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Can a Humidifier Help With Allergy Symptoms?

Dry indoor air can exacerbate the symptoms of existing allergies, as well as mimicking allergy symptoms as your airways and nasal passages become dry and irritated. Humidifiers — which effectively raise the humidity levels within your home by releasing either water vapor or steam — may seem like the perfect solution to your problems.

Although these devices are not specifically designed to filter the air in your home or reduce the presence of allergens, and you would instead need an air purifier for that purpose, many people ask if installing a humidifier will help them with their allergies. The short answer is that using a humidifier is never the sole answer to reducing your exposure to allergens. A humidifier does, however, have the potential to ease your discomfort.

Because humidifiers can, also, introduce entirely new problems, it is important to examine exactly how these devices can and cannot help you with allergies in more detail. What do you need to know before you bring a new humidifier into your home — and what should you do if your allergy symptoms have only worsened since you started using a humidifier?

Why Are Humidifiers Recommended for People with Allergies?

When you are affected by common environmental allergens such as tree pollen allergies and dust mite allergies, your immune system will react by initiating an inflammatory response. Characteristic symptoms like dry skin, itchy, red, and swollen eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, a sore throat, and wheezing will result. Dry indoor air will only worsen your allergy symptoms. As the mucus membranes within  your nasal passages dry out, they are no longer able to filter the allergens out as effectively.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a relative humidity level that falls between 30 and 50 percent, and does not exceed it, for this reason. In addition to lubricating your mucus membranes, the water droplets that will circulate in your home under ideal conditions also have the potential to filter some allergens from the air. As humidifiers are effective at boosting the humidity levels within your home — or just a single room — quickly, people suffering from seasonal and indoor allergies will often be advised to use this seemingly simple solution to add moisture to their spaces.

It is important to note that many people who suspect that they are suffering from seasonal or other allergies are not. Excessively dry indoor air can easily trigger symptoms that are extremely similar to those seen in cases of allergy, and in these cases, a humidifier can help too.

Can Humidifiers Exacerbate Allergies?

Humidifiers should be used to raise the relative humidity within your home to the recommended levels. They may appear to be the perfect solution for people suffering from allergies, but the use of humidifiers also carries risks. Just like excessively dry indoor air increase your odds of respiratory symptoms, high humidity levels that exceed 50 percent can easily allow harmful molds to proliferate within your home. Mold poses a significant health risk, and is additionally a notorious allergen. In addition, humidifiers can themselves pose a threat to your health.

Using a humidifier may lead to excessive relative humidity levels, in which case the device that you purchased to help with your allergies can instead create a harmful environment in which mold spores thrive within your home. Molds release their own set of irritants and allergens that can greatly worsen a preexisting problem. To combat this problem, it is important to choose a humidifier with a humidistat — the equivalent of a thermostat for humidifiers. Such humidifiers will only turn on when the humidity levels in your home have dropped, and automatically shut off when the ideal range has been achieved.

The other potential problem lies in failing to clean your humidifier correctly. Depending on the exact type of humidifier you use, it is crucial to clean it either weekly or monthly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Cleaning a humidifier correctly requires emptying the water, scrubbing the unit thoroughly, rinsing it with vinegar diluted in water, and then again with warm water. After the humidifier has been cleaned, it must be allowed to air dry.

Households using humidifiers that have not been cleaned correctly or frequently enough risk exposure to bacteria and harmful molds that have built up within the device over time. In these situations, the humidifier you purchased to help you with your allergies can instead become a rather effective allergen-dispersal system that gradually worsens your symptoms.

What Type of Humidifier Is Best for Allergies?

Humidifiers fall into two main categories. Console humidifiers, which are built into cabinets, raise the humidity levels within an entire space. Central humidifiers, a subset of this category, are an integral part of your HVAC system, and these powerful humidifiers can raise the humidity levels across your entire home. Portable humidifiers act locally, and are less costly. In most cases, people will purchase portable humidifiers before considering more powerful options.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers as being most problematic. Ultrasonic humidifiers raise the humidity levels in your home through the use of sound vibrations, while impeller humidifiers (also called “cool mist humidifiers) rely on a rapidly rotating disk to create a mist of moist air. The CDC likewise advises against the use of cool mist humidifiers in health care contexts because they have the potential to spread pathogens and allergens, and you can take that recommendation to heart by avoiding them within your home.

The other options are:

  • Evaporators, humidifiers that use a moist filter combined with fans to raise the humidity levels within a singe space.
  • Steam vaporizers, which electrically heat water and then deliver it into the air to humidify a space with a warm or cool mist.

Each type of humidifier has its own pros and cons. However, you will want to look for a humidifier that:

  • Has a humidistat that allows it to automatically shut off when the humidity levels within a space have reached ideal levels. This prevents your humidifier from adding too much moisture.
  • Has mold-resistant qualities. This does not reduce your need to clean the humidifier, but it does help to prevent mold proliferation.
  • Adequately meets the needs of the space in which you plan to use it.

Has Your Humidifier Caused a Mold Problem within Your Home?

If you have noticed that your allergies have not only failed to improve since you brought a humidifier into your home, but have also grown worse, there is a chance that your humidifier has created a systemic mold problem. Excess moisture within a space creates the perfect environment for bacteria, mildew, dust mites, and mold spores to thrive. This highlights the fact that dry air is not the only possible problem; damp, too, can exacerbate your allergy symptoms.

Your humidifier itself could be causing a mold problem within your home. Unless you are meticulous about following the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, mold easily builds up within your humidifier’s reservoir. Instead of easing your allergy symptoms, your device will then disperse mold spores constantly, potentially causing serious and chronic health complications.

Once mold has developed, even getting rid of the humidifier may not be enough. MI&T can help you get to the bottom of your problem. MI&T will determine whether you have mold in your home — even if you cannot see it — by performing a full mold inspection and taking air samples that are subsequently sent on to an independent lab. Once you receive your full mold inspection report, you will be able to determine what steps you need to take next to make your home a healthy and clean environment once again.

A mold problem in your house can lead to the same allergy symptoms you have been trying to combat by using a humidifier — red and itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, a skin rash, and breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure to mold may even increase the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory conditions, so it is crucial to take action as soon as possible.