Are you familiar with humidifiers? If not, you may be surprised by the wellness benefits they offer. A humidifier is a device designed to increase the level of humidity—moisture in the air—by releasing water vapor or steam. Why should you worry about the moisture levels in the air you breathe daily? Good question!
The benefits of a humidifier
While it is best to avoid excessive humidity, air that is too dry can have many negative health consequences, especially during the winter months, when humidity levels drop. In fact, significant amounts of moisture dissipate from the air in cooler seasons, potentially plummeting to 10 percent humidity, which is drier than the air in the Sahara Desert!
Regularly breathing excessively dry air can have a desiccating effect on your skin and mucous membranes, which can irritate your throat, and lead to coughing fits, sinus issues, wheezing, breathing difficulties and other respiratory problems, as well as exacerbating allergy and cold symptoms and increasing your overall risk of illness.
These dry-air health concerns are not only due to heated homes, however, but also those that are air conditioned in the warmer months. Air conditioners reduce humidity levels too, leading to drier skin and air passages. When the indoor relative humidity level falls to just 25 percent, regardless of the temperature, mucus membranes dry out, increasing risk of upper respiratory infections, fatigue and other illnesses, as well as premature aging of the skin, according to Global News.
For optimal health, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends keeping the humidity levels in your home between 30–50 percent. Maintaining proper humidity levels in your home year-round can benefit you in numerous ways, such as:
- Easing congestion in the mucus membranes
- Soothing tissues in the nose and throat
- Helping to alleviate dry, flaky skin
- Relieving dry/chapped lips
- Reducing the spread of germs
- Minimizing snoring problems by helping loosen mucus blocking airways
- Aiding in the relief of allergy and asthma symptoms
- Promoting healthy sleep
Using a humidifier during cold & flu season
The Einstein Journal published a study in 2021 suggesting that sufficient humidity levels are fundamental to maintaining the well-being of the human population and reducing the prevalence of infectious diseases. Study researchers emphasized that given increasingly dry conditions due to the impact of climate change, it is in our best interests to adopt assistance measures, such as humidifiers.
A 2012 study in PLOS ONE journal found that insufficient moisture in the air tends to promote flu viruses, whereas these germs are inactivated in appropriately humid conditions. The researchers found that indoor humidity levels under 23 percent may increase prevalence of flu infection to 77 percent. Conversely, if indoor air is at least 43 percent relative humidity, infection risk may plummet as low as 14 percent.
These results can be attributed to the fact that the flu virus survives best in drier conditions. The Environmental Health Journal published a study in 2010 evaluating the impact of a humidifier during winter months and found that this simple, safe appliance decreased flu virus survival by up to 31.6 percent.
These findings seem more important than ever in an age of global pandemics from hazardous viruses. Even if we cannot control the outer world, we can at least ensure we can be well protected within our home environment, which is fortunate since Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
How to choose a humidifier for your home
Fortunately, solving the problem of excessively dry indoor air is both easy and cost effective. Adding one or more humidifiers to your home can rapidly transform the quality of the air you breathe most often. There are many models to choose from, with warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers being equally effective in humidifying the air.
When considering your options, be advised that cool mist versions are considered to be the safest, especially for children and the elderly, as hot water or steam from a warm-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer can cause burns. Additionally, The Mayo Clinic specifically recommends cool-mist humidifiers for easing symptoms of a cold or other respiratory condition.
As you can see, incorporating a humidifier in the spaces used most often in your home could be a valuable addition to your family’s wellness defenses. Cheers to your healthy home─in every season!