By: Khazenay Bakhsh, DO, Jefferson Primary & Specialty Care
Have you ever noticed that in the winter you are more congested, or have a runny nose? That’s because the body naturally warms and moisturizes (humidifies) air as it travels through the nasal passages, throat, and upper airway. As temperatures drop, dry, cold air can cause this moisture to evaporate quicker, causing irritation, nasal congestion, runny noses, and other difficulties breathing.
Many people turn to a portable humidifier as the air becomes drier, but I would recommend discussing it with your healthcare provider first – especially if you have an underlying lung condition, such as asthma, allergies, or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
Proper use of a humidifier is important, because improper use can cause the exact problems you are trying to avoid! This is because an optimal humidity level (meaning the maximum amount of moisture the air holds) is between 30-50 percent, and too much humidity or too much dry air can cause breathing problems for some people.
Humid, dense air can tighten the airways, requiring more effort to breathe, which is especially risky for those with an underlying lung condition. Additionally, too much moisture in an environment can breed mold spores, mildew, and dust, which can exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms. The same is true when humidifiers aren’t regularly and appropriately disinfected.
With asthma, allergies, COPD, and snoring, it’s important to know your “triggers,” and discuss and evaluate them with a medical professional before trying to manage on your own. The combination of maintenance medication and lifestyle changes will benefit your health more than relying on a humidifier – but in some cases, you may still be able use one.
Another common misconception is that using a humidifier can also reduce your risk of transmitting or spreading a cold or flu. Don’t be fooled! Virus prevention involves:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Staying home when you are sick.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water/or an alcohol-based, anti-bacterial cleanser.
- Covering your mouth and nose (with a tissue or crook of elbow) when sneezing/coughing.
Other winter breathing tips you can try include:
- Covering your nose and mouth (i.e., with a scarf) to help protect airways by warming the air you breathe.
- Avoiding overexertion – through exercise or yardwork – outdoors.
- Checking the weather forecast to keep t an eye on the air quality before heading out
- Keeping your medications/inhaler on hand
Dr. Khazenay Bakhsh is a Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine Specialist with Jefferson Health in New Jersey. She can be reached at 844-542-2273.
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