How To Use Humidifiers To Help Ease COPD Symptoms

Ile Kauppila

Written By

Ile Kauppila

Expert Reviewed By

Josh Mitchell

Last Updated On

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COPD is a serious respiratory condition in itself. Dry air only makes its symptoms much worse.

I live with breathing problems myself, and a humidifier has helped me control my issues.

They can do the same for COPD patients — but only if you use the devices correctly.

I wrote this guide to teach you how humidifiers can help patients with COPD and how you can use them safely.

Key Takeaways

  • Yes, humidifiers can be great for COPD patients as appropriately humid air is easier to breathe.
  • Keep the humidity levels in check because excess humidity can be detrimental to COPD patients.

Are Humidifiers Good For COPD Patients?

Yes, humidifiers can be very good for COPD patients. By producing humid air, they can greatly benefit your respiratory health — as I’ve discovered with my asthma.

Humidifiers for COPD

Low indoor humidity makes the air hard to breathe and can irritate your lungs and airway.

This aggravates COPD symptoms, such as coughing and congestion. It may also cause dry skin and eyes.

Humidifiers boost humidity levels by generating water vapor that evaporates in the air.

Appropriately humid air is easier to breathe and keeps your airway moisturized, providing relief from COPD symptoms.

Important Note:

You must be careful not to increase indoor humidity too much. Excessive humidity levels create an ideal environment for mold and dust mites to thrive. Both of these unwelcome contaminants can aggravate COPD. Additionally, very humid air gets heavy and hard to breathe.

What are the Optimal Humidity Levels

The ideal indoor humidity level sits between 30%-50%. I strongly recommend purchasing a cheap hygrometer so you can monitor your home’s humidity level and keep it around 40%.

TL;DR: Since dry air is dangerous for COPD patients, a humidifier is certainly great for managing the symptoms. Air with optimal humidity is easier to breathe.

What Is The Best Humidifier Type For COPD?

You can find many different types of humidifiers, and each of them has its own pros and cons.

What type of humidifier is the best for your COPD symptoms depends entirely on your personal condition.

I’ve listed here the most common types of humidifiers and a short description of each.

Types of humidifiers

I would advise using my tips to consult with your doctor to find which unit they recommend you try.

Whole-House Humidifiers – For Alleviating COPD In The Entire House

Whole-house humidifiers (or furnace humidifiers) attach to your home’s heating systems to increase air moisture throughout the house through the existing air ducts.

They can be a great way to prevent flare-ups from COPD in very cold or dry climates.

Whole-home units can be very expensive, though, and they require professional installation and annual maintenance.

I would check with your doctor if you can benefit from one before shelling out the money.

TL;DR: If humidification helps your COPD symptoms, you may consider a whole-house humidification option.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers Have No Filters

Ultrasonic humidifiers use a plate vibrating at extreme speeds to break water into a fine, cool mist.

These units are my personal favorites as they’re very efficient, silent, and consume little energy.

They are great at relieving symptoms from lung conditions, like asthma and COPD.

However, ultrasonic humidifiers have no filters, so you must make sure to clean them regularly to prevent them from spreading mold and bacteria.

Additionally, I strongly advise you to use distilled water in ultrasonic humidifiers instead of tap water, as tap water may have harmful contaminants that can make your COPD flare up.

use only distilled water in humidifier

Impeller Humidifiers

Impeller humidifiers are very similar to ultrasonic ones.

The difference is that they use a small quickly rotating disc to produce water vapor instead of a plate.

They share most of their advantages and drawbacks with ultrasonic humidifiers.

Impeller units are efficient and quiet but can disperse contaminants in the air if used improperly.

Evaporative Humidifiers Have A Filter

An evaporative humidifier is a type of cool mist unit that absorbs water into a wicking filter.

A fan blows air over the wick, evaporating the water and boosting indoor humidity.

A major benefit of evaporative units is that the wick traps minerals, bacteria, and other contaminants in the water.

On the downside, they are pretty loud and require regular filter replacement.

But if you can stomach the noise and maintenance, I would recommend these units for COPD patients.

ultrasonic vs evaporative humidifiers

Warm Mist Humidifiers Help With Easier Breathing But Can Be Dangerous

Warm mist humidifiers — also called steam vaporizers — boil water to produce hot steam to humidify the air.

The warm steam might make the air easier to breathe for some people with COPD, so a warm mist unit may be particularly good for you. (1)

These humidifiers run hot, though, so I would avoid using them if you have small children or pets.

Once again, you should also check with your doctor if the warm steam will benefit you or whether you’re better off with a cool mist unit.

TL;DR: Warm mist humidifiers do have soothing properties due to hot steam, they are also dangerous around children and pet. Hence, cool mist humidifiers like ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers are very popular.

How To Use Humidifiers For COPD Patients?

Perhaps the most crucial thing to remember when using a humidifier to treat COPD is to clean the unit every other day.

A dirty humidifier can spew mold and bacteria into the air, which makes your condition worse.

Here’s my humidifier maintenance routine that you can follow with almost any portable humidifier:

  1. 1
    Power the unit off and unplug it.
  2. 2
    Remove and empty the water tank.
  3. 3
    Empty water from the base unit.
  4. 4
    Use Q-tips and a soft cloth to scrape off any possible mineral deposits.
  5. 5
    Wash the tank and unit with a mild water/vinegar mixture.
  6. 6
    Allow all the parts to air dry thoroughly.
  7. 7
    Reassemble the unit and fill the tank with distilled water.

Proper humidifier placement is also importantTry to keep it on a sturdy, elevated platform as near to the center of the room as possible.

Living room humidifier placement

TL;DR: Humidifiers can turn conditions for COPD unfavorable if proper care is not taken. Remember to use distilled water, clean regularly, choose the right location and avoid over humidification.

How Important Are Humidifiers To COPD Patients During Winter?

The falling temperatures and the resultant dry air during winter months can be very difficult for COPD and OSAS patients. The cold air sure does a number on my asthma.

Humidifiers can reduce COPD symptoms during the winter. The added humidity can help you breathe with greater ease as it mitigates the natural air dryness in your home.

Winter is also the prime season for colds and flu, which can wreak havoc on your COPD-afflicted airway.

Humidity levels between 30%-50% have been shown to destroy and deactivate cold viruses.

Humidifiers can help keep your home germ-free, which can go a long way toward managing COPD. (2)

TL;DR: Since winters are particularly dry, humidification can not only make it easier to breath, but also keep your passage ways lubricated and keep viruses from thriving.

Understanding COPD Can Help You Choose Humidifier

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD is an inflammatory lung disease that causes restricted airflow in the lungs.

COPD is a fairly common ailment, with 30 million people in the U.S. alone suffering from it.

Roughly half of COPD patients don’t even know they have the condition. (3)

COPD is generally caused by emphysema and bronchitis, but long-term exposure to irritants, like cigarette smoking or pollution, can also cause it.

There is no cure for COPD, unfortunately.

If untreated, it can cause significant lung damage. People who have COPD are also at an increased risk for heart disease and lung cancer, among other conditions.

I recommend contacting your doctor and getting checked if you notice persistent COPD symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent colds, flu, or respiratory infections
  • Excessive fatigue (from low oxygen levels)
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Excessive mucus

Important Note:

While humidifiers certainly help COPD patients, if your triggers are allergens and dust found in the air, then you need an air purifier. Air purifiers eliminate physical, bacterial and viral pathogens from the air.

TL;DR: Understanding your COPD and its triggers can help you make an informed choice on whether to get a humidifier or not.

humidifiers vs air purifiers

What Triggers COPD At Home?

COPD is a complex condition that can be triggered by many different things, depending on the person. I’ve listed here the most common COPD triggers and how humidifiers can help with them.

Humidifiers help with COPD

Cigarette Smoke

COPD is often caused by long-term smoking and tobacco use. Humidified air can help soothe airways irritated by smoking.

However, they’re not miracle machines that can cure smoker’s cough, so my best tip is to kick your smoking habit.

Dust In The Air

Dust is a very common irritant that can cause COPD flare-ups. The water vapor from a humidifier can condensate on dust particles and weigh them down.

They will settle on the floor and stay out of your lungs while you vacuum them up.

Common Allergens

Pollen, pet dander, and other airborne allergens can aggravate COPD. Just like with dust, a humidifier can help pull these allergens out of the air and help you breathe easier.

They also help moisten your airway, which makes it harder for allergens to stick to your membranes.

Chemicals From Household Cleaners

Certain chemical fumes from harsh cleaning solutions such as bleach or ammonia can irritate the bronchial tubes and cause an attack.

Humidifiers can’t clean the air from the fumes, but they may soothe your irritated airway.

Air Pollution

Air pollution from cars, fireplaces, factories, and other sources is likely to hinder lung function if you have COPD.

In some cases, a humidifier can reduce the levels of particulate matter in the air, like with dust and allergens.

However, I recommend possibly moving away from areas with high pollution.

FAQs

Is A Humidifier Or Dehumidifier Better For COPD?

Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can both with COPD, depending on where you live. If you live in a humid climate, you might need a dehumidifier. If you are in an arid region, a humidifier can help you breathe easier.

When Should You Not Use A Humidifier?

You should not use a humidifier when the ambient air is already humid.

High humidity can cause a COPD episode in itself and also encourage the growth of mold and dust mites.

What Humidity Level Is Bad For COPD?

Both too-low and high humidity are bad for COPD. The ideal humidity level is around 40%.

I recommend purchasing a hygrometer so you can monitor indoor humidity in your home.

Do Humidifiers Help With Breathing Problems?

Yes, humidifiers can help with certain breathing problems such as COPD and asthma.

However, a humidifier is not a substitute for medical treatment. I recommend asking a doctor if a humidifier can help your breathing problems.

What Is The Best Climate For Someone With COPD?

The best climate for someone with COPD is a place that has a temperate climate and average humidity of 40%.

COPD patients should avoid extremely dry and arid climates with a lot of dust and particles in the air.

So, Should You Get A Humidifier For COPD?

A humidifier can make your life much more tolerable if you live with breathing issues.

Whether you suffer from COPD or are an asthma patient (like I am), properly humidified home air is key to drawing a deep, comfortable breath.

With my guide, you now know what a humidifier can and can’t do for your COPD.

The next time you visit your doctor, why not ask whether a certain humidifier type could benefit your condition?

References: 

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/copd/humidity
  2. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-9-55
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/copd
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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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