Air that’s too dry can affect your health in several ways. From irritated eyes and sinuses to respiratory and skin conditions, overexposure to dry air can cause a variety of symptoms. It may also raise the risk of some illnesses.

Since the average American is indoors 90 percent of the time, keeping indoor air at optimal moisture levels is important for a number of health reasons.

Here’s a look at the health effects of dry air and the steps you can take to protect yourself from dry air issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you keep the humidity in your home or workspace between 30 and 50 percent. When the air becomes drier than that, it raises the risk of several types of health issues.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways that overly dry air can affect your health.

According to medical experts, asthma symptoms, especially spasms, can be worsened by cold, dry air.

When you’re in a very low humidity environment, the fluid that hydrates your bronchial tubes can quickly evaporate. This can leave your airways vulnerable to irritation. This is especially likely during winter months.

In addition to asthma, the symptoms of bronchitis, sinusitis, and other respiratory illnesses can also worsen if you spend too much time in an environment with overly dry air.

If you’ve ever woken up in the night and found it difficult to swallow, it may not surprise you to learn that dry air can cause pain and inflammation in your throat.

In a 2013 study involving 45 volunteers, researchers sent a stream of cold, dry air into the throats of study participants. The lower the temperature and humidity of the air, the more pain and irritation the volunteers reported.

If you work in an office environment where the air conditioning keeps the humidity low, dry air may affect the tear film that protects your cornea from damage.

Small dry patches may form on your eyes, leaving you more vulnerable to other kinds of eye irritants in your workspace.

If your job involves long periods in an air-conditioned environment, especially in front of a computer screen, it’s recommended that you take breaks often to help restore moisture to your eyes.

According to researchers, dry indoor air, especially air-conditioned environments, can lead to rough, dry skin. It can also worsen eczema symptoms.

Air that’s too dry can also decrease your skin’s elasticity. Additionally, dry air can also weaken your skin’s barrier function. As a result, when you come into contact with allergens or irritants, your skin may be more easily damaged.

If you already have a condition like atopic dermatitis, dry air could make the problem worse.

Nosebleeds are a common result of dry air. While nosebleeds are more common in winter months when homes and offices are heated, they can occur in any season when indoor air humidity is low.

According to research, spending prolonged periods in very dry indoor air may increase your stress level.

In a 2020 study, researchers monitored the heart rates and stress levels of workers in four separate buildings with varying levels of air humidity.

The researchers found that those who worked in the buildings with drier air had heart rates that indicated a stress response. The same participants also reported poorer sleep.

Spending long periods in very dry indoor surroundings can deplete your body’s fluid levels.

In a 2006 study, researchers checked the hydration levels of workers who spent much of the day in low humidity environments.

When they analyzed the workers’ urine, they found that it was much more concentrated than workers elsewhere in the plant. Urine concentration is one biomarker of dehydration.

Clinical evidence indicates that dry air may increase your risk of getting the flu, a cold, or even pneumonia.

A 2016 study revealed a spike in deaths from flu and pneumonia following cold weather snaps. The authors of the study pointed to indoor heat as the culprit. Heated, dry air may prolong the life of viruses indoors, they explain.

Dry air may also affect your ability to fight off viral infections by weakening and reducing your nasal mucus, part of your body’s natural defense against these germs.

What about COVID-19?

A study published in April of 2020 found that increased air humidity (air that was warmer and wetter) was associated with a slight drop in the number of new cases of COVID-19 in 166 countries.

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If the indoor air where you live or work is unusually dry, here are several steps you can take to help protect yourself:

  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air.
  • Take shorter, cooler showers.
  • Moisturize your skin while you’re still damp from showering or bathing.
  • Use a hydrating nasal spritz or irrigate your nasal passages with a neti pot.
  • Use lip balm to prevent dry, cracked lips.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water all year long.

If your eyes, throat, and nasal passages are bothering you, these environmental irritants might be the part of the problem:

  • air fresheners
  • harsh, scented cleaning products
  • pest control sprays and powders
  • pollutants from recent renovations
  • outgassing from new furnishings
  • paints, varnishes, or other industrial chemicals
  • animal waste, fur, or dander

Removing irritants is important because continued exposure can cause mild discomfort and even breathing problems.

Dry air has the ability to worsen a wide range of health issues, from respiratory conditions and skin problems to nosebleeds, dry eyes, sore throats, and more.

To maintain a healthy environment, the EPA recommends that you keep indoor humidity in the range of 30 to 50 percent. You can also use a humidifier, limit hot showers, and use moisturizing lotions, balms, and sprays to lubricate your skin, lips, and sinuses.

If you continue to have health issues after making these changes, you may want to follow up with your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.