Do Humidifiers Help With Congestion?

You wake up in the morning and can't breathe through your nose.

You're not just stuffy, but over-stuffed. Your head is pounding, your ears are ringing and you've gone through too many boxes of tissues to count.

Does this sound like you?

If so, congestion doesn't have to be your daily reality. A humidifier can help clear your nasal passages so you can breathe easier and live better. 

Do humidifiers help with congestion? The answer is yes! Today, we're diving into the myriad ways these devices can offer the much-needed relief you need. Read on to learn how this one investment can make a world of difference.

What Causes Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion can be attributed to a variety of conditions. Three of the most common are sinus infections, the flu, and the common cold.

A few of the telltale symptoms include:

  • A stuffy nose
  • A runny nose
  • Sinus pain or pressure
  • Mucus buildup
  • Swollen tissue in your nasal passages

You already know that these issues are challenging and uncomfortable. Yet, how do they originate? 

As mentioned, most congestion stems from a minor illness. When these are to blame, the symptoms usually run their course and are alleviated within one to two weeks. However, if yours tend to drag on the entire season, there could be an underlying health issue to consider. 

Long-term nasal congestion could stem from:

  • Allergies
  • Hay fever
  • Environmental irritants
  • Non-cancerous polyps in your nasal passages
  • Chronic sinusitis

In addition, pregnant women are also more susceptible to congestion. This is primarily due to the hormonal changes they're experiencing, coupled with their increased blood supply. 

Relative Humidity and Congestion

Another issue that could lead to congestion or make your existing symptoms worse? Low humidity levels!

Your nose is designed to provide both humidity and warmth to your nasal passages. It's also supposed to clean the air that passes into your body. It does so through the use of cilia, which are strand-like microscopic cells found in your lungs, respiratory tract, and middle ear.

Not only are cilia responsible for sweeping mucus up and out of your nose, but they also serve as an important filter, trapping particulates and irritants and preventing them from entering your airways.

If the air in your home is too dry, it can cause your nasal passages to become inflamed. As they swell up, it becomes more difficult to breathe through your nose. You might also notice bleeding, scabbing and other forms of irritation.

At the same time, your cilia become trapped and impacted, unable to free your body of the mucus it creates. This causes the mucus that normally lines your nose to dry up and get stuck. Consequently, that mucus redirects and moves down your throat, which can lead to an aggravating and uncomfortable post-nasal drip.

Especially if you're already dealing with allergies or a common cold, this can exacerbate any difficulties you're facing. When your body is unable to drain mucus effectively, it can lead to irksome and sometimes painful congestion. 

What is Relative Humidity?

Relative humidity refers to the amount of moisture currently in the air compared to the total amount that it can hold. For instance, if your relative humidity level reaches 100%, you've filled the room to capacity and anything above that will trigger precipitation. 

Ideally, your home's levels will hover somewhere between 30% to 60% relative humidity.

Levels above 60% can leave you feeling clammy and overheated. That much moisture in the air can also encourage dangerous mold growth. On the other hand, levels under 30% can dry you out extensively. 

If you've noticed that you're feeling more congested than usual, it's worth measuring your home's relative humidity levels. You can do so using a hygrometer, available at most hardware stores. 

If you find that yours measure lower than 30%, this could be at least partially to blame for the discomfort you're feeling.

Why is My Relative Humidity Low?

There are a few reasons why your home's relative humidity levels could experience a downtick.

First, the weather outdoors could be to blame. When autumn and winter hit, the air in the environment naturally becomes less humid. As you come in and out of your house, this can affect your indoor air, too.

Moreover, we tend to use our forced heating systems and space heaters more during these seasons, as well. While these can add warmth and comfort, they can also deprive our air of essential humidity. 

You might notice that your skin and scalp tend to get drier and itchier during the colder months. This is because the moisture levels in your home have likely fallen and it's time to take action. 

Do Humidifiers Help With Congestion? Of Course!

There are many at-home treatments that can help relieve your congestion. While many holistic and DIY treatments are effective in their own right, few offer the immediate, long-term relief that a humidifier can provide.

How are they so effective? The answer is simple: They add more moisture to the air around you.

Regardless of the specific type of humidifier you buy, they all perform the same basic function. Humidifiers take water and transform it from its liquid state into water vapor. Then, they release that vapor into your indoor air to increase your home's relative humidity levels.

As a result, the dried-up mucus secretions lining your nasal passages are loosened. When this happens, your body can properly drain it. This makes it easier to blow your nose and eliminate that mucus. If you're suffering from chest congestion, your coughs can become more productive.

In addition, humidifiers can also help relieve secondary symptoms stemming from any other illness. For instance, if you're already experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, they can help you recover more quickly by encouraging a good, restful night's sleep.

girl with arms outstretched looks out the window

Choosing the Right Model

While the benefits of using a humidifier are enormous, it's no secret that there are many models available on the market.

That said, what type of humidifier is best for congestion? Let's take a look at the differences to know.

Using a Warm-Mist Humidifier for Congestion

One popular model is the warm mist humidifier.

These include an internal heating element that boils the water inside of the humidifier vessel. That hot water is then released as visible, warm steam from the nozzle at the top of the machine. 

It's important to note immediately that a warm-mist is not recommended for use around children or high-energy pets.

The boiling water that's inside of this equipment can pose a burn risk if the humidifier is accidentally knocked over. Moreover, the emitted steam is warm at first but quickly cools before it enters your airways. Still, it could burn your child's sensitive skin if the humidifier is located too close to their crib or bed.

That said, they can offer effective congestion relief for adults.

One of the best things about a warm-mist humidifier is that most models come with a compartment where you can pour in medicated treatments, such as vapor rubs, as well as soothing essential oils. Then, as the water boils up and releases, it mixes with those treatments to deliver even greater therapeutic relief.

Keep in mind, however, that warm-mist humidifiers use the most energy of any model. This is because they're required to keep water at boiling temperature for hours to maintain effectiveness. 

Using a Vaporizer Humidifier for Congestion

If your bedroom is on the smaller side, a vaporizer humidifier can offer some form of relief from your congestion.

These work in a similar fashion to warm-mist humidifiers, but their distinguishing factor is that they do not have a removable tank.

Vaporizers use a boiling process to rid your water of pollutants. Then, that water is released as vapor into the air. Remember that these are also unsafe to use around babies, children, and energetic pets. 

Using a Cool-Mist Humidifier for Congestion

Cool-mist humidifiers are ideal because they offer safe, effective relief for the entire family. You can safely use them in your child's room without worry. In fact, there are many models designed specifically for toddlers and newborns!

A cool-mist humidifier turns cool or room-temperature water into a fine, soothing mist that permeates the air in your room. As a result, your relative humidity levels rise and congestion is allowed to clear away. 

Besides the heating element, the other distinction between a cool-mist and warm-mist humidifier is that warm-mist ones do not require the use of a fan. The boiling action generates enough energy to force the water up and out of the machine.

Without the internal heating element, most cool-mist humidifiers do need a fan to move the water vapor upward. This makes them run a little louder than their warm-mist counterparts. 

Still, that slight drawback is minimal compared to the safety benefits that cool-mist humidifiers offer. They're also more energy-efficient. 

We'll discuss one form of the cool-mist humidifier (ultrasonic) in greater detail below. In addition to this type, there are also two other forms to choose from. These include:

  • Impeller humidifiers
  • Evaporative humidifiers

While they're both cool-mist humidifiers, the way they release water into the air varies slightly. Let's explore how each one works.

Impeller Humidifiers

These use a high-speed rotating disk to move liquid water around. As the water spins, it turns into droplets that are then released into the air. As these don't contain a fan, some experts consider them safer than evaporative models.

Evaporative Humidifiers

These increase your home's relative humidity level using a special fan. The fan blows the water through an absorbent material, causing it to evaporate into the air as vapor.

Using an Ultrasonic Humidifier for Congestion

Finally, there are ultrasonic humidifiers.

When you pour water into one of these machines and turn it on, it generates gentle waves at ultrasonic speeds. This motion breaks down the water into tiny particles, which are then released as a cool mist. 

The advantage of choosing this model is that it's both quiet and low-maintenance. Like warm-air humidifiers, ultrasonic humidifiers do not require the use of a fan. For this reason, they're our top pick for congestion relief.

When you're already stopped up and uncomfortable due to thick mucus, a pounding headache, and a consistent cough, you need your rest. While running a cool-mist humidifier can offer relief, the sound of the fan can be persistent enough to keep you awake.

An ultrasonic humidifier delivers all of the benefits of a cool-mist or warm-mist humidifier but is quiet and safe for everyone in your family to enjoy. It can also reduce airborne viruses and bacteria, soothe your sinuses, and alleviate colds and seasonal allergies. 

A Note on Allergens

One of the issues to note about all types of cool-mist humidifiers is that if you don't clean them regularly, they can trap and harbor mineral deposits, mold other harmful bacteria. Then, these particles are distributed back into your air.

As long as you care for your machine according to the manufacturer's instructions, this shouldn't be an issue. A few of the other best practices to follow when caring for your cool-mist humidifier include: 

  • Change the water in the holding tank every day
  • Completely clean the humidifier every three days
  • Use distilled water in the tank versus tap water

The goal of using a humidifier is to help relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies and other congestion woes. You don't want to achieve the opposite effect by releasing allergy-triggering contaminants back into your household air!

Invest in a Humidifier and Breathe Easier

You might have gotten used to battling congestion on a daily basis. Or, you could be in the throes of a sinus infection or the flu and these symptoms have come on quickly.

Regardless, help is closer than you might think.

Do humidifiers help with congestion? Absolutely.

girl with closed eyes holds a mug in her hands

Whether a warm-mist or cool-mist option is best depends on your personal preference, though our pick will always be with cool-mist simply for its flexibility and safety.

When you're looking for affordable, practical household goods to make your space as comfortable as possible, start here. 

Along the way, contact us with any questions and let's connect.

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