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Choosing the Right Humidifier

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Updated May 16, 2014

The National Institutes of Health recommends the use of humidifiers to help relieve congestion from the common cold, flu and sinus infections. Any time you have congestion, a humidifier may be able to help. They add moisture to the air which will in turn moisten your skin (including nasal passages) and thin some of the mucous in your sinuses. This makes it easier for you to breathe and easier for the mucous to drain. The key is to keep your humidifier cleaned and properly maintained so you don't create an environment that keeps you sick, rather than helping you get better.

There are two main categories of humidifiers, warm mist and cool mist. They essentially do the same thing, but in different ways. There are pros and cons to each, so you will have to decide which type is right for you.

The National Institutes of Health now recommends the use of cool mist humidifiers for everyone, but especially in homes with children, because of the risk of burns when using warm mist humidifiers or steam vaporizers.

Cool Mist Humidifiers

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Cool mist humidifiers are an effective way to humidify your home and relieve congestion, dry throats and skin. There are three types of cool mist humidifiers.

  1. Impeller - uses a high speed rotating disk to release water droplets into the air.
  2. Evaporative - transmits moisture into the air using a fan which blows through an absorbent material.
  3. Ultrasonic - creates a cool mist by means of ultrasonic vibrations.

Although cool mist humidifiers do not have the danger of burns or fire hazards, there are concerns with these devices as well. If not properly cared for, cool mist humidifiers can harbor bacteria, mold and mineral deposits which they then disperse into the air.

It is very important to properly clean your humidifier according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Other ways to ensure that you are not putting yourself and your family at risk include:

  • Changing the water in the holding tank every day.
  • Thoroughly cleaning the entire humidifier every three days.
  • Using distilled water in the tank rather than mineral - filled tap water.
  • Monitoring the humidity level in your home. Hygrometers are available at hardware stores to use in your home. The ideal humidity level in your home should be somewhere between 30% to 50%. Humidity greater than 60% encourages the growth of bacteria, mildew, mold and fungus.

Warm Mist Humidifiers/Steam Vaporizers

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If you still prefer to use a warm mist humidifier and do not have young children or people in your home that are at high risk for burns from them, be sure you properly care for your humidifier and follow all safety precautions.

Steam vaporizers and warm mist humidifiers both heat water and then release it into the air. Certain medications can also be added to steam vaporizers for inhalation.

Both are effective in helping to relieve congestion, but should be used with care. Because they both have heating elements, they can cause burns and can even be a fire hazard. Be sure to follow these guidelines when using warm mist humidifiers.

  • Keep them out of the reach of children and away from flammable objects.
  • Never place a warm mist humidifier or steam vaporizer on the carpet or other upholstered surface.

Whether you decide to get a warm mist or a cool mist humidifier, always be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and keep it very clean. The last thing you want is to contract an even worse infection from something that is supposed to help you feel better.


Sources:

Pearl, MD, Alden J.. "Medical Encyclopedia - Sinusitis." Medline Plus. 11JAN2007. National Institutes of Health. 18 Jan 2007

"Humidifiers and Health." Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. 12 Nov 12. National Institutes of Health. 23 Aug 13

"Indoor Air Facts No. 8: Use and Care of Home Humidifiers." Indoor Air Quality. 24AUG2006. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 18 Jan 2007

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