The dry air caused by heating systems, especially forced-air heating systems (the most common type of heating system in the United States), can bring on a number of problems for allergy sufferers. Dry air can irritate nasal passageways, leading to sinus infections or sinusitis. Dry air can also lead to increased mucus production, which can pose dangers for asthmatic individuals. Furthermore, dry air can irritate sensitive skin, exacerbating eczema and causing discomfort for those with sensitive skin.
Making sure the air in your home maintains the proper level of humidity is one of the best ways to alleviate these concerns. Humidifiers re-introduce moisture to dry air, creating an environment that's healthy for allergy sufferers.
Humidifiers for Allergy Relief
Those who suffer from chronic sinusitis or frequent sinus infections know that even a small amount of time spent in dry air can create symptoms such as irritated nasal membranes and sinus headaches. Yet even if you do not suffer from regular sinus problems, allergy sufferers are more likely than those without allergies to develop sinus problems.
Environmental control is an excellent way both to stave off recurring sinus problems and to prevent sinus problems from occurring in the first place. The Mayo Clinic states that the goal of treating chronic sinusitis is to reduce sinus inflammation, keep your nasal passages draining, eliminate the underlying cause, and reduce the number of sinus flare-ups you have. Humidifiers are helpful in each of these areas. In fact, the Mayo Clinic goes on to suggest humidification as a method of prevention for both chronic and acute sinusitis: Use a humidifier. If the air in your home is dry, such as it is if you have forced hot air heat, adding moisture to the air may help prevent sinusitis.
Direct humidification of the nasal passages through sinus irrigation products is another treatment option. Humidifiers, however, keep your entire homes moisture levels sinus-friendly.
An added perk to healthy sinuses is that the nasal passages normal function of flushing away allergens remains unhindered. Moist mucous membranes, as opposed to those that are irritated from too-dry indoor air, allow nose airs to properly expel dirt, bacteria, and other particles. While you can use humidifiers for allergy relief, they can also benefit you in many other ways.
Humidifiers Provide Relief for Sensitive Skin
There are several terms used to describe skin allergies: eczema, atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis. Eczema, characterized by swelling, redness, and itching, is a type of inflammation. Atopic dermatitis refers to the general tendency to experience allergy flare-ups related to the skin; this is the most common type of dermatitis, and it occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens. Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, occurs when the skin comes into contact with a particular allergen, nickel and latex being two of the most common.
So how do humidifiers help with eczema and dermatitis? The moisture that humidification units add to the air does a lot to combat the effects of dry air, which can irritate sensitive skin. Environmental control is largely a matter of decreasing total allergen load; when you humidify dry air, you eliminate one more factor that can contribute to skin allergy trouble. (For more about skin allergies, see Eczema FAQ.)
Humidifiers Offer Natural Relief for Colds and the Flu
At least one family incidence of a cold or the flu seems unavoidable during the cold winter months. Using a humidifying unit is a simple, natural, and effective way to ease symptoms. WebMD, in Coping with Flu: 10 Steps to Ease Symptoms, counsels, Run the humidifier. If the air is dry, a warm mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing.
Especially in light of the FDAs warning against using over-the-counter cough and cold medicine in children under two years of age, humidifiers provide an excellent alternative to traditional medicine for the relief of cold and flu symptoms. Humidification units ease irritated nasal passages, help soothe sore throats, and calm down coughs.
Humidification is Good for Your Home
Dry air not only causes potential irritation for your homes inhabitants, but it also poses problems for the home itself. For instance, dry air can cause wallpaper to peel, can create static electricity, and can lead to cracks in paint and wooden furniture and floors. Home humidifiers, in addition to making members of your household feel comfortable, also protect these other aspects of the home by reintroducing proper levels of moisture.
Humidification is also good for your heating bill. Even at the same temperature, dry air feels colder than more humid air. With the added moisture that a humidifier provides, you and your family will feel warmer all while keeping your thermostat set to a temperature that saves you money.
Precautions to Take When Using Humidifiers for Allergy Relief
While incorporating a humidification regimen into your environmental control regimen during the cold, dry winter months goes a long way in easing many of the seasons discomforts, it is very important to keep two things in mind: humidification levels should remain within the 30%-50% range and your unit should be cleaned and maintained according to manufacturer specifications. Not taking these precautions can lead to more problems than you started out with.
Extremely high levels of humidity can create additional allergen problems in your home, specifically with dust mites, who thrive in humid environments, and mold and mildew, which grow easily in an unventilated home that has high humidity levels. Anymore, most humidifying units, such as the Air-O-Swiss 7135 Ultrasonic, U650 Ultrasonic, and the AOS 7142, come with built-in humidity gauges, which cause the unit to shut off when desired humidity levels are reached. Alternately, you can purchase the Acu-Rite Digital Humidity Gauge to monitor humidity levels in your home.
Running humidifiers with contaminated water is also extremely dangerous. Water sitting in the units reservoir may breed bacteria and fungi which is then spewed into the air and inhaled. This can cause a host of lung problems, from flu-like symptoms to serious infections. In addition, mineral deposits present in the water may be released in the mist, which then settles and can also be breathed in. To reduce these possible health hazards from humidifier usage, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests the following:
- Do not allow film and scale to develop in your humidifier. In Air-O-Swiss humidifiers you can use the EZ Cal Cleaner to clean and descale the inside of your humidifier. If possible, change the water in your room humidifier daily. Empty the tank before you fill it. If the tank is not removable, clean it often according to manufacturer's instructions.
- Use distilled or de-mineralized water in your room humidifier to reduce the buildup of scale and the release of dust. Do not use tap water because it contains more minerals. Use demineralization cartridges or filters if supplied or recommended for use with your humidifier.
- Drain and clean the tank of your room humidifier before you store it. Clean it after summer storage. Remove dust on the outside of your unit.
- Clean your room humidifier well and often during the heating season. Be sure to unplug the humidifier before cleaning. Follow the manufacturer's suggested cleaning methods. If chlorine bleach or other cleaning product or disinfectant is used, make sure to rinse the tank well to avoid breathing harmful chemicals. Use a brush or other scrubber to clean the tank. Be careful not to damage the motor or to scratch the inner surface. Clean or replace sponge filters or belts when needed.
- Maintain the relative humidity in your home between 30% and 50% if possible. Humidity levels above 60% may allow moisture to build up indoors and condense on surfaces, where bacteria and fungi can settle and grow. You can measure humidity with an instrument called a hygrometer, available at your local hardware store.
To further protect against the dangers of humidifying with dirty water, many humidifiers come with integrated anti-bacterial components. For instance, many humidifiers use ultrasonic technology that not only creates cool mist but also destroys most microbes. Other humidifiers will heat the water to kill germs or rely on things like silver ions, a natural antimicrobial agent, to keep the tank and system clean. Ultrasonic humidifiers also often feature a demineralization cartridge to guard against the buildup of mineral deposits in and around the unit.
This winter, don't let dry indoor air contribute to allergy problems. From using home humidifiers for allergy relief and keeping your home comfortable by restoring proper moisture levels to preventing those bouts of colds or the flu and protecting wood flooring and furniture, humidifiers an extremely beneficial tool for just about everyone during the cooler fall and winter months.
If you're interesting learning more about humidifiers for allergy relief, check out any of these resources.
✔ Humidifier Buying Guide
✔ Benefits of Home Humidification
✔ Effects of Humidity on the Human Body
✔ Humidifiers For Allergy Relief
✔ Humidity Glossary
✔ Five Things to Consider Before you Buy a Humidifier
✔ Humidifier Maintenance Guide