How To Safely Use Humidifiers to Help Dry Eyes

Ile Kauppila

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Ile Kauppila

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Josh Mitchell

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As winter rolls in, the dry air starts causing me issues — including dry eyes.

When my eyes start itching, I know it’s time to break out my trusty humidifier.

Humidifiers can relieve the symptoms of dry eyes by maintaining healthy humidity levels in your home.

However, they may not work for every issue resulting in dry eyes.

I wrote this guide to explain whether a humidifier helps with dry eyes and how you can keep the mirrors of your soul healthy with proper air moisture.

Key Takeaways

  • A humidifier increases the water content in the air thus reducing the evaporation of tears and keeping the eyes moist.
  • A humidifier will not cure underlying health conditions resulting in dry eyes.

How Does Humidity Affect Your Eyes?

Humidity levels at home should ideally remain between 30%-50%. Unless there is a medical reason for your dry eyes, this humidity level should keep your eyes moisturized. (1)

humidifiers can help with dry airs
If the humidity in your home is low, your eyes will begin to dry through evaporation.

You may notice itchy sensations, redness, or light sensitivity.

Excessive humidity, on the other hand, can encourage mold or bacterial growth.

These airborne pollutants may irritate your eyes and cause dry eye symptoms.

Using a humidifier — together with a hygrometer — is an effective way to control humidity in your home.

What are the Optimal Humidity Levels

A humidifier can provide welcome relief from dry eyes in certain conditions. (2)

If you suffer from dry eyes, I recommend giving a humidifier a try!

Important Note:

Hygrometer is a standalone device that is used to only measure humidity in the air. A humidistat, on the other hand, is a built-in device which, together with humidistat, is used to measure AND control humidity.

TL;DR: Your eyes need to stay moist. If the humidity is low, your eyes will get drier to natural evaporation. 

How Different Humidifiers Can Help Your Dry Eyes

Certain types of humidifiers can reduce dry eye symptoms better than others. I know it can be confusing to figure out which kind is the best for your eyes.

I have listed the most common options to make the choice easier for you.

Types of humidifiers

Warm Vs. Cool Mist – Both Can Help

Any humidifier can help with dry eyes. However, I recommend choosing a cool mist humidifier over a warm mist unit.

Warm mist humidifiers are great for helping with colds or sinus issues.

The warm mist doesn’t do much for tear production or dry eyes, though.

Cool mist humidifiers are more efficient at humidifying your home, which is what you want.

As such, a cool mist humidifier is the best option to treat your dry eye syndrome.

TL;DR: Warm mist humidifiers are soothing but pose safety risk, hence cool mist humidifiers are often recommended.

Ultrasonic Vs. Evaporative

ultrasonic vs evaporative humidifiers

Ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers are the most common types of cool mist humidifiers. Out of the two, I would choose an evaporative unit for relieving dry eye symptoms.

Evaporative humidifiers dispense water vapor through a wick filter, which will trap dust or minerals that could cause further irritation in your dry eyes.

They have higher running costs as you must replace the humidifier filter regularly, but the filtered air moisture is worth it in my books.

Ultrasonic humidifiers are my favorite units, but I wouldn’t necessarily use one as a humidifier for dry eyes.

They have no filters, so irritating minerals or particles can be released into the air.

I strongly advise using distilled or purified water in ultrasonic humidifiers to make them safe for your eyes.

use only distilled water in humidifier

Important Note:

Never use tap water since they have a concentration of minerals and may have bacterial and viral pathogens. 

Whole House Humidifiers

A whole-house humidifier can be a great way to treat chronic dry eyes.

These units attach to your HVAC system and disperse moisture to the whole house, instead of only one room.

Although whole-home units generally use warm water, I would still consider installing one if you experience dry eyes.

Having steady humidity in every room of your home can be very helpful for your dry eye syndrome.

If you live in an area where environmental factors regularly cause dry air, I recommend looking into whole-home humidifiers.

They can be expensive to install, though, and will require regular maintenance alongside your HVAC system.

TL;DR: Whole house humidifiers are great if you already have a central HVAC system installed. They can humidify your entire home.

Air Washers For Humidifying And Cleaning The Air

An air washer combines a humidifier and an air purifier into one device.

The humidifier unit increases moisture in the air, while the purifier removes irritants, such as pollen, dust, or pet dander.

The cool mist they make can help your eyes produce enough tears to moisten your dry eyes.

Fewer particles in the air will prevent irritation and give your ailing eyes a rest.

However, air washers require much care and maintenance to ensure they run efficiently and smoothly.

If you can take care of the unit, though, I can recommend one for your home.

humidifiers vs air purifiers

TL;DR: Humidifiers do not clean the air. They are great for dry eyes, but if the underlying cause of your eye irritation is dust in the air, then you need an air purifier.

What Causes Dry Eyes At Home?

Humidifiers can treat dry eye symptoms, but they likely can’t address the root cause. It’s good to know why you have dry eyes so you can use your humidifier appropriately.

I’ve listed here a few common causes of dry eyes at home.

Seasons Can Trigger Dry Eyes

Changing seasons affect air dryness. My eyes often dry up in winter months, as the cold, dry air dehydrates my eyes.

Summer heat can make your tears evaporate, which also leads to dry eyes.

A season-appropriate humidifier can maintain a healthy humidity level in your home to prevent dry eyes.

Air Conditioners Reduce Humidity And Increase Dryness

Any home air conditioner will reduce humidity levels as it heats or cools the air, which will affect your eyes too.

Drier air in the house makes eye moisture evaporate faster, which can cause dry eye symptoms.

An Underlying Health Issue

Many illnesses and medical conditions can affect tear production and cause dry eyes. I once got a nasty eye infection that completely dried my eyes.

Important Note:

Using a humidifier can provide relief, but you should see your healthcare provider to treat the illness causing your dry eyes.

Excessive Screen Time

I admit I spend too much time staring at computer screens, which dries my eyes out.

Excessive screen time can make you blink less, which lets your eyes dry out.

Screen flickering and low refresh rates also cause eye strain, which can make the issue worse.

Wearing Contact Lenses Over A Long Time

Contact lenses can seriously dry your eyes if worn for long periods. I recommend consulting your eye doctor to determine how long you should wear the lenses.

TL;DR: Understanding causes of dry eyes can help you manage the symptoms. Other than dry air, there are myriad of other causes.

Other Tips To Combat Dry Eyes

Aside from using a humidifier, you can treat dry eyes in many other ways. Here are some easy dry eye treatments that have helped me.

  • Frequent Blinking:
    Make a conscious effort to blink more often. Hold your eyes closed for a second to allow the moisture to spread evenly.
  • Don’t Blow Air Into Your Eyes:
    Be careful with your air conditioner, hair dryers, or fans. Airflow evaporates moisture from your eyeballs and can lead to dry eyes.
  • Position Your Computer Low:
    Placing your computer screen below eye level will prevent strain and slow the evaporation of your tears.
  • Limit Screen Time:
    Taking frequent breaks from computers and mobile devices reduces eye strain, which can help keep your eyes moisturized.
  • Wash Your Eyes:
    Using a damp cloth, cotton pad, or warm compress, massage your eye while closed. This can stimulate your tear ducts and remove debris.
  • Use Eye Drops:
    Eye drops or artificial tears can relieve eye dryness momentarily, but they’re often not a good long-term solution.

Common Questions

What Does Dry Eye Look Like?

Dry eyes will be red in the cornea or around the eye. You may feel like there’s something in your eyes and it can cause blurry vision or sensitivity to light.

Can You Have Just One Dry Eye?

You can have just one dry eye, although it’s rare.

For example, certain infections or health conditions could affect only one of your eyes.

Do Vaporizers Help With Dry Eyes?

Vaporizers can help with dry eyes. However, they’re generally not as efficient as cool mist humidifiers for relieving dry eye symptoms.

Does Dry Eye Go Away Naturally?

Dry eyes can go away naturally, depending on the underlying cause.

If your dry eye problems don’t seem to get better, I recommend seeing a doctor.

Does Drinking Water Help Dry Eyes?

Drinking water may help dry eyes. They can be a symptom of dehydration and drinking water can help make up for lost moisture in your body.

In Short, Optimal Humidity Can Help Dry Eyes

My eyes often dry up in winter months, and my humidifier has helped a lot with them.

Maintaining healthy humidity levels in your home can provide some much-needed dry eye relief.

A humidifier is unlikely to resolve the root cause of your dry eyes.

However, humidifiers can make you more comfortable by reducing redness and itchiness while you seek a working treatment!

References: 

  1. https://www.epa.gov/mold/brief-guide-mold-moisture-and-your-home#tab-6
  2. https://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Abstract/2017/11000/Randomized_Trial_of_Desktop_Humidifier_for_Dry_Eye.9.aspx
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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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