How You Can Tell If You Need a Humidifier

Humidifiers improve breathing, reduce lung problems

humidifier steam in home environment

Static in your hair or the sparks that fly when you touch someone or something in winter are sure signs the air in your house is too dry.

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Setting up a humidifier is your best bet for improving indoor air quality and your breathing, says pulmonologist Kathrin Nicolacakis, MD.

“When the air is dry, your respiratory system just isn’t happy. Even if you have no medical problems at all, you can suffer,” she says. “Your skin and nasal passages get dry – all the way down to your lungs. You can wake up with a dry mouth and start coughing for no reason.”

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping your home’s humidity level between 30% and 50%. It also suggests using filtered water in humidifiers, if possible, to avoid the minerals and micro-organisms that unfiltered water might contain.

When should you use a humidifier?

Dry air can wreak havoc on your nose and lungs and make existing conditions worse, Dr. Nicolacakis says. And, humidity levels that aren’t optimal can harm everyone.

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Using a humidifier can relieve:

What type of humidifier do you need?

Regardless of what kind of humidifier you choose, she says, everyone should have some type of humidifier in their home, Dr. Nicolacakis says.

“There’s no magic to a humidifier,” she points out. “But, if you use one, you will feel better.” Here’s a quick breakdown of the types available:

  • Central humidifier: This humidifier is built directly into your home’s heating and air conditioning system and can control the humidity level throughout your entire house. It’s the most expensive option, Dr. Nicolacakis says, but it’s the most effective choice.
  • Evaporators: This type of humidifier blows moisture through a moistened filter. Fans push the humidity out into the room.
  • Impeller humidifier: This option creates a cool mist that is pushed out into the room by disks that rotate at high speed.
  • Steam vaporizer: This electric-powered option heats water and cools it off before pushing water vapor out into the room. Vaporizers can be moved from room to room.
  • Ultrasonic humidifier: Like an impeller humidifier, this humidifier spreads a cool mist through the room via ultrasonic vibration.

How to get the most out of your humidifier

You need to keep tabs on your humidifier to ensure it’s clean and in proper working order, Dr. Nicolacakis says. Try following these three simple steps:

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  1. Refresh the water. Room humidifiers use a gallon of water daily, and you must change the water to avoid any mold or bacteria that could grow in standing water. Wash any buckets or filter systems every two to three days, as well.
  2. Change your filter. If you have a central humidifier, change the filter at least as often as the manufacturer recommends, or once a month.
  3. Check the humidity level. Check your home’s humidity level every few days, because too much humidity can also cause lung problems. High moisture levels in the air can trigger allergies and asthma, as well as promote the growth of mold, bacteria, mildew and dust mites.

Consider purchasing a hygrometer that will keep a constant measure of your home’s humidity, she says.

“Humidifiers are a preventive measure. Without proper humidity, the air is uncomfortable,” Dr. Nicolacakis says. “This is about maintaining your health.”

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