Can You Use a Humidifier for Sinus Problems?

Sinus problems aren't to be sniffed at - pardon the pun.

Anyone who experiences sinusitis will tell you just how painful it is. It can be challenging managing sinus pain even with over-the-counter and prescribed medications. 

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that 28.9 million Americans have been diagnosed with sinusitis - that's 11.6% of the population! If you imagine some people remain undiagnosed, that figure could be even higher.

girl blowing her nose in a napkin

Alongside medication, there's some suggestion that adding moisture to the air with a good quality humidifier can prevent sinusitis and alleviate symptoms.  But, for this to be effective, it’s crucial to find the right type and size of humidifier for sinus problems.

So, let’s explore exactly that...

What's a Humidifier?

Put simply; an air humidifier is a plug-in machine that contains water, it releases small particles of that water in the form of a fine mist into the air. This increases the humidity of the air.

It's worth noting; humidifiers are also sometimes referred to as vaporizers - so don't let the terminology confuse you because they mean the same thing!

Humid air works wonders for moisturizing your nasal passages and sinuses, making it easier to breathe. Not only that, but moist air can also relieve that painful burning and dry sensation sufferers experience throughout their sinuses. 

There are many different types and sizes of humidifiers available. One popular choice for sinus problems is a cool-mist humidifier such as the Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier.

What's Sinusitis, and What Causes it? 

Sinusitis is an infection of your sinuses, where fluid builds up in your sinus area, and this allows germs to grow.

It often happens when you have a virus that's aggravated by the cold, seasonal allergies, a weakened immune system, nasal polyps or smoking, and second-hand smoke. 

Living with sinusitis, especially recurring sinusitis, means you are experiencing symptoms such as a stuffy nose, headache, facial pain, a burning sensation, sore throat, cough, and mucus. Sometimes an antibiotic is used to treat sinusitis; other times, people manage their symptoms with over-the-counter medications. 

How Can a Humidifier Help with Sinus Problems?

Dry air can hurt your sinuses. For example, if you reside in a cold climate and have the heating on a lot, this will dry the air out. Similarly, living in hot, dry weather will have the same effect.

Heating systems in your home can dry the air to the extent that your nasal passages become very dry, whereas your nose should provide the air that passes through it with warmth and humidity. 

When you are breathing in dry air indoors and outdoors, and your nasal passages become very dry, you may begin to experience sinus problems such as thicker mucus, blocked and congested nasal passages, and pain.

If you have thick mucus, you may have sinusitis or a predisposition to such an infection. The cool mist released from a humidifier may reduce occurrences of sinus problems and reduce your symptoms. However, a humidifier is not a cure. 

How Do I Know The Air is Too Dry?

If you have sinus problems, you may not even know that the air you’re breathing has become part of your painful problem.

Dry air means that allergens in the air are lighter and can move around more freely in the air, and make their way into our respiratory system and aggravate your sinus problem. 

One way of checking the moisture quality of your air is to use a hygrometer. This will give you a precise reading of your humidity levels. If they are less than 30%, your humidity levels are too low. 

Alternatively, you can go straight ahead and invest in a humidifier. You should see a digital reading on your humidifier that tells you what percentage humidity there is in the air. Ideally, you are aiming for levels between 30-50%. 

Other ways of determining if the air is too dry are if you have dry skin, a dry throat and mouth, morning nosebleeds, a constantly runny nose, and static body electricity, for example, if you get static when brushing your hair. 

Choosing the Right Humidifier for Sinus Problems

If you're buying a humidifier for your home or office, ensure it's the right size for the room you are looking to humidify. If the device is too small, you won’t get the benefit of the air moisture you need. 

Humidifiers run on electricity and can usually be moved from room to room, where needed. A popular choice is a single, portable room humidifier. This kind of humidifier costs less than whole-house ones that are attached to your supply line. 

Check that any humidifier you’re looking at is suitable for people with respiratory conditions.  Take into account your room size(s). Your humidifier has to be big enough to work effectively in the space you want to add moisture to.

For example, if you have a large bedroom or open plan living space, you’re going to need a humidifier with a large enough water tank to emit the cool mist you need. 

Choose a humidifier that is easy to operate and has a digital readout so you can easily read the humidity levels in your living, working, or sleeping space. Ideally, your humidifier will have an automatic shut off or timer feature.

This means you can avoid having the machine on all day or all night, risking the humidity levels to reach too high. 

Other Things to Consider

If you're using a humidifier in a child or baby’s room, check that it’s ETL Safety Certified. 

Some people who have sinus problems, find some relief from using essential aromatherapy products or medicines that help with the symptoms.

If you think that this will help your sinus problems, check your humidifier has a suitable and compatible built-in essential oils tray. Just make sure that the product you are adding is water-soluble, so it doesn’t clog your machine. 

Lastly, look for a humidifier that gives you the option to adjust and control the mist intensity levels.

For example, you may want less mist if you are using the machine in a child’s room. Whereas, using the machine in your work or more substantial living space may warrant more mist. 

Cool Air Humidifier vs. Warm Air Humidifier

Opinion varies on what type of humidifier is best for sinus problems. Both types can offer sinusitis sufferers some relief, yet work in different ways.  

Cool Mist Humidifier

A cool-mist humidifier is sometimes also called an “evaporative wick” humidifier. It sends a cool invisible mist into the atmosphere. It works by drawing in dry air and passing it through a wick filter.

A fan then evaporates the moisture into the air, and the humidifier’s filter traps any impurities or minerals. This means the air you receive is clean and comfortable to breathe in. If you reside in a hot and dry climate, such a machine can also act as an air conditioner. 

Some cold air humidifiers are also ultrasonic. This means that the humidifier uses something called a transducer that vibrates the water and breaks it down at a breakneck speed.

The end result is a bacteria-free and clean mist that humidifies the whole room. Ultrasonic humidifiers are also very quiet, making them an excellent choice for night time use. 

Cool mist humidifiers need more cleaning (see below), but they use less energy because the water they use does not have to be heated up. They can also be helpful for people living with asthma.

Warm Mist Humidifier

As the name suggests, a warm mist humidifier emits a warm mist. The water inside the humidifier tank boils; during this process, impurities are gotten rid of, and the bacteria's killed. So, no filter is necessary. Once boiled, the humidifier lets out the warm and clean mist into the air, raising the humidity levels in the room. 

Warm mist humidifiers zap more electricity because they boil the water. However, there’s no filter, and so they are easy to keep clean. They are less helpful for people with asthma because warm air can sometimes cause discomfort for people living with sensitive asthma. 

It’s up to you which kind you go for. As long as you reach humidity levels of between 30-50% and you maintain your machine, you’re good to go. Hopefully, your humidifier will have a digital readout that tells you when you have reached the correct humidity levels. 

Taking Care of Your Humidifier

It’s vital that you keep your humidifier clean. If you don’t keep it clean, your humidifier may harbor germs, bacteria, and mold that's then sent out into the air you breathe. 

Here are a few tips to follow:

Only use distilled water inside your humidifier, as tap water often contains minerals the humidifier can transmit into the air.

These minerals can irritate your sinuses and lungs. The minerals can also create a kind of dust that can damage your soft furnishings and furniture. Using distilled water will prevent this from occurring. 

Clean your filter every 1-3 days, removing any particles. Bacteria and fungi are sometimes found in humidifiers if they're not looked after adequately.

Ideally, clean the water container 1-3 days too. Don’t use bleach or chemicals when washing your machine. When you aren’t using your humidifier, empty it of water, rinse it out, and funny dry it before storing. 

Study the manual that comes with your humidifier. It will contain invaluable information on how to care for your machine and help you ensure it lasts a long time. It should also include troubleshooting Q and As.

Don’t allow the water to sit in your humidifier when it’s not in use. Also, avoid any film or scale to develop inside it. A good way of sanitizing your humidifier is to fill the water tank with white vinegar, let it sit for 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. 

The US Environmental Working Group also has some helpful advice on cleaning humidifiers. If you keep your humidifier clean, you can avoid any potential difficulties. 

Any Other Tips?

When you are experiencing sinus difficulties, try to keep your head elevated, even when sleeping. This will help the mucus in your sinuses drain away more effectively.

You may like to consider a memory foam back cushion lumbar support pillow or a travel pillow to help maintain a comfortable position. 

It’s also sensible to avoid close contact with people who have colds or who smoke. Try keeping a sinus diary so that you fully understand what triggers your sinus problems. It may be that you have more attacks during certain times of the year, for example. 

When you’re using your humidifier, be careful not to reach humidity levels higher than 50%. Doing this can result in the opposite of the desired effect and cause you more considerable discomfort. 

Ready to Get a Humidifier?

So now, you have all the info you need to buy the right humidifier for sinus problems. We believe having a high-quality humidifier in your home is an excellent way of being prepared for any sinus problems that come your way.

a man is resting in front of a desk

This is especially true if you're prone to sinusitis at particular times of the year. Using a humidifier correctly can help you support yourself through what's usually a painful experience. 

If you have any questions about our humidifiers or any of our other products, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to help. Or, to read about other helpful topics, check out our other blog articles for some comfy reads. 

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