Anyone living with asthma understands that it’s vital to ensure the air quality in their home and workspace is just right. This is crucial for being able to breathe properly.
Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs. When someone is asthmatic, they can experience episodes of breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, and a tight chest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 25 million Americans have asthma, and it’s more common in adult women than it is in adult men.
There are just over six million children in America with asthma, and it’s the top reason for missed school days.
Much is written about different “cures” for asthma and ways of managing it. One such method is using a humidifier in the home. However, do humidifiers help with asthma?
Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the relationship between asthma and humidifiers.
What's a Humidifier?
It’s a machine that adds moisture to the air in your home or office. A humidifier contains water that's distributed into your surroundings in the form of a mist. When this happens, the humidity of the air increases, which can consequently improve breathing.
There are plenty of different types and sizes of humidifiers, including our whisper quiet Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier, which comes doctor-recommended for improving respiratory function.
A cold air humidifier produces a fresh mist that moisturizes and cools the air in your room. As we've already noted, this can aid breathing, but it can also soothe allergies and help you get a better night's sleep.
Whereas, a warm humidifier (as the name suggests) produces warm air. We'll look at this kind of humidifier in more detail later in this article.
What Triggers Asthma?
A person with asthma has inflamed airways. These airways can react to external factors in a way that people without asthma don’t. These 'external factors' are also known as asthma “triggers,” and they vary for each person.
There’s no uniform tick list of triggers, and each person’s experience is different. However, common triggers are usually categorized under the following headings and examples:
- Allergens: Dust mites, pollen, mold, pets and pet hair
- Environmental: Cigarette smoke, wood fires, charcoal BBQs, pollution, paint, soap, perfume, dust
- Exercise: Exercising in cold air and activity that makes you breathe faster (It's worth noting - asthma triggered by exercise is also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction)
- Weather: Dry wind or cold air and sudden temperature changes can be triggers for some people
For example, when cold air enters your airways, it can cause them to spasm, and asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, a tight chest, and breathlessness can occur.
- Emotions: Sometimes, strong feelings can trigger an attack, such as crying, anger, laughter, and fear.
- Medicines: Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers can trigger attacks.
- Health conditions: people with more than one disease can compound asthma symptoms.
Examples include obesity, rhinitis, respiratory conditions such as sinusitis and colds, food allergies, and obstructive sleep apnea.
How Do Humidifiers Help With Asthma?
Firstly, humidifiers are not an asthma cure. They're designed to alleviate asthma symptoms. When someone has an asthma attack, their breathing muscles constrict, and airways become quickly inflamed.
There's also more thickened phlegm in the lungs than usual. If you imagine all these things combined, then you’ll understand why someone with asthma feels they cannot breathe when this is happening.
A humidifier can help reduce the number of asthma attacks in your home because it adds cold or warm moisture to the air. It means it eases symptoms such as a dry nose, throat, and mouth.
It becomes easier to breathe more comfortably. If a humidifier is used correctly, it will give you moist air at the right temperature, making it easier to breathe.
Using a humidifier is a more natural way of keeping the airways free. If you’re unsure of how to use a humidifier, we have a detailed and downloadable guide right here.
Ideally, a humidifier should provide your home with indoor humidity levels of around 30-50%. If you have too much humidity, you may find that allergens and mold escalate, and there’s an increased chance of an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.
Really humid air makes it way harder to breathe. If you’ve ever traveled to a country or continent with high humidity levels, you’ll know what we mean.
Also, if you reside in a cold climate and you have the heating in your home on high, it can make the air very dry. Similarly, if you live in a dry environment, there may be little moisture in the air.
Balance and Fairness
In the interest of looking at the argument from both sides, it’s important to note that for some, the jury's still out when asking themselves if humidifiers help with asthma.
However, concerns mainly center around what humidifiers are putting into the atmosphere if they are not kept and maintained correctly. They can be a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.
So much so that The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported their concerns that if not adequately maintained, humidifiers can cause health problems.
However, the CPSC has put together a series of recommended steps and considerations you can take to keep your dehumidifier safe and harm free.
Cautions and Considerations
It’s crucial to get to know your humidifier, how it works, and how to maintain it for optimum benefits. Here are a few cautions and considerations to remember.
Things to Do
Do clean the filter regularly, even weekly, or as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Do clean your humidifier regularly. A dirty humidifier can harbor fungi and/or bacteria that are then released into the air, thereby aggravating asthma. If your child has asthma, clean the humidifier between 1-3 days.
When you're not using your humidifier, empty it of water and rinse it every day. If you’re storing your machine, ensure it’s fully dry first.
Do use filtered/distilled water in your humidifier. If you use tap water, airborne minerals in the water can also irritate your lungs.
If you use tap water, minerals will collect in the humidifier and eventually form white dust that dirties your soft furnishings and furniture. But if you use distilled water, this won’t happen.
Do check that the humidifier has a timer or an automatic shut off feature on it, ensuring the humidifier doesn’t overheat, or the water doesn’t overflow.
Things to Avoid
Don’t clean your humidifier with chemicals or bleach. They can irritate your lungs.
Don’t keep your humidifier on too high a setting. This will make the air in your house very humid, and this can exacerbate your asthma.
Don’t buy a noisy machine. If you’re going to use a humidifier at night, it’s worth checking the noise output. The last thing you want is to be kept awake by a noisy machine.
Don’t buy a humidifier without a digital readout. It is this feature that will tell you what the humidity levels in your home actually are, making it easier for you to monitor them.
What Type of Humidifier Should You Go For?
When you’re looking for a humidifier, check that it’s suitable for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
It may be that you find a model that’s patient and doctor recommended or one that is part of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) Certification Program.
If you’re looking for a humidifier for your child, you may want to look at a cool-operating model - an ultrasonic, evaporating, or impeller humidifier. If it’s for allergies too, try a steam model for extra shielding from bacteria.
Bear in mind the room size(s) you want the humidifier to sit in. The humidifier you choose has to have a large enough tank to work in the space you want to add moisture to.
For example, a smaller humidifier is excellent for a single bedroom or for when you’re traveling. Still, for larger spaces such as a living room or open-plan area, you’re going to need a humidifier with a larger tank.
Cool Humidifier vs Warm Humidifier
Warm humidifiers heat the water in the machine and produce a warm mist. Because the water is warm, it can potentially reduce the growth of mold and bacteria in the humidifier. It’s one reason why people go for such a model.
However, it’s also worth noting that warm humidifiers collect minerals left over from the heated water.
- Warmer air
- You can buy portable versions
- It’s quiet
- There's usually no filter, so it's easier to maintain
- Use more energy because they heat water
- Not great with kids in the house because the water gets to boiling temperature.
- Warm air could be uncomfortable for people living with sensitive asthma
A cool-mist humidifier does what it says on the tin. It disperses a cool mist. When the cool mist hits the air in your room, it is already at room temperature.
Some cool mist humidifiers, such as the ultrasonic humidifier, are quieter than the evaporative type of humidifier.
- Use less electricity than the warm air humidifier
- More affordable than their counterparts
- Come in portable sizes
- Recommended if you have children
- Cooling air may be more soothing for people with asthma that is triggered by heat and warm air
- Need more cleaning
- More likely to produce bacteria and mold if not cleaned correctly
- Need regular replacement filters
It’s entirely your choice which type of humidifier you go for. It may be that you think there is little difference between the two.
In our opinion, the cool humidifier option is preferable because it is suitable for both adults and children, and those with overly sensitive asthma do not respond as well to warm air humidifiers.
The most important consideration is to take care of your humidifier and keep it super clean.
Can Anything Else Help With Asthma?
If you experience asthma as a result of allergies, you may want to invest in some hypoallergenic bedding, like pillow and mattress protectors, for some extra help.
Also, if you or a family member do have asthma, then your medical practitioner is likely to have prescribed medication to help with symptoms.
Aside from taking your medication as prescribed, it’s essential you know what your triggers are so that you can avoid having an attack. It’s also worth tracking your attacks in case you can work out a pattern to them.
For example, do you have more attacks in a particular season, or when you have a cold?
The more you understand your asthma, the better you can treat it and alleviate symptoms along with your trusty humidifier set at the right humidity levels of 30-50%.
Ready to Purchase the Right Humidifier for You?
Do humidifiers help with asthma? We think the right humidifier can make a positive difference to asthmatic symptoms like breathing discomfort, chest tightness, difficulty in sleeping, nasal dryness, and so on.
Using a humidifier and being aware of the triggers that cause your asthma can go a long way to reducing the frequency of attacks.
However, if you have any questions about our humidifiers or any of the other high-quality products we sell, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to help. To read about other interesting topics, check out our other blog articles for some comfy reads.