Humidifiers and Health


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Humidifier therapy adds moisture to the air to prevent dryness that can cause irritation in many parts of the body. Humidifiers can be particularly effective for treating dry skin, nose, throat, and lips. Some people use a humidifier to ward off the common cold or flu.

However, overusing humidifiers can potentially worsen respiratory problems. It’s important to know how to use them correctly.

What Can I Use a Humidifier For?

Humidity acts as a natural moisturizing agent that can relieve dryness. For this reason, humidifiers are often used for relieving:

  • dry skin
  • sinus congestion
  • dry throat
  • nose irritation
  • bloody noses
  • irritated vocal cords
  • dry cough
  • cracked lips

You may be prone to these discomforts when the air in your home is dry. This is especially common during winter months or when an air conditioner is being used during the summer.

Types of Humidifiers

The type of humidifier you choose depends on your preferences, budget, and the size of the area you want to add moisture to. There are five types of humidifiers:

  • central humidifiers
  • evaporators
  • impeller humidifiers
  • steam vaporizers
  • ultrasonic humidifiers

Central Humidifiers

Central humidifiers are built directly into your home’s air conditioning or heating unit. These are the most expensive types of humidifiers, but they are the best choice if you want to add humidity throughout the entire house.

Traditional humidifiers carry a potential risk of burns from the steam they emit. Central humidifiers don’t emit steam.


Evaporators blow moisture through a moistened filter. Fans power the unit and expel the humidity into the air from a single-unit system.

These are more affordable than central humidifiers, but the downside is that they only work in one room at a time. There’s also a possibility of expelling too much moisture in the air. This can be problematic for people with asthma, as it raises the likelihood for mold growth.

Impeller Humidifiers

Impeller humidifiers work with the help of rotating disks that run at high speeds. These units are an affordable choice for people on a budget. They’re also among the most child-friendly devices because they create cool mists and carry no risk of burns

The downside is, like evaporators, they only work for single rooms. They can potentially cause breathing difficulties for people with allergies and asthma when they’re overused.

Steam Vaporizers

Steam vaporizers are electrically powered. They heat water then cool it before expelling into the air. These are the most budget-friendly and most portable humidifiers. You can purchase them at drugstores.

This type can cause burns, so it’s not the most kid-friendly.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers

Ultrasonic humidifiers produce a cool mist with the help of ultrasonic vibration. The units vary in price, depending on the size you need for your home. Both cool and warm mist versions are available.

An ultrasonic humidifier — especially the cool mist version — is a good choice if you have children.

Humidifier Sizes

Humidifiers are often classified as console or portable/personal.

Console units are meant to add moisture to the entire house. They’re often very large, but usually have wheels so you can easily move them around. Console units are meant to add moisture to one room.

Personal (or portable) humidifiers are the smallest, and are the best choice if you need a humidifier while traveling.

Controlling Humidity Levels

Adding humidity to the air may be beneficial, but too much humidity can cause health issues. High humidity levels can worsen respiratory problems and create an uncomfortable dampness in the air. This can encourage the growth of:

  • dust mites
  • mildew
  • mold
  • harmful bacteria

Mayo Clinic recommends that humidity should stay between 30 and 50 percent. A hygrometer can determine how much humidity is in your home. Some central humidifiers come equipped with hygrometers, but you can also find them at hardware stores.

Test humidity daily, especially if someone in your household has allergies or asthma.

Possible Risks

Burns are the most common injuries associated with humidifiers. Take special care if you have children. Never let children handle humidifiers, and don’t place a warm-mist steamer in a child’s bedroom.

Allowing a unit to expel too much moisture can create condensation on the walls. This water can then turn into mold and spread throughout the home.

Unclean humidifiers can cause bacterial growth that can promote coughs and colds. Steam vaporizers can get dirty quickly, but they’re also among the easiest to clean. Rinse out all used water between uses and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and clean the unit regularly to prevent bacterial growth. Wash the bucket and filter system every two to three days during usage.

Humidifiers can potentially emit minerals and microorganisms. They’re not necessarily harmful, but the residue can bother people with asthma. Use distilled water to avoid this problem.

The Takeaway

When used with care, humidifiers can make a significant difference when it comes to dry skin and airways. However, keep in mind that this is a home remedy — not a medical treatment. Stop using a humidifier and call your doctor if you have symptoms that don’t improve or seem to be getting worse because of the humidifier.

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