How do humidifiers work?
“Humidifiers release water vapour or steam to boost the amount of moisture in the air,” explains Dr Semiya Aziz, General Practitioner and Founder of Say GP. Dr Helen Evans-Howells, GP and Allergy Expert adds: “There are several different types, using either an evaporation, steam or ultrasonic technique.
“Many humidifiers have controls to allow you to adjust the humidity level. It is felt that a level of 30-50% would be optimal to improve health.” This is why many choose a humidifier in the winter months to alleviate symptoms such as a dry throat in the hope it may help asthma and eczema control.
What does a humidifier do for you?
“In recent times humidifiers have been found to benefit many people who may suffer with dry skin or allergies. Adding a humidifier to your home can have its pros and cons,” says Dr Aziz. “In those suffering with a dry cough, the moisture produced from a humidifier may precipitate a productive cough, helping to remove phlegm from the airways.
“Some studies suggest that using a humidifier may reduce the likelihood of catching flu or a cold, especially if humidity levels rise above 40 percent.” This, she explains, is because it deactivates the virus particles, making the virus less infectious. During dry weather spells the lips, hair and skin, all become more fragile, so using a humidifier may prevent the skin from becoming irritated, itchy or flaky. “Humidifiers can also help with snoring as they lubricate the airways.”
Will a humidifier help my eczema?
“Eczema is a condition that results in dry, scaly skin which craves moisture. In this condition, a humidifier can be beneficial in calming, hydrating and keeping the skin supple, thereby reducing the risk of infection through open wounds,” Dr Aziz explains.
“We know that at this time of year, when the heating is put on, eczema sufferers often notice a flare up of their skin condition as the resulting dry air causes increased water loss across the skin,” adds Dr Evans-Howells. “Some, therefore, propose that an air humidifier may be helpful to maintain a steady room humidity of 30 to 50%.
“However, the clinical evidence for the use of humidifiers is mixed with some reporting a reduction in their itch and improvement in skin quality and others suggesting it causes a deterioration in eczema.”
Dr Aziz emphasises that humidifiers however are not a panacea for eczema treatment and needs to be used in conjunction with many other treatments. “Eczema sufferers should manage flares by understanding their triggers, having a daily skin care routine and using over the counter or prescription medication as recommended by a healthcare professional”.
Will a humidifier help with hayfever?
“Children who suffer with hayfever triggered by pollens are unlikely to find an air humidifier helpful as the pollen is external to the household and would be better reduced by keeping windows closed during pollen season,” explains Helen Evans-Howells.
“Those who suffer with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes), caused by mould or housedust mite, may find an air dehumidifier more useful as mould and housedust mite thrive in humid conditions, so by keeping the humidity in the home to less than 50%, this can reduce exposure and thereby improve symptoms.”
Can humidifiers help with asthma?
“In the case of asthma, there is no medical consensus about the use of humidifiers in alleviating asthma symptoms,” Dr Aziz says. “In fact, humidifiers may worsen asthma if they work nonstop or at too high levels, making the air very humid. The dirty mist from unclean humidifiers can harbour bacteria and fungi, which are then released into the air and can exacerbate asthma symptoms”.
She goes on to explain that even the cleaning of the humidifier with products that contain chemicals or bleach may be an irritant to the respiratory system. “Humidifiers can potentially emit minerals and microorganisms which are not necessarily harmful, but the residue can bother people with asthma so it’s important to use distilled water rather than tap water in order to avoid this problem.”
Can humidifiers cause mould?
“If humidifiers aren’t maintained properly or if humidity levels are too high, you may do more harm than good,” warns Dr Aziz. “Mould or bacteria can grow in dirty humidifiers defeating the object of using a humidifier in the first place. They may even trigger flu-like symptoms or even lung problems. In situations where there is an increased risk of mould or dust mites as a consequence of excess moisture, a dehumidifier may be of benefit, since it dries moisture from the air.”