Humidifiers are devices that release steam or water vapor into the air to increase humidity. Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. It can play a role in both the development and treatment of allergies.
Breathing higher humidity air is one way to relieve the discomfort and symptoms of allergies. Allergic rhinitis, for example, often includes nasal congestion, irritation, and inflammation of the delicate, moist tissues of the nasal mucosa. Reducing inflammation of these tissues can provide quick relief. This then allows your moistened nasal tissues to blow out irritants and allergens from your nasal cavity, reducing your allergy symptoms.
It can be tricky to discover the right humidity level for you. Dust mites and mold, two common allergens, can’t thrive in lower humidity. But higher humidity is far more comfortable for the tissues of the throat and nasal passages. Indoor air that’s neither too damp nor too dry is best.
Types of humidifiers
There are several different humidifiers that you can choose from to best fit your needs. Humidifiers release either warm or cool mist and come in the following different models.
Warm mist vs. cool mist humidifiers
You’ll first want to choose between warm mist and cool mist humidifiers. Warm mist humidifiers release warm mist or steam vapors into the air. You can see and feel the mist. They tend to be a little quieter than other types of humidifiers and may be best at soothing sinuses and thinning out mucus secretions. They are better for smaller areas, like a bedroom. Because they release very hot mist, they should be kept away from children.
Cool mist humidifiers are quiet and usually easy to clean, but they do need more frequent cleaning. They work better in larger environments, and some people believe cool mist is more comfortable to breathe. These are often used in warmer climates.
Evaporative humidifiers are cool mist humidifiers. A fan pulls air from the surrounding area into the humidifier and pushes it through a moistened wick that is submerged in water. The water evaporates into the air, creating humidity. This also cools the air in the process, making it a good choice in warmer climates.
Air washer humidifier
Air washer humidifiers are also cool mist humidifiers. They increase the humidity and purify the air. Rotating filter discs submerged in water remove larger pathogens (bacteria and viruses) and irritants from the air. These humidifiers need more regular cleaning and maintenance, but they can offer more allergy relief by filtering out pollen and dust.
Ultrasonic humidifiers come in both cool mist and warm mist varieties, and some actually come with the option for both. This type of humidifier rapidly vibrates the water into small particles. A fan projects these particles into the air as mist, which then evaporates.
Steam vapor humidifier
Steam vapor humidifiers heat the water to a high temperature, and then they release the humidity as steam vapor into the air. Many of these humidifiers heat the water enough that irritating compounds like bacteria, algae, and mold can be destroyed. This makes it less likely that allergens will be released into the air than with other types of humidifiers.
Indoor environments that are too humid can actually trigger allergies rather than relieve them. One very common allergen is house dust mites. These creatures can only thrive at humidity levels around 70 to 80 percent. Mold and mildew are other common causes of allergies. The unhealthy growth of mold increases in a high humidity level. It’s important to find an ideal humidity level that eases allergy symptoms and allergy-induced asthma, but isn’t so high that it encourages dust mites and mold to flourish.
Humidifiers can help reduce allergy symptoms and improve the health of the mucous membranes of the airway. However, if humidifiers are not maintained properly, they can actually worsen allergy symptoms or cause other illnesses. Bacteria and fungi can grow, and these can be dangerous when breathed into the lungs.
Cleaning your humidifier
Dirty humidifiers can lead to health problems, especially for those who already have asthma or allergies.
Here are some guidelines for cleaning your humidifier:
- After each use, rinse the reservoir and dry thoroughly.
- At least once a week and before storing your humidifier, use vinegar to remove any hard water residue. Also use a disinfectant as recommended by the manufacturer.
- When you take your humidifier out after a period of nonuse, clean it again. Don’t fill it until you are ready to use it.
If you’re considering using a humidifier to treat allergies, make sure to choose a humidifier large enough to cover the space needed. You may only want to have a humidifier in your bedroom, or you may want one to cover your whole house or office.
Humidifiers may not actually cover the amount of space they say they do, so buy a humidifier that is slightly larger than what you think you’ll need.
Humidity should never be more than 50 percent, or the environment becomes humid enough for dust mites to thrive. This can increase your allergy symptoms. To measure humidity levels in your home, you can buy a hygrometer, which measures relative humidity indoors.
Humidifiers only benefit your allergies as long as they’re maintained and cleaned regularly. Not cleaning the humidifier can add to your allergy symptoms. Choose a humidifier that you’ll be able to clean often enough to preserve the benefits for your allergies.