Mak­ing healthy use of hu­mid­i­fiers

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Hu­mid­i­fiers can ease prob­lems caused by dry air. Dry si­nuses, bloody noses and cracked lips — hu­mid­i­fiers can help soothe these fa­mil­iar prob­lems caused by dry in­door air. Hu­mid­i­fiers can also help ease symp­toms of a cold or an­other re­s­pi­ra­tory con­di­tion.

But be cau­tious, they need reg­u­lar main­te­nance. Al­though use­ful, hu­mid­i­fiers can be­come a house­hold health haz­ard and ac­tu­ally make you sick if they aren’t main­tained prop­erly or if hu­mid­ity lev­els stay too high. If you use hu­mid­i­fiers, be sure to mon­i­tor hu­mid­ity lev­els and keep your hu­mid­i­fier clean. Dirty hu­mid­i­fiers can breed mold or bac­te­ria. If you have al­ler­gies or asthma, talk to your doc­tor be­fore us­ing a hu­mid­i­fier.

WHAT ARE HU­MID­I­FIERS?

Hu­mid­i­fiers are de­vices that emit wa­ter va­por or steam to in­crease mois­ture lev­els in the air (hu­mid­ity). There are sev­eral types:

● Cen­tral hu­mid­i­fiers are built into home heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems and are de­signed to hu­mid­ify the whole house.

● Ul­tra­sonic hu­mid­i­fiers pro­duce a cool mist with ul­tra­sonic vi­bra­tion.

● Im­peller hu­mid­i­fiers pro­duce a cool mist with a ro­tat­ing disk.

● Eva­po­ra­tors use a fan to blow air through a wet wick, fil­ter or belt.

● Steam va­por­iz­ers use elec­tric­ity to cre­ate steam that cools be­fore leav­ing the ma­chine. Avoid this type of hu­mid­i­fier if you have chil­dren; hot wa­ter in­side this type of hu­mid­i­fier may cause burns if spilled.

IDEAL HU­MID­ITY LEV­ELS

Hu­mid­ity is the amount of wa­ter va­por in the air. The amount of hu­mid­ity varies de­pend­ing on the sea­son, weather and where you live. Gen­er­ally, hu­mid­ity lev­els are higher in the sum­mer and lower dur­ing win­ter months. Ide­ally, hu­mid­ity in your home should be be­tween 30 and 50 per­cent. Hu­mid­ity that’s too low or too high can cause prob­lems.

Low hu­mid­ity can cause dry skin, ir­ri­tate your nasal pas­sages and throat, and make your eyes itchy.

High hu­mid­ity can make your home feel stuffy and can cause con­den­sa­tion on walls, floors and other sur­faces that trig­gers the growth of harm­ful bac­te­ria, dust mites and molds.

DEHUMIDIFIERS AND AIR CON­DI­TION­ERS

Just as air that’s dry can be a prob­lem, so can air that’s too moist. When hu­mid­ity gets too high — com­mon dur­ing sum­mer months — it’s a good idea to take steps to re­duce in­door mois­ture. There are two ways to re­duce hu­mid­ity:

Use an air con­di­tioner: Cen­tral or win­dow-mounted air con­di­tion­ing units dry the air, keep­ing in­door hu­mid­ity at a com­fort­able and healthy level.

Use a de­hu­mid­i­fier: These de­vices col­lect ex­cess mois­ture from the air, low­er­ing hu­mid­ity lev­els. Dehumidifiers work like air con­di­tion­ers, with­out the “cool­ing” ef­fect.

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