Why you should use a humidifier during the winter

Published in Asthma on February 19, 2013

In winter, as in summer, it’s nice to be able to enjoy the comforts of home. There are so many things that make our home a haven: a warm fire in the fireplace, the people we love, soft background music and familiar sounds and smells. In Canada, we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors, so it is important that the air we breathe at home is healthy.

Cigarette smoke, mould, certain household cleaning products and woodstoves are examples of things that can affect the quality of the air in our homes. Excessive humidity may compromise air quality, but air that is too dry can cause discomfort or trigger and exacerbate health problems. Air that is too dry can lead to dry skin, throat irritation, congestion, repeated sinus infections, dry eyes, dry lips and nosebleeds, among other things.

The device used to measure humidity levels in your home is called a hygrometer. Measure the humidity level in your home using this type of device and keep the humidity level at about 50% in summer and 30% in winter. If necessary, use a dehumidifier to reduce relative humidity and a humidifier when the air is too dry. Using a humidifier can be especially beneficial for babies and young children, particularly if they have respiratory problems or cold or flu symptoms. It is an additional way to protect children's health during the winter.

Whatever the season, air humidifiers are a good way of dealing with dry air. There are three types of portable humidifiers on the market, hot steam humidifiers (also called "vaporizers"), cool mist humidifiers and ultrasonic humidifiers. Cool mist humidifiers are considered safer for children’s rooms because the risk of scalding is lower. Hot steam humidifiers are easier to keep clean because the hot water gets rid of bacteria more easily. Your pharmacist can give you advice on the advantages and inconveniences of the different types and models available.

When used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, humidifiers do not present any risk. However, if not cleaned and disinfected regularly they could help aggravate respiratory problems for people who have asthma, allergies or other respiratory problems.

Here are a few tips on how to make optimal use of your cool-mist humidifier and reduce the risks associated with its use:

  • Clean and disinfect the water tank regularly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. These instructions can vary depending on the type of humidifier and how often it is used.
  • Never leave water in the cool-mist humidifier when it is not in use. Always empty the water tank as soon as you turn off the humidifier. Otherwise, bacteria can build up and multiply in the stagnant water.
  • Clean and refill the water tank only when you are ready to use the device again.

Your loved ones deserve to breathe clean, properly humidified air. For many families, a humidifier can be an excellent option!