Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes pain, inflammation, and eventually deformity in your joints. Different people with this condition experience symptom flares under various circumstances.
While research hasn’t exactly confirmed the link between humidity and RA symptoms, many people living with RA report flare-ups during weather changes.
Dehumidifiers are one tool you can use to control the humidity and climate in your home. These machines can help people with conditions like allergies and asthma control their symptoms.
In this article, we explore whether people with RA can experience the same benefits.
A dehumidifier is a machine that removes moisture from the air. These machines are particularly useful in damp areas like basements.
Dehumidifiers work by drawing air in and across cold metal coils. As the air moves across the cold coils, moisture is removed from the air. Then, the air is passed over warm coils and returned to the room. The water that is removed from the air can be drained through a hose or by periodically emptying a container.
Most home dehumidifiers can remove between 10 and 50 pints of water from the air each day. How much moisture is removed depends on the humidity in the room, and the power or capacity of the machine itself. Generally, dehumidifier capacity is measured by how many pints of water can be removed in 1 day from a room that has 60 percent humidity at a temperature of 80°F (27°C).
While dehumidifiers are often used to remove moisture from damp areas like basements, they can be particularly helpful for people with health issues like allergies or asthma. Dust mites and other tiny organisms that can make these conditions worse tend to thrive in humid conditions. Dehumidifiers can help people with allergies or asthma — especially the very young and very old — limit their exposure to these triggers.
Dehumidifier vs. humidifier
A humidifier does the opposite of a dehumidifier. Living in dry regions or using indoor heating during cold months can make the air dry. This dryness can irritate your eyes, nose, mouth, and even your throat and lungs.
A humidifier draws in air and then adds moisture to it before returning it to circulate around the room.
How effective a dehumidifier is at reducing your RA pain depends on your individual symptoms and the climate where you live.
If you notice that your RA symptoms or other forms of joint pain become worse during certain seasons, you may be sensitive to temperature and humidity shifts.
Talk with your doctor about your current RA treatment plan and make sure you’re using appropriate medications and therapies. If you’re still experiencing increased pain with temperature or humidity shifts, you may want to consider adding a dehumidifier to your home.
Depending on the size of your house and the humidity where you live, you may be able to place a dehumidifier in a central location to serve your entire home. If your home is larger or your humidity is particularly high, you may notice the best results by placing the unit in the room where you spend the most time.
Different dehumidifiers have different features, but many can be programmed to maintain a certain level of humidity in the air. Others can be set to continuously remove as much moisture from the air as possible each day.
Just keep in mind that if you don’t have your machine draining constantly with a hose, your dehumidifier will stop running each time the collection basin becomes full. It will not run again until you empty the basin and restart the machine.
Precautions to consider
If you decide to try out a dehumidifier in your home, follow these precautions to make sure you’re using it safely.
Just as humidity can cause health problems to flare, so can dryness. Overly dry air can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs, causing respiratory or even vision problems. You may need to try a few different settings before you find a humidity level that reduces your joint pain without causing other problems.
Going too small
It’s also important to choose the right size dehumidifier for your home. Even if you keep it running constantly, a dehumidifier that’s too small for your home will not sufficiently reduce moisture levels. It can help to know the humidity level in your home and the square footage of the area you want to treat before purchasing a dehumidifier.
While high humidity can worsen some health problems, neglected dehumidifiers can lead to complications, too. As water collects in the basin or drainage system of your dehumidifier, mold can grow. It’s important to keep your drainage basins and hoses clean, rinsing regularly with bleach to prevent mold growth.
There are two main types of dehumidifiers: refrigerant and desiccant. Most home units are refrigerant dehumidifiers, since desiccant units use an absorbent material that’s best for treating low humidity areas.
The bigger question when it comes to choosing a dehumidifier is the size of the area you are treating, and how humid it is where you live. You may want to purchase a larger machine if you:
- live in a very humid area
- are treating an area near laundry machines
- have multiple people regularly using the rooms where the unit is located
Choosing a dehumidifier
Which dehumidifier is best for your home depends on several factors, including the starting humidity level. However, you can also start by choosing a unit based on the size of the room. Energy Star recommends the following machine capacities for moderately damp rooms:
- 500 square feet: 10-pint capacity
- 1,000 square feet: 14-pint capacity
- 1,500 square feet: 18-pint capacity
- 2,000 square ft: 22-pint capacity
For most people, RA is a lifelong condition that goes through periods of flare-ups and remission. There are many triggers for RA flares, and these can vary from person to person. Common triggers for RA flares can include things like:
- lack of sleep
Many people with RA also notice that their symptoms can become worse — but may not result in a full flare-up — in certain conditions.
For many people with RA, extreme heat or cold — or even just large temperature shifts — can trigger increased pain. Generally, cold temperatures, high barometric pressure, and high humidity are linked to increased reports of pain among people with RA.
The official link between weather — specifically humidity — and joint pain from RA is debated. However, if you find that your RA joint pain improves when the weather is dryer, a dehumidifier is something you may want to try in your home.
Measure the area of your home, and consider the normal humidity levels of your home and where you live before purchasing a dehumidifier.
Be sure to maintain your dehumidifier properly by regular draining and cleaning the collection bins to avoid mold growth and other complications.