Share on Pinterest
tashka2000/Getty Images

A humidifier can moisten the air in your indoor environment, easing the symptoms of sinusitis, like a stuffy nose, dry throat, and congestion.

According to experts, the key to getting the most benefits from a humidifier is to keep it clean and to use it properly.

In this article, we’ll look at what to keep in mind if you’re thinking of using a humidifier to help clear up your sinus issues.

Different humidifiers work in different ways, but the basic principle is the same: They release water vapor into the air.

When the air you breathe is too dry, it can irritate your nose, mouth, and sinuses. The inside of your nose may swell, crack, and even bleed a bit. And the mucus your body produces may become thick and hard to remove.

According to sinus experts, adding moisture to the air with a humidifier is generally good for your sinus health.

Moist air can help thin out and loosen mucus. And the water vapor in the air can moisturize and calm irritated airways and ease dry eyes caused by sinusitis.

Humidifiers range from pricey whole-house systems to inexpensive tabletop units. Their features and temperature capabilities can also vary a lot.

Most of the humidifiers sold are portable cool mist humidifiers. Some propel warm mists or steam. And some units can switch from warm to cool.

Here is a brief breakdown of humidifier types and features:

Whole-house humidifiers

About 4 percent of the humidifiers sold in the United States are systems that can humidify the whole house. Generally, these systems must be installed by HVAC professionals, so they can be quite expensive.

Whole-house humidifiers connect directly to your home’s water lines and have filters that must be replaced at least twice a year.

Impellers

This type of cool mist humidifier is driven by a small motor, which draws water up using a spinning disc. The disc propels water through a mesh screen, creating a light mist.

Evaporators

A type of cool mist humidifier, evaporators contain a fan and a wick. When you fill the unit with water, the wick becomes wet. The fan blows cool air through the wick, where it gathers moisture before being released into the room.

Ultrasonic units

Ultrasonic humidifiers can blow either warm or cool air. They propel tiny water droplets by vibrating a metal or ceramic diaphragm under the water level. Ultrasonic units are usually quieter than evaporators.

Steam

A simple steam humidifier boils water and releases the steam into the room. These portable units are often inexpensive. It’s important to note that studies haven’t confirmed whether steam humidifiers are effective at reducing sinus issues.

There are many factors to consider when buying a humidifier. Although price is an important consideration, here are some other factors to keep in mind when trying to choose the right humidifier for your sinusitis.

  • Buy the right size. Make sure you buy a humidifier that’s the right size for the space where it’ll be used. A humidifier that’s too large for the space can create too much moisture which, in turn, could encourage the growth of mold and bacteria. A humidifier that’s too small won’t give you the level of humidity you need to help relieve your symptoms.
  • Easy to clean. Choose a model that’s easy to take apart and put back together, so cleaning is quick and simple.
  • Humidity feature. Look for a humidistat feature that shuts off the device when the air reaches an optimal humidity.
  • Listen before you buy. Turn the humidifier on and listen to it before you buy it. Some models may be loud enough to disturb your sleep.
  • Read reviews. Be sure to read the ratings and reviews on different humidifiers before you buy one. Make sure it has the features you need and that it will be easy to clean and maintain.
  • Check out the warranty. Look for a product warranty that lasts at least a year.

The right kind of humidifier may help reduce sinusitis and allergy symptoms when used correctly.

Here are a few tips on how to use a humidifier:

  • Fill with distilled water only. Tap water often has minerals that can be irritating if inhaled.
  • To prevent your indoor space from becoming too humid, run a humidifier only when you need it. Don’t run it all the time. If possible, opt for a humidifier that will shut off when the humidity reaches a certain level in your indoor space.
  • Take the humidifier apart and clean it daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions. If the humidifier uses filters, make sure you replace these regularly.
  • Make sure to rinse away any disinfectant thoroughly. Breathing in disinfectant particles can harm your lungs.
  • Test the air humidity. For the best indoor air quality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends maintaining between 30-50 percent humidity. Humidity levels above 50 percent can induce the growth of bacteria and molds.

Some health experts are hesitant to recommend humidifiers in places where someone’s health is vulnerable. One of the main reasons is because humidifiers that aren’t properly cleaned can disperse bacteria or fungi through the air.

Steam humidifiers are less likely to breed and spread germs, but there is some concern over the possibility of burns from hot water with steam units.

It’s also important to use caution if you decide to use essential oils with your humidifier. Some people and pets are sensitive to oils.

To treat or reduce dry, irritated, or congested sinuses, you may also want to consider the following strategies:

  • Irrigate your nasal passages. You can use a neti pot or bulb syringe to gently rinse your nose with slightly salty water. Healthcare professionals also often recommend over-the-counter (OTC) nasal rinse kits for patients with congested sinuses.
  • Alternate compresses. To ease sinus pressure, place a warm, wet cloth over your nose and forehead for several minutes. Then replace the warm compress with a cool, damp compress. Rotate the two several times.
  • Identify allergens. If your nose is stuffy or congested and your eyes are red or irritated, there may be something in your environment that’s causing an allergy. Pets, pollens, and chemicals are common culprits. Try to limit your exposure to known allergens.
  • Limit drying medications. Some sinus medicines can cause a dry mouth, nose, and throat. Others can actually trigger rebound congestion if used too many days in a row. Talk with a pharmacist or healthcare professional about better alternatives.
  • Stay away from irritating chemicals. Some people have a strong sensitivity to harsh cleaning chemicals and beauty products with artificial fragrances.
  • Find out if another health condition is the culprit. Nasal polyps, irritable bowel syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, viral infections, and other health conditions can cause sinus symptoms. Sometimes menopause and pregnancy can also bring on allergy-like symptoms.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to balance your internal fluid levels and to prevent dehydration.

If you’re able to manage your sinus symptoms on your own, and you start to feel better, you may not need to see a healthcare professional.

But if you develop any of the following symptoms, it’s important to get medical care as soon as you’re able:

  • sinus symptoms that last longer than 10-14 days
  • fever over 102 degrees
  • facial pain, redness, and swelling
  • vision changes
  • symptoms that carry on after you’ve finished antibiotics
  • persistent headaches
  • severe headache that doesn’t get better when you take over-the-counter medication

A humidifier is a good tool to have on hand if you experience sinus issues from time to time. It may help break up mucus, relieve a stuffy nose, and ease discomfort in your nose and throat.

A word of caution, however: Humidifiers need to be frequently and thoroughly cleaned, or they can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria, which may worsen your sinus problems.

There are also other steps you can take to relieve your sinus issues. This includes irrigating your nasal passages, using warm and cold compresses, and limiting the use of certain medications.