Do Humidifiers Help With Allergies?

Humidifiers are becoming a popular addition to homes worldwide, and it’s easy to understand why. Humidifiers boast numerous health benefits, and with factors like air pollution, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic increasingly affecting people’s lives and health, ensuring the air quality in your home has never been more critical. Allergies are also on the rise worldwide, leaving many people looking for relief when their symptoms flare up. But do humidifiers help with allergies?

In short, yes and no. Humidifiers can provide much-needed relief from allergy symptoms, but only when used correctly. If misused, they can actually make your allergies worse.

What Is a Humidifier?

Humidity refers to the amount of water in the air. In most climates, the natural level of humidity in the air is higher in the summer months and lower in the winter months. Humidifiers are devices designed to increase the amount of moisture in an indoor space. They come in a variety of forms and styles, but all of them work by releasing water vapor into the air.

While humidifiers can’t technically cure allergies, they can lessen your symptoms significantly when used correctly. Humidity restores the moisture of the mucous membranes in the nasal passages, providing relief from some of the most uncomfortable symptoms of airborne allergies. These include:

  • Allergic rhinitis (the medical term for the slew of common symptoms caused by allergens, including sneezing, itchy eyes, and sinus pressure)
  • Eczema
  • Dry skin and lips
  • Sinus headaches

However, overly humid air can actually foster the growth of common allergens such as dust mites and mold. This creates a sort of catch-22, where the thing that relieves your symptoms may actually be making the underlying problem – your allergies – worse at the same time.

Thus, it’s necessary to find a happy medium – the air in your home should be humid enough to relieve your symptoms but not so humid that it creates more allergens. As such, it’s essential to set your humidifier to the right levels for your space. This will depend on the dimensions of your home, as well as other factors such as airflow and location.

Note: The Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your doctor before using a humidifier if you or someone in your home has asthma. For relief from asthma symptoms, an air purifier could be a more effective addition to your living space for relief from asthma symptoms.

How Do Humidifiers Help With Allergies?

Humidifiers increase the relative humidity in an indoor space and can lessen allergy symptoms by keeping your nasal passages moisturized and healthy. Increased humidity in the air can quickly alleviate some of the most bothersome allergy symptoms, including sinus pressure and itchy eyes.

However, an environment that is too humid can have the opposite effect, increasing allergy symptoms by encouraging the growth of dust mites and mold in your home.

Similarly, bacteria and fungi are the natural result of any moist environment, and these can grow inside your humidifier. These can cause serious health problems, including allergies. In other words, if you don’t maintain your humidifier properly, with regular cleanings and filter changes, you can worsen your allergy symptoms. We’ll discuss how to keep your humidifier clean in just a bit.

For now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common causes of allergies, and how humidifiers can help.

Common Sources of Allergies

Achoo! For those suffering from seasonal or regular allergies, the symptoms are all too familiar: a runny nose, itchy and/or watery eyes, a sore throat, a headache, and more.

Although many different substances can be allergens for specific people, some of the most common airborne allergens are dust mites, grass and tree pollen, mold spores, and animal dander.

Pollen can be a particularly big problem at certain times of the year, with an estimated 8% of people suffering from seasonal allergies in America alone. Worldwide, the number could be as high as 30%. That’s a lot of sneezing!

So, who is at risk? People who have a family history of allergies are more likely to suffer from them, but anyone can develop allergies at any point in their life.

Different Types of Humidifiers

Due to an increase in interest and popularity, there’s now an overwhelming number of types and styles on the market. If a humidifier sounds like a good choice for you, then let’s explore your options. There are five main types of humidifiers:

Central humidifiers are built directly into your home heating/AC system and designed to provide a balanced humidity level throughout your house.

Evaporative humidifiers are much smaller devices that work by blowing air through a wet piece of fabric or wick. These are cool mist humidifiers, meaning they do not rely on steam. One potential downside is that their internal fan can be a bit loud.

Ultrasonic humidifiers use ultrasonic vibration to produce a cool stream of humid air. These are a good option for people who live in warmer climates, as the cool mist won’t raise the temperature of your room.

Impeller humidifiers produce cool mist using a rotating disk. Like ultrasonic humidifiers, they are a good option for anyone looking for the soothing effects of a humidifier without the accompanying increase in room temperature.

Warm mist (steam) vaporizers use electricity to heat water, producing steam that cools before it leaves the device. These are good for cooler climates and are generally quieter than cool mist devices. However, they can be harder to clean and are not a good option for households with young children or pets, as the water inside can cause burns if spilled.

Both evaporators and warm mist vaporizers are less likely to release airborne allergens and are thus good options for people with severe allergies.

Humidity: How Much Is Too Much?

It’s essential to keep your house at an ideal humidity level. In addition to the risk of bacterial growth, if the humidity level is too high, your home will feel stuffy and claustrophobic, and condensation can cause damage to wood, fabric, and other surfaces. Too low, and you can experience adverse physical effects such as dry skin, irritated eyes, and dry nasal passages.

The natural humidity of your home changes with the weather and the seasons, so you should adjust your humidifier accordingly. Ideally, your home should have a humidity level between 30% and 40% in the winter and 40% and 50% in the summer.

Since most of us can’t simply feel the air and determine the exact humidity level, a hygrometer can be of help. This device looks like a thermometer, but rather than measuring the temperature, it measures the level of humidity in your home. If you don’t want to purchase another device, many humidifiers come with a built-in hygrometer.

How to Keep Your Humidifier Clean

Most humidifiers have a reservoir (the container that must be filled with water for the device to produce mist) and a filter. Both the reservoir and the filter need to be carefully monitored and cleaned regularly, as they can be breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.

To keep your humidifier clean, you should change the water regularly (it’s a good idea to use pure or distilled water) and clean the inside of the device once every three days. Always unplug the device before you clean it, and follow the manufacturing instructions – many manufacturers recommend cleaning the device with a light hydrogen peroxide solution, which can be found at most pharmacies.

If your humidifier has a filter, make sure to clean or change it out regularly. Follow the manufacturing instructions, and be sure to change it out every time it looks dirty. Proper care and maintenance of the filter will minimize the risk of airborne allergens being released and making your allergies worse.

Overall, a humidifier can provide relief for a number of allergy symptoms, particularly nasal pain, congestion, and dry skin. However, if used improperly, it can have the exact opposite effect. It’s worth taking the time to research, invest in a high-quality device, and care for it properly.