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Protect your health when using a humidifier
What do dry, cracked skin, nosebleeds, colds, flu and asthma flare-ups all have in common? They all can be helped by the use of a humidifier in the home.
At this time of year, the air in our homes can become extremely dry, often causing or worsening these conditions.
There are several methods of humidifying indoor air. The most common is either a humidifier unit that is attached directly to a furnace and has its own water supply, or a room-size unit that must be filled with water on a regular basis.
Each type uses some method to turn water from its liquid state to its gaseous state. Some use heat, others do not. Some use accordion paper filters to wick the water up to a fan, others work ultrasonically. Some leave a fine white powder on nearby surfaces, others don’t.
What all humidifiers do is to put more moisture into the air where we can breathe it in, and where our skin can absorb it. This extra moisture is welcome during the fall and winter heating season. From skin to hair to respiratory tracts, our bodies crave more moisture this time of year.
One caution: follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when it comes to cleaning these moisture-producing machines. This is an area where you don’t want to cut corners.
Standing water is an invitation to bacteria, molds and fungi, which can then be transferred to the surrounding air. The extra moisture is wonderful, yes, but none of us want a dose of fungus along with it!
There is a condition noted by the EPA called “humidifier fever.” It is caused by these microscopic germs that grow in dirty humidifiers and are then blown into the air. Humidifier fever has flu-like symptoms that last about 24 hours and then resolve.
In addition to what the manufacturer recommends, here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic’s website on humidifier maintenance:
- Use distilled or demineralized water to prevent the white dust issue.
- Change humidifier water every day. Empty tanks completely and refill with fresh H2O.
- Clean the humidifier every three days. Use a three percent hydrogen peroxide solution (the most common dilution sold in most grocery stores and pharmacies.) Some manufacturers recommend using a bleach solution. Make sure to rinse the tank before refilling.
- Be vigilant about changing the filters, at least as often as the instructions direct.
- Be sure the humidity level is set at 30–50 percent. Any higher and the risk for growing those unpleasant microbes is increased.
The area around the humidifier should not be wet, including windows and carpeting. If it is, then turn down the humidity setting or run the humidifier less frequently.
A dirty humidifier is worse than no humidifier at all, so make the care of yours a priority this winter. Be wet, be well, be safe.
Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 335-4327.