Which is best for asthma—a steam vaporizer or a cool mist humidifier? Both types of humidifiers work to add moisture to indoor air, but for years doctors have told asthma patients that a cool mist humidifier was best for asthma. Conflicting recommendations make it difficult to choose the best humidifier for you. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both types of humidifiers and how to choose the best humidifier for you and your kids. (One note—this article is about portable room humidifiers.)
Steam vaporizers work by creating steam via a heating element which boils the water in the unit’s tank. The steam then goes into a small nozzle, which works to concentrate the steam into a mist that’s released into the room. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of steam vaporizers.
Advantages of Steam Vaporizers
• More quiet than most cool mist humidifiers.
• Don’t use wick filters—these can provide the perfect environment for bacteria and mold.
• Some models use a cup that holds a liquid (usually includes menthol) that soothes and opens irritated and congested airways.
• Steam vaporizers kill harmful bacteria, molds or minerals that could be released into the room. These substances can be dangerous when inhaled.
Disadvantages of a Steam Vaporizer
• The heating element in steam vaporizers uses more electricity than cool mist humidifiers.
• These units can be a burn risk for small children when placed within their reach.
Cool Mist Humidifiers
Cool mist humidifiers produce a cool mist, without using heat, to humidify the air. There are different types of cool mist humidifiers: evaporative (uses a wick system with a fan), ultrasonic (uses a vibrating system to produce the mist), and impeller (uses a spinning disk to produce the mist).
Benefits of Cool Mist Humidifiers
• Evaporative wick systems act as a filter to ensure the mist is clean and mineral-free.
• Use a lower amount of electricity than steam vaporizers.
• Units with fans can disperse the mist to a larger area.
Disadvantages Cool Mist Humidifiers
• Units with fans can be noisier than steam vaporizers.
• Wicks (in evaporative humidifiers) need to be replaced often in order to avoid the growth of bacteria and mold.
• Bacteria and mold can be dispersed into the room if the unit’s not cleaned often enough.
Health Benefits of Humidifiers
Why use a humidifier? Dry air can increase some health troubles, including dry chapped skin and irritated airways. The mucous membranes in our airways are not able to function correctly in overly dry air, which can lead to nasal/sinus congestion, coughing and worsening asthma. Humidifiers also work to thin mucus secretions when you or your kids have a cold or the flu.
Healthy Humidity Levels
Healthy indoor humidity levels should be between 25% and 50%. Lower humidity levels lead to the health issues mentioned above. Indoor humidity levels higher than 50% can cause bacteria, mold and dust mites to thrive.
Which Humidifier is Best for Asthma?
Which humidifier is best for asthma? Some doctors recommend cool mist humidifiers, while other doctors prefer steam vaporizers to improve indoor humidity levels. These conflicting recommendations make it confusing as to which type of humidifier is best for asthma patients. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a humidifier:
1. Consider the climate. If you live in an already humid area, a humidifier may make your indoor air too humid.
2. Consider your own preferences. Do cooler temperatures make your asthma worse? Then you should choose a steam vaporizer. Does warm humidity make your asthma better? Then you should choose a cool mist humidifier.
3. Does noise bother you when trying to sleep? Then it might be best to get a steam vaporizer, since these are usually quieter than a cool mist humidifier.
Here are some tips to help you get the most from the humidifier you choose:
1. Use distilled or filtered water. Unfiltered tap water contains minerals and other impurities that can be dispersed into the room. These substances may be harmful if inhaled.
2. Change humidifier water every day. Water, left in the humidifier longer than a day, promotes the growth of mold and bacteria which can be dispersed into the room and cause illnesses if inhaled.
3. Clean the humidifier about every three days. You can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning the humidifier. You can also use a small amount of chlorine bleach and water, or soak the humidifier’s tank with a mix of vinegar and water.
4. Change humidifier filter and/or wick often, as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions.
5. Keep the area around the humidifier dry. If curtains, rugs/carpets or furniture begin to feel damp or wet, it’s best to either turn down the humidifier or turn it off until the room’s no longer damp.
6. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels where the humidifier's located.
Humidifiers are helpful when indoor air becomes overly dry; however, there’s conflicting information about what type of humidifier is best for asthma patients. It’s important to listen to your doctor’s advice as to what type of humidifier may be best for you. Along with your doctor’s recommendation, consider your own preferences and what helps to relieve your asthma the most.
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