cells and feces contribute to allergy problems.
In light of this high humidity- thriving dust mites correlation, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI ) says, "To reduce dust mites, it is important to keep humidity below 50% throughout the home by using a dehumidifier or central or window air conditioning." In fact, making sure humidity levels are below this 50% threshold drastically reduces dust mite populations; most will die within a few days.
Dust mites aren't the only allergens that multiply when home humidity is high. Mold, another potent allergen, is also a problem when humidity levels rise. It only takes fourteen to sixteen hours of over-moist air to activate dormant colony forming units. Dormant units, which make their way into the home through ventilation systems as well as open doors and windows, are just waiting for the right conditions in order to reproduce.
Because it only takes a matter of hours before colonies of allergens begin to multiply, its important to dehumidify immediately when high humid conditions occur.
Low Home Humidity and Allergies
First, although dust mites may begin to die off at humidity levels under 50%, at levels below 30% relative humidity, allergens dry out. Dust mite allergen, mold, and bacteria that are dried out are lighter and therefore more easily airborne, which can lead to greater inhalation rates.
In addition, the dry air itself can irritate nasal passages and other mucous membranes, exacerbating allergy symptoms and leading to complications such as sinusitis. When the air is too dry, it dries out nasal passages. As the mucus in your nasal passages and airways dries, its ability to trap allergens, bacteria, and viruses (it's primary role with regard to its part in your immune system) drops, leaving you more susceptible to colds, the flu, or allergic/asthmatic episodes. Sore throats, chapped lips, dry skin, or allergic dermatitis, are also possible repercussions of low home humidity levels.
Allergy relief products, including sinus irrigation products and allergy friendly moisturizers help alleviate these symptoms, but do not address the underlying lack of humidity in the air. To keep the relative humidity in your home in that optimal range, a home humidifier gets to the heart of the matter, restoring moisture back to indoor air and keeping allergy sufferers comfortable through dry conditions.
Ideal Home Humidity and How to Keep it There
We recommend a relative humidity level between 40% and 50% for most homes, particularly for those with people who struggle with allergies, asthma, or eczema. Many humidifiers and dehumidifiers have built-in hygrometers, or humidity gauges, so that units shut off when optimal humidity levels are reached. However, a stand-alone digital humidity gauge allows you to monitor humidity when you are not running a unit or when you need to check an area that may not yet be receiving humidification or dehumidification treatment.
One of the easiest ways to help keep excess humidity in check is with the use of a dehumidifier. They come in all shapes and sizes but all do the same thing - remove moisture from the air. While it's important to note modern air conditioners often remove some amount of moisture, this is not their primary task and relying on this to reduce relative humidity can often results in conditions conducive to mold growth. Air can be cooled yet still feel "sticky" due to high relative humidity. A dehumidifier was specifically designed for the task of removing moisture, and finding the right one for your situation can make all the difference in maintaining healthy humidity levels and a healthy home.
For individual rooms, brands like Danby, Soleus, Sunpentown, and Stadler Form all offer models that quieter and more compact that basement, crawlspace, or whole home dehumidifiers. Some feature integrated condensate pumps while all have internal water tanks to hold extracted moisture.
When focusing on the basement or crawlspace, brands like AprilAire, Santa Fe, and Ebac offer higher moisture extraction rates and more rugged construction to withstand the harsher conditions. Most are exceedingly energy efficient and require very little maintenance. Some models, like AprilAire can also be tied directly into your home's existing HVAC system to help keep your entire home drier with just one machine.
For areas of the home or times of the year that pose too-dry conditions, humidifiers can restore a healthy balance to your indoor relative humidity levels, particularly during the cooler fall and winter months when forced air heating systems dry out indoor air. Check out our comprehensive selection of room humidifiers to find localized relief from dry indoor air.
For more information on controlling home humidity and allergies, and how humidity can impact your health,