How To Correctly Use Humidifiers To Help With Sinus Problems

Ile Kauppila

Written By

Ile Kauppila

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Josh Mitchell

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I live with a mild respiratory condition, so I’m no stranger to clogged sinuses. My sinus-related breathing problems get particularly bad during dry air.

My humidifier has really helped relieve my sinus pain and congestion!

If you suffer from sinus issues, you might wonder how a humidifier can help you.

In this guide, I will show you exactly how to use humidifiers to help relieve sinus issues and breathe more freely in your home.

Key Takeaways

  • A humidifier can provide relief to sinus problems by making the air easier and healthier to breathe.
  • A humidifier will not cure sinusitis caused by viral, bacterial, or other underlying conditions.
  • Example

Will A Humidifier Help Relieve Sinusitis? (Solutions Explained)

humidifiers help with nasal congestion

Humidifiers are great at relieving a wide range of sinus symptoms!

A humidifier likely won’t cure the root cause of your sinusitis if it’s due to a viral or bacterial infection.

However, maintaining appropriate humidity levels in my home has helped me clear my nasal passages and suffer from fewer sinus issues.

I’ve listed here the major sinus issues that a humidifier can help with.

Humidifiers Alleviate Sinus Infection Symptoms

As I mentioned, a humidifier can’t cure a sinus infection caused by a virus or bacteria.

However, it can help mitigate the sinus symptoms caused by infections!

If your indoor air is dry, the snot and mucus your sinusitis produces won’t drain well.

The mucus buildup in your nasal passages can lead to further sinus issues and a stuffy nose.

By adding moisture to the air through water vapor, a humidifier can thin the snot and mucus inside your nose and sinuses.

When all that gross stuff starts to flow properly, it’s much easier for me to blow my nose clear.

TL;DR: Humidifiers can only alleviate symptoms, they are a not a cure for acute or chronic sinusitis.

Reduced Sinus Pain Due To Moisturized Nasal Passage

If you live in a dry climate like I do, sinus pain can be a regular, unwelcome guest.

Dry air causes cracking on nasal membranes, which is painful and can lead to bleeding.

A humidifier has made my sinuses a lot less painful. The increased humidity levels it creates moisten my sinuses and keep them from cracking.
What are the Optimal Humidity Levels

I recommend buying a cheap hygrometer to ensure your home has a humidity level between 30-50% for ideal relief. (1)

Important Note:

Hygrometer only measures the relative humidity. Humidistat is a built-in device on humidifiers that measures AND controls humidity. 

Humidifiers Soften Mucus To Reduce Sinus Congestion/Headaches

I often get headaches when dried-up mucus builds in my sinuses. A humidifier has helped relieve my headaches better than any amount of Advil.

Sinus headaches often stem from congestion when mucus dries up on your membranes.

As I mentioned, humidifiers thin your nasal secretions and allow you to clear your airway.

As a result, you’re much less likely to experience a throbbing sinus headache.

Improve Sinus Drainage And Relieve From Postnasal Drip

Sinus drainage, also called postnasal drip, can be annoying and uncomfortable. For me, it’s particularly bad at night.

I hate waking up coughing when mucus drips down my throat.

A humidifier can once again help by thinning the mucus. Any sinus drainage can then flow more freely, instead of moving in horrible clumps that make you choke.

I also advise propping your pillow to keep the thinned snot from getting into your throat.

TL;DR: Optimal humidity levels act as a lubricant thinning mucus and thus reducing congestion by relaxing sinus drainage.

Hydrates Dry Sinuses And Improves Snoring

Your sinuses may dry for any number of reasons, from a common cold to generally dry air (like in my home region).

Can humidifiers help with snoring

Dry sinuses can crack, bleed, be painful, and cause irritation and coughing.

Humidifiers help keep your nasal passages moistened by increasing the relative humidity in your home.

Not only does this provide relief for the sinus symptoms I mentioned, but it can also keep you from snoring!

Relieves Sinus Pressure And Inflammation

Sinus pressure is often due to blocked nasal passages, caused by your sinuses being unable to properly drain.

This can lead to painful inflammation in the head, nose, and face.

Once again, keeping your sinuses hydrated by using a humidifier can help loosen and drain blockages.

You can then clear your nasal passages more easily and relieve the uncomfortable and painful pressure.

TL;DR: Blocked nasal passages can put pressure on the sinuses. Moisture loosens the blockage thus allowing your sinus to drain properly.

How Different Humidifier Types Help Your Sinuses?

There are various types of humidifiers and some of them are better for sinus health than others.

Types of humidifiers

Here’s my breakdown of the most common humidifiers and how they help with sinuses.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers – Recommended To Use With Distilled Water Only

Ultrasonic humidifiers use a plate vibrating at very high speeds to turn water into a cool mist.

I love these units because they’re very quiet and effective at raising humidity levels.

However, ultrasonic humidifiers don’t have filters.

Important Note:

If you use tap water in them, they could emit contaminants that make your sinusitis worse.

I strongly recommend using only distilled water in ultrasonic (or any other) humidifiers.

Evaporative Humidifiers – Noisy But Offer A Filter To Trap Impurities

Evaporative humidifiers are cool mist humidifiers that draw water from the tank into a wicking filter.

An electric fan pushes cool air over the wet wick to produce water vapor.

The wick filter traps impurities in the water, which can help relieve sinus issues and allergy symptoms.

They are a bit noisy, though, so take that into account if you plan to use one in your bedroom.

ultrasonic vs evaporative humidifiers

TL;DR: Ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers are two popular cool mist humidifiers. They do not boil water and thus are excellent if you have children or pets around.

Impeller Humidifiers – Only Use With Distilled Water For Sinus Issues

An impeller humidifier is a cool mist humidifier that creates vapor by disturbing water with a rotating disk spinning at very high speeds.

It functions similarly to an ultrasonic humidifier, which means it shares the same pros and cons. Always use distilled water instead of tap water in these units.

Warm Mist Humidifiers – Great For Sinus Issues But Are A Safety Hazard

Warm mist humidifiers — also called steam vaporizers — use heat to boil water and create hot steam.

This warm steam can quickly relieve congestion and soothe dry sinuses and pressure.

I recommend a warm mist humidifier for relieving sinus problems — with one caveat.

Don’t use these units around pets or children as the hot steam is a safety hazard.

TL;DR: Warm mist humidifiers have soothing properties for your sinuses, however, they pose a safety risk.

Whole-House Humidifiers – When You Want Your Entire Home Humidified

Whole-house humidifiers (or central humidifiers) attach to your heating system to humidify and improve indoor air quality throughout your home.

If you live in a dry climate, they can be an excellent option for relieving sinus discomfort in all rooms with humidified air.

However, they are pretty expensive and difficult to maintain.

TL;DR: For dry climates and for those seeking optimal humidity in the entire house, whole-house humidifiers are recommended.

Precautions To Take When Using Humidifiers For Sinus Relief?

Humidifiers can provide sinus relief — but they could also make your issues worse if you use them incorrectly.

Here are my best tips for getting the most out of your humidifier without putting yourself at risk:

humidifier sqft coverage
  • Match your humidifier to the size of the room you plan to use it in to avoid introducing too much moisture to the air.
  • Buy a hygrometer to measure humidity in your home. Excess moisture in the air could encourage the growth of mold, bacteria, and dust mites that can make your sinus issues worse.
  • Empty and dry the humidifier’s water tank daily to prevent mold or bacterial growth in stagnant water.
  • Clean the humidifier thoroughly with a water/vinegar solution at least every other day.
  • Place the humidifier in a central open location on a sturdy desk or raised platform.
  • Avoid using steam vaporizers and warm mist humidifiers around children and pets, as they can pose a fire and safety hazard.

TL;DR: Proper sizing, thorough cleaning, correct placement and frequency monitoring of humidity levels is important when using a humidifier.

Common Causes Of Sinusitis When At Home

Knowing what causes your sinus issues can help you decide whether and what kind of humidifier can help you.

I’ve listed the most common sinusitis causes here and explained whether a humidifier is good for them.

Dust In The Air

Dust is very bad for my sinuses, as it causes me irritation and dry membranes. A humidifier can help reduce airborne dust.

Humidifiers help control allergens

The added humidity condensates around dust particles and drags them to the floor, making it easier for me to vacuum them up.

Mold Due To Excessive Humidity

Mold is scarily common and can pop up in humid bathrooms, under sinks and carpets, or in leaky ceilings and walls.

Important Note:

Over humidification can make things worse and introduce myriad of new health issues.

I strongly recommend buying a hygrometer or humidistat — especially if you live in an already humid area — to avoid raising moisture levels too much and encouraging mold growth.

Pet Fur And Dander

I love my dog, but our pets can, unfortunately, contribute to sinus problems by shedding fur and pet dander.

A humidifier can help with this issue by weighing down airborne hair and dander and by relieving dry skin.

Cleaning Products And Their Chemical Composition

Some cleaning products can wreak havoc on our sinuses! Some of us (like me) are sensitive to strong detergents and scents.

A humidifier won’t do much to help with this issue, so I suggest swapping to milder or all-natural cleaning products.

Pollen From Houseplants & Flowers

Plants and flowers instantly add life to any space, but they can also contribute to sinus problems with their pollen.

Like with dust, a humidifier can bind and weigh down the pollen to get it out of the air and your sinuses.

Important Note:

A humidifier does not clean the air. They are only designed to add humidity which improves the air quality, but does not necessarily clean it. For cleaning the air, you will need to procure an air purifier.

humidifiers vs air purifiers

FAQs

What Can I Put In My Humidifier For Sinus Issues?

I don’t recommend adding anything but distilled water to your humidifier. Medications, scents, and essential oils can damage the unit.

Can You Put Vicks In A Humidifier?

You can’t put Vicks products in a humidifier. They are topical treatments that aren’t meant to be inhaled and can cause respiratory issues.

What Type Of Climate Influences Sinus Problems?

Very dry and very cold climates can trigger sinus problems. A humidifier can add moisture to the air in these environments and relieve sinus issues.

Do Cool Mist Humidifiers Help With Congestion?

Cool mist humidifiers can help with congestion. A warm mist humidifier may loosen mucus more effectively, but a cool mist unit can still be a great option, especially in a hot climate.

What Is The Difference Between A Vaporizer And A Humidifier?

Humidifiers add moisture to the air by breaking water into a cool mist. A vaporizer boils water to create hot steam instead.

Bottom-Line: Humidifiers Help With Sinus

If you live with sinus issues as I do, a humidifier can be a great addition to your home.

My unit keeps my nose and throat clear in dry air and helps me have fewer headaches from clogged sinuses.

You now know how humidifiers can help with your sinus issue.

With my guide, you can start shopping for a unit that makes your breathing easier and your sinuses less painful!

References: 

  1. https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-course-chapter-2
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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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