Humidifiers do a lot of great things in a space that’s too dry. From balancing out dry winter air to protecting wood furniture in arid climates, these are definitely powerful tools. But is a humidifier good for asthma? It depends… read on to see why.
Take a deep breath. Feels good, doesn’t it? We breathe without even thinking, and we don’t exactly spend our days worried about our bodies continuing to do so. At least, that’s how it is for most of us. There are some, however, who live a life in which that pleasant deep breath may not always be easy to get. Those people have asthma. It is not an uncommon diagnosis, but what’s less common is an understanding of how asthma actually works, and the things that can help and hurt people with this disease.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease that attacks the hollow tubes through which air passes to the lungs, and this inflammation is the root cause of all asthma symptoms. Asthma continually inflames the airways of an asthmatic. And this is the case whether they are having an asthma attack or not. That inflammation generates excess mucus that makes breathing more difficult.
Different layers of tissue comprise the airways or tubes through which we breathe, and one is a layer of smooth muscle. In a person with asthma, the airway muscles tend to be particularly large and strong, so when a response of the airways is triggered, the muscles contract, squeezing the airway. Just about anything, from dust mites to cold air to perfume, can trigger a response.
Asthma is a serious disease that can get in the way of everyday life. So what can be done to ease the symptoms? It’s often thought that humidifiers can help ease the symptoms of asthma, but is it true? Let’s find out.
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Humidifiers and Asthma, do they help or hurt?
Humidifiers work by releasing steam or water vapor into the air in order to increase humidity. Breathing air with a higher humidity is one way to relieve the discomforting symptoms of allergies, which often include nasal congestion, irritation, and inflammation of the delicate, moist tissues of the nasal mucosa.
The moist air then allows your moistened nasal tissues to blow out irritants and allergens from your nasal cavity, reducing your allergy symptoms and lessening the negative airway responses. Since allergies are a leading trigger of asthma, a humidifier certainly seems like it would help. Looking good so far.
But balance is key. Two common allergens, dust mites, and mold, both thrive in higher humidity. So while the higher humidity is better for nasal tissue and limits asthma triggers, it also encourages other common inflammatory substances. Indoor air that’s neither too damp nor too dry is best.
So humidifiers definitely have the potential to help, but the other primary concern when using a humidifier to ease asthma flare-ups and triggers is ensuring the humidifier is releasing clean water vapor. If upkeep is not maintained, a dirty humidifier could actually exacerbate symptoms. We’ll discuss this in more detail later on. Now, let’s look at the types of water vapors that could help reduce the negative effects of asthma.
Types of Humidifiers…
Warm mist vs. cool mist humidifiers.
There are two primary categories of humidifiers. Warm mist humidifiers release warm mist or steam vapors into the air that you can see and feel. Often quieter than other types of humidifiers, these may be best at soothing sinuses and thinning out mucus secretions. Warm mist humidifiers are typically better for smaller areas. Since they release hot mist, however, it would be safer to keep these humidifiers away from children.
Cool mist humidifiers are quieter and easier to clean typically, but the easier cleaning also means they must be cleaned more frequently, and as mentioned above, cleaning the humidifier is crucial. Cold mist humidifiers work better in larger environments and this cooler mist is often considered more comfortable to breathe.
The Evaporative humidifier.
This type of humidifier also uses cool mist. A fan pulls air from the surrounding area into the humidifier pushing it through a moistened wick submerged in water. The water then evaporates into the air. This cools the air in the process, making it a smart choice for those living in warmer climates.
The Ultrasonic humidifier.
Ultrasonic humidifiers are all around competitors that come in both cool and warm mist varieties, while some even have the function to do both. Rapidly vibrating the water into small particles, a fan then projects these particles into the air as a mist.
The Air Washer humidifier.
Also a cool mist humidifier, this type increases the humidity and purifies the air via rotating filter discs. These disks are submerged in water and remove larger pathogens like bacteria and viruses, as well as common irritants from the air. While these humidifiers are needier and require more maintenance and regular cleaning, but they can offer more allergy relief by filtering out more pollen and dust particles.
The Steam Vapor humidifier.
Steam vapor humidifiers heat the water to a high temperature, releasing the humidity as steam vapor into the air. A benefit of the steam vapor humidifier is they heat the water enough to destroy irritating compounds like bacteria, algae, and mold. As a result, it’s less likely that allergens will be released into the air than with other types of humidifiers. And, that’s great for those looking for relief from asthma.
So, is a Humidifier Good for Asthma?
The answer is both yes and no. Humidifiers can help, but they also have the potential to make asthma symptoms worse. To recap, a humidifier can help by filtering out asthma triggers (depending on the type used). It also makes the air easier on nasal pathways reducing restriction and mucus build up, while enabling the expulsion of mucus and allergens from the body.
The catch though is that balance is crucial. Humidifiers can also create an environment better for mold and dust mites, which can trigger asthma. You also need to keep your humidifier clean and the water fresh. Stagnant water and a dirty unit can lead to negative effects on asthma symptoms.
We think humidifiers are an excellent and natural option that helps asthmatics to breathe easier. So does the Mayo Clinic. But, as always, you may want to consult your physician as they will know more details about your individual case. Breath easy.