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Humidifiers help take the bite out of winter

Dry skin, chapped lips and nose bleeds can go hand-in-hand with winter weather. As the temperatures cool down and indoor heat cranks up, the air is zapped of its moisture – and so is your skin. A humidifier can help put moisture back into the air by releasing water vapor, which increases the level of humidity or dampness in the air.

“Using a humidifier is an inexpensive and convenient way to help bring relief to dry skin, eyes and nasal passages during the cold months,” says Ed Mahan, physician assistant with Piedmont. “It can also ease symptoms of a cold, sore throat or cough, by keeping mucus in the passages loose.”

Benefits of using a humidifier

1. Prevent dry, itchy skin. Sleep with a humidifier turned on at night to restore your skin’s moisture and prevent tightness and dryness.

2. Clear sinuses. Add humidity into the air to open up your airways and help relieve sinus pressure, headaches and even help prevent the onset of colds.

3. Minimize nosebleeds. Keep your nasal passages moist to help prevent nosebleeds.

4. Alleviate snoring. Keep your throat from drying out and reduce the intensity of snoring. Snoring can occur when your throat becomes so dry that breathing through it causes a loud vibrating sound. 

Two types of humidifiers

Warm-mist humidifiers heat up the water inside and the hot steam is released into the air. These are great if the room is cold, but the warm moist air can also be a breeding ground for mold, which is why allergy-prone people might want to avoid this kind.

Cool-mist humidifiers use a filter that acts as a wick, absorbing water from a reservoir. A fan then blows air across the filter causing the water to evaporate while releasing a vapor into the air. These tend to make more noise than warm mist units, and they can cool down the overall temperature of the room. 

Mahan says warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers are equally effective in humidifying the air because the air temperature is the same by the time it reaches your lower airways. Cool-mist humidifiers are typically less expensive because they do not require a heating element.

“Cool-mist humidifiers are also the best option if there are children in the house. Hot water or steam from a warm-mist humidifier is always a potential hazard when young children are playing nearby.”

Ideal humidity levels

Indoors, the ideal humidity level is less than 60 percent during summer months and between 25 to 40 percent in the winter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. You can monitor the indoor humidity by using a battery-operated humidifier monitor. This inexpensive gadget is especially helpful in monitoring humidity levels during the winter months as well as in basements, which are susceptible to high humidity levels.

Proper cleaning

It is very important to clean a humidifier properly and regularly in order to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Be sure to read through the care instructions that are included when you purchase your unit.

“Humidifiers need to be cleaned and replenished with fresh water almost daily, and they should always be emptied if they are not being used. This will help cut down on any unwanted buildup,” says Mahan. “And if someone in your home has asthma or is allergic to mold or dust mites, it is best to talk with your doctor before using a humidifier.”

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