How To Correctly Use a Humidifier For Asthma Relief

Ile Kauppila

Written By

Ile Kauppila

Expert Reviewed By

Josh Mitchell

Last Updated On

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A few years ago, I was having a really hard time with my breathing before I was diagnosed with asthma.

The area I live in has really dry air, which caused me a lot of issues.

Between the bouts of coughing, I started thinking: “Does a humidifier help with asthma?”

A humidifier helped me manage my condition, but you must use the unit right to not make your asthma worse.

In this guide, I will explain how a humidifier helps asthmatics and how you should use it to manage your condition.

Key Takeaways

  • A humidifier can only prevent or provide relief from asthma flare-ups caused by dry air.
  • A humidifier will not cure your asthma.
  • Keeping the humidifier clean is of paramount importance if you suffer from asthma.

Will A Humidifier Help Relieve Asthma?

Humidifiers alleviate asthma symptoms

A humidifier can help prevent asthma flare-ups and soothe the symptoms.

It will not provide a miracle cure, but it can help you breathe easier in your home.

I had a much easier time with my breathing after I started using a humidifier.

Humidifiers regulate the indoor air quality in your home by adding moisture to dry air.

Here are some of the most significant ways a humidifier can help alleviate asthma symptoms — as it did for me.

TL;DR: Humidifiers can help asthma symptoms and flare-ups, but they do not cure it.

Eliminates Dry Air For Easier Breathing

how humidifiers can help alleviate allergy symptoms

For me, overly dry air is the worst asthma trigger. It dries out the mucous membranes in my sinuses, nasal passage, and throat.

Important Note:

You should consider getting a doctor's opinion before purchasing a humidifier for alleviating asthma symptoms.

As these surfaces dry out, they get irritated and start producing excess phlegm to try and moisturize themselves.

The irritated membranes and phlegm can make breathing difficult and trigger an asthma attack.

I had serious breathing problems because I was constantly trying to clear my throat.

Humidifiers increase the indoor humidity level by producing water vapor that adds moisture to the air as it evaporates.

Ideal humidity levels keep your respiratory system moisturized while also helping with dry skin.

Humidifiers can help you avoid asthma attacks caused by low air humidity.

They can be particularly helpful for people like me, who live in areas with a dry climate year-round.

TL;DR: Humidifiers moisturize your nasal passage and airways thus keeping dry air induced asthma triggers at bay.

Reduces Asthma Triggering Airborne Pollutants

Humidifiers help control allergens

Airborne pollutants — like pollen, dust, and animal dander — are infamous for triggering allergic reactions and asthma attacks alike.

Humidifiers can help control the number of particles in the air, which in turn can help you avoid respiratory infections and other asthma triggers.

The fine vapor humidifiers produce can condense on airborne particles, making them heavier and pulling them to the floor where you can easily vacuum them up.

I’m a bit of a neat freak who vacuums all the time (partially because of my condition) so this made it really easy for me to get rid of airborne dust.

Additionally, a humidifier equipped with a filter can also remove some particles from the air.

They can’t replace air purifiers, though, so I would suggest looking into them as well.

Finally, humidifiers have been shown to eliminate cold and flu viruses by maintaining an ideal humidity level.

You will avoid catching sicknesses that can make your asthma worse by reducing the number of viruses. (1)

TL;DR: Optimal moisture drags airborne particle down to the ground by condensing around them.

Relieve Problematic Asthma Symptoms

Another big benefit I’ve seen is that once an asthma attack starts, a humidifier can relieve my asthma symptoms and make breathing easier.

Air with ideal levels of moisture is easier to breathe than excessively dry or humid air.

It’s always bliss to get home from my commute and draw that first deep breath.

Optimally moist air can help relax your airway after it constricts during an asthma attack.

With a humidifier, your asthma attack may pass faster and the symptoms may be less extreme.

Important Notes:

  • If the air is too humid, it can actually make breathing more difficult.
  • A humidifier is NOT a replacement for proper asthma medication.

I highly recommend consulting with your doctor before introducing a humidifier to your home.

TL;DR: Optimal moisture helps relax the otherwise constricted airways in an asthmatic patient. (Doctor's opinion is advised).

Types Of Humidifiers & How They Help Asthma Symptoms?

Types of humidifiers

There are quite a few different types of humidifiers, each with its own pros and cons. I know the abundance of options can get confusing.

Here’s my breakdown of the most common types of humidifiers to help you find the right machine for you.

Warm Mist Humidifier Ideal For Asthma But Dangerous

Warm mist humidifiers boil water to create steam that they disperse into your home to raise indoor humidity.

They are often the best choice for people with chronic asthma, especially during cold weather, as they reduce pollutant levels in the water by boiling it.

However, due to the presence of hot parts, I would avoid these units if you have small children or pets.

The hot steam could cause scalds or burns if the humidifier is handled carelessly.

TL;DR: Warm mist humidifiers produce which can soothing to airways but are dangerous due to burn risks involved.

Cool Mist Humidifier Do Not Have Hot Parts

Cool mist humidifiers produce cool, refreshing mist or water vapor through various methods.

A cool mist unit is an effective and energy-efficient humidifier for asthma patients in warm, dry areas — in other words, people like me.

They’re also safer around children and pets due to the lack of hot parts.

Evaporative Vs. Ultrasonic Humidifier

Evaporative and ultrasonic humidifiers are the main types of cool mist humidifiers.

ultrasonic vs evaporative humidifiers

They function differently, so you should consider their advantages and drawbacks.

Evaporative humidifiers draw water into a wick filter and evaporate it into the air with the help of a fan.

These devices are rather noisy but the filter may remove some pollutants from the waterwhich could help with asthma symptoms.

Ultrasonic humidifiers turn water into tiny droplets by using high-frequency vibrations. They are efficient, silent, and consume very little electricity.

However, ultrasonic humidifiers have no filter and require frequent cleaning to prevent mold and bacterial growth. Otherwise, they could aggravate asthma symptoms.

TL;DR: Both evaporative and ultrasonic humidifiers are cool mist humidifiers that do not have any hot parts.

Whole-Home Humidifiers

Whole-house humidifiers attach to your air conditioner or heating system to regulate humidity in the entire home. They can be a great help for people living in very dry climates.

These humidifier systems nearly always feature a humidistat, which monitors moisture levels in the air and helps with humidity control.

As such, central humidifiers are quite effective at maintaining healthy humidity levels. However, whole-house humidifiers can be rather expensive and require annual maintenance.

TL;DR: If you want to maintain optimal humidity in each and every room, then a whole-house humidifier is advised.

How To Use A Humidifier For Asthma Safely

Humidifiers can relieve certain asthma issues, but they may also cause them if used incorrectly. I was initially careless with my unit, which caused me a lot of problems.

Here are the most vital considerations to keep in mind when using humidifiers for asthma so you don’t repeat my mistakes:

Monitor And Keep Humidity Levels In Check

I let the unit run nonstop at first, which increased the humidity too much. High humidity levels above 50% make the air heavy and hard to breathe, which can exacerbate asthma, and dust mites and mold can thrive in high humidity and irritate your respiratory system.

What are the Optimal Humidity Levels

Buy a hygrometer or a humidifier with a built-in humidistat to carefully monitor humidity in your home.

Important Note:

A hygrometer is a device that only measures humidity in the air. A humidistat is a device built-into humidifiers that both measures and controls humidity.

Regularly Clean Your Humidifier

Make sure to have your humidifier cleaned regularly with water/vinegar solution, ideally every 2-3 days.

Dirty humidifiers can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, fungi, and other contaminants which can impact your airways and worsen asthma.

Use Distilled Water Only

Always use distilled water to fill the humidifier tank. Tap water contains minerals, bacteria, and other contaminants which can cause respiratory problems.

Distilled water for humidifiers

They may also damage your humidifier by causing mineral deposits, and spread white mineral dust all over your home (as happened to me).

Time Your Humidifier To Run During Dry Hours

If you’re asthmatic, I recommend using a humidifier with an automatic timer.

This way you can program it to run only during the driest time of the day and avoid making the air overly humid, which could promote bacterial growth and cause mold issues.

TL;DR: Regular cleaning, using only distilled water, and keeping the humidity level in check will give you the best health benefits from a humidifier.

What Triggers Asthma In Seasons?

The most common asthma triggers change with the seasons. Here’s what to look out for throughout the year and how a humidifier can help mitigate these issues.

Spring – Pollen Is The Main Culprit

Spring can be one of the worst months for asthma sufferers because of the amount of pollen in the air.

Pollen levels tend to peak in the early morning and late at night.

Humidifiers are useful in spring as proper humidity can prevent pollen from spreading through your home.

Summer – Hot And Naturally Humid Air

In summer, hot and humid air and increased air pollution can trigger your asthma. A humidifier can help manage indoor pollutant levels in your home.

However, due to the naturally higher relative humidity, exercise caution when using a humidifier in summer to avoid health problems from too much humidity.

Fall – Pollen Count Increases Again

Like in spring, pollen levels rise in fall, which is bad for asthmatics. Fall is also the prime time for colds and flu, which can worsen asthma.

A humidifier can effectively reduce both pollen and virus levels in your home.

Winter – Cold And Dry Air

In winter, asthma is usually triggered by cold, dry conditions that irritate your lungs, nasal passages, and throat (this is the worst season for me).

You’ll also spend more time indoors, which can expose you to dust, allergens, and dust mites.

Portable humidifiers can be invaluable in eliminating dry, pollutant-laden air in winter through increased humidity.

Important Note:

A humidifier is not a replacement for an air purifier. Humidifiers do not serve the primary purpose of cleaning the air. That is job of an air purifier.

Common Humidifier Questions

Why Is Cold Air Bad For Asthma?

Cold air is bad for asthma because it causes your airways to become swollen and irritated, which can lead to asthma issues.

Your body also creates a chemical called histamine when cold, which can trigger asthmatic attacks and wheezing.

Are Humidifiers Bad For Lungs?

Humidifiers are not bad for the lungs when used properly.

Humidifiers can help protect your lungs by making sure your home air has a healthy moisture level.

However, improper humidifier use can over-humidify the air, which can lead to breathing problems and additional mold growth.

Can A Humidifier Worsen A Cough?

Humidifiers do not worsen coughs and can actually relieve coughing by moisturizing your airway and making it easier to breathe.

Once again, though, excessive humidity can cause coughing.

Is A Vicks Humidifier Good For Asthma?

Vicks humidifiers can be good for asthma in certain situations as they help clear your airways.

They are designed to help those suffering from sore throats, colds, and coughs.

Does A Vaporizer Help With Breathing?

A vaporizer can help with breathing by maintaining a proper moisture level in your air, which helps relax your airways.

It’s important to be aware of the differences between vaporizers and other types of humidifiers.

So, Humidifiers Provide Only Relief To Asthma

If you are asthmatic like me, the air in your home can impact your health massively.

Humidifiers didn’t cure my asthma, but they have helped me avoid the most common triggers by preventing irritation in my mouth, nose, and lungs.

Every asthma condition is unique, though, so you must use the right humidifier for your situation.

With my guide, you can find a humidifier that can properly humidify your home air to reduce asthma symptoms and help you breathe easier.


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Ile Kauppila

MA Multimedia Journalism / BA English Philology

Ile Kauppila
Ile Kauppila is a globetrotting writer and editor living in Virginia. Ile holds an MA degree in Multimedia Journalism and a BA in English Philology. Ile has written for a variety of home, HVAC, and energy-related websites and publications. He has covered HVAC solutions, insulation, and energy-efficient construction, automotive AC systems for multiple auto dealerships and garages.

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