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How humidifiers can help seasonal allergies

Dry, cracked lips, sore throat, blotchy skin, itchy eyes...  if you're a sufferer of seasonal allergies you've probably tried lots of things, pharmaceutical and natural, to help your symptoms.  But here's one you may not have considered:  a humidifier.

What are humidifiers?

Humidifiers are devices that emit water vapour to increase moisture levels in the air.  They differ from vaporisers in that their operation is cool - they create a cool mist, rather than a warm steam.   They do this through various different methods.

  • Ultrasonic humidifiers produce a cool mist by using vibration to break up the water particles.
  • Impeller humidifiers produce a cool mist with a rotating disc.
  • Evaporators use a fan to blow air through a wet wick or filter.

"Relative Humidity" (or RH) refers to the amount of water vapour in the air, expressed as a percentage of the total amount of water the air can hold (100%).  Air is naturally less humid in some climates, like central Australia, and in certain seasons (such as winter and spring).  Reverse cycle air conditioning or central heating is also known to strip moisture from the air.  As a general rule, people typically find a relative humidity of 30-50% most comfortable. 

How humidity can help

Air that is too low in humidity can cause dry skin and chapped lips, irritate nasal passages and make your eyes itchy - so it's no surprise that in hayfever and eczema sufferers, dry air can exacerbate their symptoms.  Conversely, keeping the air at an optimal humidity level can ease some of the superficial suffering by adding helpful cool moisture to soothe and rehydrate the skin, tear ducts, dry throats and nasal passages.

Your nose especially, is designed to work best when it's moist.  Inside the nasal passages, cillia (microscopic cellular strands) and mucous traps and removes dust, pollen and pathogens as they move through the nasal passages.  This is called the 'nasal mucosa' and it requires humidity and moisture to work effectively. 

When relative humidity drops too low, the cillia effectively stop 'sweeping' and allow pollens in.  Significant, extended dryness can actually damage the cillia and lead to complications such as sinusitis.  So to keep your nose healthy, happy and doing its job as your first line allergy defense, humidity is very important.

Keeping indoor allergens in check

Another helpful aspect of using a humidifier is control of some indoor allergens.  Dust, pollen and other "floaty" allergens which can get swept or stepped inside are much more likely to mobilise in dry air, and therefore be inhaled.

In heavier, moist air these pollens are weighed down so they don't travel as easily - making inside a less sneezy place to be.  Humidifiers can therefore be very handy in places like offices and reception areas, where doors open frequently and it's difficult to control who is walking in and out with allergens attached to their clothes.

There are some exceptions to the humidifiers and allergies rule.  Too-high levels of humidity can increase the growth of mould and the incidence of dust mites (higher than 50% in the case of dust mites, so there is still a 'sweet spot' between 30-50%).   To prevent too much of a good thing here are some precautionary steps to take when using a humidifer indoors.

  1. Ventilate - t's important to always allow proper ventilation, not allow moisture to pool (in and around windows and curtains especially).  Always dry and air out a room after use.
  2. Clean - always clean your humidifier according to manufacturer's instructions and replace the filter regularly to reduce any bacteria growth.
  3. Measure - if allergies are particularly bad in your family, it's worth investing in a hygrometer which will tell you the room's RH (and exactly when you need to use your humidifier to keep comfortable).

Vicks Humidifiers

Controlling your indoor environment, particularly your home humidity, is a critical component of any overall effort to reduce allergy symptoms. Vicks can help by offering two humidifier options to suit different needs.

Vicks Starry Night Humidifier
 

The ultimate in soothing comfort for children (and adults) of all ages, the Vicks Starry Night Humidifier creates a 24-hour flow of invisible moisture for easier breathing and a better night's sleep.  Children will be transfixed by the starry night display - a tranquil starlight pattern projected on the ceiling to help them gently nod off to sleep (suitable from newborn onwards).

Method: Evaporative.

Find out more about the Vicks Starry Night Humidifier here.

Available at leading pharmacies, Baby Bunting and online.

Vicks MIni Cool Mist Humidifier

The perfect, compact size for a bedroom or office, the Mini Cool Mist can run continuously for 20 hours.  It's low maintenance, requiring no filters and is ultra quiet and easy to clean.  There is an auto-shut off feature if the unit runs dry and comes with a 2 year warranty.  Both Vicks units can be used with Vicks VapoPads, scent pads with a soothing Vicks aroma.

Method:  Ultrasonic Oscillation

Find out more about the Vicks Mini Cool Mist Humidifier here.

Available at leading pharmacies or online.