Today I want to conquer a controversial topic: humidifiers, and more specifically, cool mist humidifiers. Ok, ok. I know that humidifiers are not exactly what you would call controversial, but in the world of mold-related illness, they actually are.
The whole reason this topic is coming up today is because a girlfriend of mine recently posted a request on social media looking desperately for help with her son’s allergies, chronic congestion and ear infections. She had seen her
pediatrician already and did not want to accept that putting her child on another antibiotic or on allergy medication for the rest of his life were her only options. She was seeking more holistic advice and answers from other Moms about things that had worked for them.
I looked through all of the comments. It was startling to me how many Moms posted the advice of putting a cool mist humidifier in his room. In my mind, cool, aerosolized water in a closed, possibly carpeted, indoor space seemed like a no-brainer “no-no,” but to others, it was a solution to a health problem? What kind of information is out there that is touting humidifiers? Why, with what we are starting to know now about the link between mold/indoor humidity and chronic sinusitis (96% of chronic sinusitis is caused by an allergy to mold—Mayo Clinic), do people still use them? Aren’t there better alternatives? I wanted to investigate, and make my case about why you should think twice before bringing one into your home to treat allergies or sinus symptoms.
First, the ideal level of relative humidity for sinus health is between 35-45%. (This is even lower than the previously advised 50% humidity—National Asthma Council Australia.) This level is also generally recommended to avoid mold damage in your home. I’m not sure if you realize this, but that is very low. We have a dehumidifier on our HVAC system to help control the humidity inside our house, and even when set at its highest drying setting, it is difficult to get indoor air in Memphis, TN, below 40% humidity, especially in the summertime. I do realize that exceedingly dry air, combined with indoor gas or electric heat in the winter can be a recipe for excessive dryness, and irritated nasal passages, but there are other, more holistic solutions, that do not involve pumping moisture (possibly already contaminated moisture, as you will see later) into your home. I will go into some alternatives at the end of this post.
Second, according to the EPA, the moist environment of the humidifier itself is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. The EPA states: “Microorganisms often grow in humidifiers which are equipped with tanks containing standing water.” Moreover, when that contaminated water is sprayed out via the humidifier, it creates a “toxic mist,” that is later breathed in by everyone in the room. “Research has shown that breathing in dirty mist from humidifiers can lead to lung problems, including infection, and humidifier use is actually associated with an increased risk of developing asthma in children. Keep in mind, also, that too much moisture in your air increases the development of mold, which is a toxin you don’t want to be breathing in on a daily basis.” (Mercola)
The last thing you want, especially when your child is sick or battling allergies is to introduce MORE contaminants into their nasal passages and lungs or into their sleeping space. Ok, so what if you just clean the heck out of the humidifier? Then no contaminates can get in it, right? Well, unfortunately, not exactly. Consumer Reports states that even in the top, best rated-models, when they were thoroughly cleaned after each use, there were still small amounts of microorganisms detected. A small amount is still too much for me to be okay with. Excessive indoor moisture also encourages and increases the dust mite population in your home. Dust mites are a very common cause of allergies as well, so aside from the humidifier itself, this is a big reason to be wary of increasing humidity.
Third, the very water being used inside the humidifier can cause problems of its own. The Berkley Wellness website reveals that cool mist humidifiers may also emit minerals and other substances from the water into the air. “If your water contains contaminants, the humidifier will spray them into the air. Using tap water in a humidifier is not a good idea, because the minerals in it may be dispersed in the air as white dust. Minerals may also appear as a crusty deposit inside the humidifier, which is a surface on which bacteria and mold can grow.”
Finally, I decided to give our ENT a call to get his thoughts on the use of humidifiers in the home. Dr. Dennis, whom I have featured in a number of posts, is ahead of the curve, in my opinion, with this type of information, because his approach to all sinus issues and sickness is very holistic and focuses on the cause of the sinus issue, rather than the symptoms and the quick fix. Here is his response:
“Humidifiers should be avoided and are actually banned in hospitals, due to the possible spread of infections. Since the water inside the humidifier is room temperature or warm, especially if it is sitting in the tank, bacteria will grow inside. Those bacteria are then aerosolized into the lungs of the room occupant. The humidifier will also quickly bring the humidity in a room above 50%, so that mold growth occurs. This is acutely true in the summer, because humidity levels in your whole house are already up, and adding the humidifier causes a moisture increase above safe levels fast. If nasal dryness is severe and causing irritation or an inability for the sinus to work properly and filter the air, use only a vaporizer, which heats water (purified or distilled only) to steam, thus killing any organisms. BUT, ONLY do this in the winter months, when humidity is low and indoor heat is drying the air.”
So, the takeaway here is to avoid using humidifiers whenever possible. If you choose to do so, I would really do it sparingly, only using a vaporizer during cold months, and making sure humidity levels don’t get too high. To do this, you would need to use a hygrometer. A hygrometer can be purchased online or at a hardware store and measures the amount of moisture in your home’s air. Then, you can keep an eye on the humidity level and adjust your use of the vaporizer accordingly, never allowing the humidity to exceed 45%. I would also take extra precautions of only using distilled or purified water in the vaporizer, adding 4-5 drops of CitriDrops Dietary Supplement to that water to kill and prevent microbial growth, emptying and cleaning the tank with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate or hydrogen peroxide and soap after each use. Be careful to rinse the vaporizer reservoir out thoroughly to remove all cleaner before the next use, and most importantly, never ever leaving a hot-mist vaporizer going in a child’s room unattended or anywhere where they could reach it and scald themselves.
To close my post today, I want to end on a can-do, positive note and offer some non-humidifier solutions to the issue of dry or irritated sinuses and the need for added moisture and relief.
- Stay hydrated. Chronic dehydration is a problem for children and adults alike. Make sure you are actively drinking filtered or spring water throughout the day. Do not wait until you are thirsty. Thirst is the first sign of dehydration. Just carry water with you and sip on it all day. I like to pack water bottles in my kids’ school bags in the morning. I always praise them when they are empty when I unpack their bags in the afternoon. You will find that this simple change will improve your energy levels, your colon-transit time, and your overall sense of well-being.
- Use a drug-free, moisturizing nasal mists, like NeilMed NasoGel, Ocean or Simply Saline. This can be used to provide moisture directly to the nose.
- Use a facial steamer. Vicks makes a good one. You can fill it per package instructions with distilled or purified water, and add 2-3 drops of CitriDrops Dietary Supplement to the water. Then, gently inhale the steam through the nose and mouth. This will provide direct relief without increasing the humidity in your home.
- If congested and struggling to clear their nose, bring your child in a steamy shower with you. Allow the steam to open them up in a controlled setting. Then, you can use a child-approve saline spray to further moisturize and clear their nasal passages.
- Add a high-quality DHA or Omega-3 supplement to your daily regimen. I would suggest brands like Nordic Naturals for kids and Jarrow Formulas Krill Oil for adults. This supplement will increase overall lubrication and moisture in the body, and prevent dryness.
- Limit ambient heat use indoors in the winter. I know this may sound a little crazy, but we try to keep our heater use to a minimum. At night, we just dress warmly and add extra snuggly blankets to our beds. There is honestly nothing worse, in my opinion, than having hot air blowing on me all night, and waking up feeling dried out and inflamed. You can even choose to just turn your heat off at night and back on during the day to give your skin and mucus membranes a break from the constant dryness. The cooler temperature will also help to create moisture in your body naturally, which, if you are having sinus irritation, is an added benefit.
That’s all for today. Let me know if you have any other tips of suggestions. I love to hear from you guys!