Health Team

Humidifiers can cause problems

Posted January 21, 2011 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2011 6:37 p.m. EST

Many pediatricians recommend using humidifiers or vaporizers, especially during dry winter months when the heat is turned up. Humidifiers can help with dry skin and dry sinuses and can even help relieve cold and respiratory symptoms.

“When we have a cold, we have secretions and congestion. Hydrating the airways is key,” said Dr. Peter Richel, a pediatrician at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York.

But humidifiers can also cause problems if they're not cleaned properly. Mold and fungus can build up and be released into the air, triggering flu like symptoms, even lung infections.

Reactions can be particularly bad in people with asthma or allergies.

“They can have increased congestion, cough, even wheezing,” Richel said.

To keep bacteria away, experts recommend cleaning the humidifier tank and reservoir with a disinfectant every three days, changing the water every day with distilled water to cut down on mineral deposits and replacing filters regularly.

Bari Merkow, whose children suffer from eczema, still feels humidifiers are the best way to protect against dryness.

“Anything I can do to add moisture to their skin, to their throats, noses,” Merkow said.

She just makes sure that the mist she's putting out there is clean.

Pediatricians recommend cool-mist humidifiers around children because the water or steam from other humidifiers gets hot and could burn a child.