Can humidifier put water in lungs?

This article discusses whether humidifiers put water in your lungs. Furthermore, we discuss what are the drawbacks of this, and how to prevent issues that may arise from this.

Can humidifier put water in your lungs

Yes, humidifiers can put water in your lungs, although the amount is not a threat to respiratory health. Humidifiers are devices that release droplets of water in the indoor air.

Humidifiers are an important device especially for dry places, since dry air can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose and throat, and can trigger sinus headaches, coughing, and bleeding of the nose.

There are different types of humidifiers that work in different methods. These are:

Steam vaporizers, which use electricity to create steam, cools before it leaves the unit. However, there is a risk of burning the skin, and people should avoid using steam vaporizers around children.

Ultrasonic humidifiers, which instead of electricity, use vibrations to vaporize water.

Evaporators, which produce humidity by blowing air past evaporating water.

Impeller humidifiers, which are generally child-friendly and use rotating disks, rather than heat, to vaporize water; and 

Central humidifiers, which are connected to the central air conditioning in the home or office to add moisture to the entire space.

Is the mist generated by humidifiers harmful for the lungs?

In the normal case, no, the mist on inhalation does not have any serious effects on human health, especially on the lungs. On the contrary, humidifiers are ideal for people that suffer from lung infections such as asthma, pneumonia, and so on.

In dry seasons, people are more prone to respiratory illnesses, which include flare-ups of asthma, lung infections, or the inability to breathe deeply.

Dry air acts as an irritant to the inner linings of the respiratory passage, which in turn can cause excessive mucus secretions as well as asthma flare-ups.

This is where humidifiers come into the picture. Humidifiers help to maintain the ideal humidity in the indoor environment, which in turn helps to keep the respiratory passage moist, therefore allowing the user to breathe easily.

Interestingly, humidifiers are also helpful for  people suffering from pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. 

The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. However, using an air humidifier has been shown to help make breathing easier for people suffering from pneumonia.

Furthermore, it also helped in controlling certain symptoms of pneumonia, thereby aiding in the recovery of people ailing from pneumonia.

How humidifiers harm the lungs

Humidifiers have been shown to mainly relieve symptoms of asthma, sinus headaches, and even pneumonia. However, sometimes humidifiers can also aggravate these illnesses.

Humidifiers can cause a serious issue which is known as ‘humidifier lungs’ which is formally known as ‘hypersensitivity pneumonitis’. 

These are infections that occur due to bacterial infection in the lungs, causing inflammation and pneumonia-like conditions. However, the illness is short term and can be treated with medication.

These adverse effects can mainly be caused due to the following issues:

  • Dirty water being used in humidifier
  • Poorly maintained humidifier
  • Very high humidity settings

We shall discuss them in more detail.

Dirty water being used in the humidifier

Sometimes, instead of using clean water, people usually use hard water or unclean water. Not only does this have the potential of harming the device, doing so can harm the person’s health as well.

The salts present in hard water start to precipitate once the water quantity starts to decrease. These salts can also get deposited on the various components in the humidifier, thereby making them prone to getting damaged.

Furthermore, some of these minerals can also get entrapped by the water mist and settle in the various parts of the house in the form of dust. This dust in turn can adversely affect the pulmonary health of the occupants.

Furthermore, dirty water may contain bacterial microorganisms that could enter people’s lungs through the mist generated by the humidifier. These can trigger lung infections and can also cause asthma or sinus infections as well.

Poorly maintained humidifier

Humidifiers require to be cleaned regularly and be serviced by trained technicians on a regular basis, in order to ensure that they function optimally, as well as prevent any buildup of microorganisms.

However, for poorly maintained humidifiers, this is exactly the problem. Humidifiers have dark and humid conditions within, which is ideal for the proliferation of mold spores as well as for bacteria.

When these molds start to mature, they produce spores which get entrapped by the mist emanating from the humidifier. This in turn not only makes other places of the house prone to developing mold, but also pose a serious threat to the user’s health.

Some of the mold species, such as black mold, can even prove to be lethal if not treated in the early stages. These molds mainly target the lungs and sinuses of the recipient, which in turn causes coughing, fever, tightness in the chest region, and difficulty to breathe.

People who are suffering from pre-existing illnesses of the respiratory system, as well as immunocompromised people, are at a higher risk to develop serious issues from mold spores than the rest.

Very high humidity settings

The optimal level of humidity for the indoor environment is 30-50%, as in this range, the optimal conditions exist for breathing, while microorganisms cannot grow in this range.

However, in some cases, humidifiers are set to a level of 60% or more. This in turn can create the optimal conditions for mold and mildew to thrive in other parts of the house, thereby increasing the risk of lung infections in the occupants.

How to prevent adverse effects of humidifiers on the lungs

As we have seen so far, there are certain scenarios in which humidifiers do more harm to the lungs than good. However, these issues can be minimised or prevented altogether.

There are certain ways to ensure that humidifiers do not compromise the health of your lungs, and these include:

  • Using only pure, clean water in the humidifiers
  • Using optimal humidity levels
  • Cleaning the humidifier regularly
  • Consider a Humidifier that uses UV Germicidal Light

We shall discuss these in more detail.

Using only pure, clean water in the humidifiers

As seen from earlier, using hard water or dirty water can not only have adverse effects on the user, but can also affect the optimal functioning of the humidifier itself. 

Therefore, it is important to use clean water in the humidifiers. Manufacturers usually recommend using pure water or distilled water while running the humidifier, since the mineral content in these are quite low with respect to the others.

This helps to prevent the degradation of the internal components of the humidifier due to salt deposition, as well as prevent generation of dust which can affect the occupants’ lungs.

Using optimal humidity levels

Optimal humidity levels for the typical indoor environment setting is usually in the range of 30-50%. In this range, the air quality is suitable  for breathing, as it keeps the inner linings of the respiratory system moist.

This in turn prevents issues such as sinus headaches, excessive mucus secretion, flare-ups of allergic asthma, and so on.

Levels below this range make the air dry, which could cause the above-mentioned issues, while higher levels provide the ideal conditions for the growth and development of mold and mildew in the house.

Usually, humidifiers have an inbuilt humidity measurement device. However, if your humidifier does not have one, you can buy a hygrometer, which is a device that measures the humidity levels in the ambient air.

Cleaning the humidifier regularly

It is important to keep your humidifier clean in order to prevent any issues to arise which can in turn adversely affect the lungs of the occupants.

This can be done by using natural cleaning solutions as directed by the manufacturer. Furthermore, one should use only distilled water for doing so, as using any other water, for instance tap water, will cause additional problems.

If the humidifier has an air filter, it would be ideal to replace it on a regular basis, as with time the filter gets overloaded with dust and other substances, which impede the optimal air flow, thereby compromising the humidifier’s working.

Consider a Humidifier that uses UV Germicidal Light

Some humidifiers are equipped with specialised UV light that kills germs and other infections. This assures that the water has been cleaned or rendered harmless before being introduced into your home.

This humidifier kills 99 percent of bacteria, germs, and other pathogens by combining UV light with steam vapour. Because this unit does not produce white dust, it does not aggravate asthma and aids in the treatment of pneumonia.

Conclusion

Humidifiers can add water to the lungs, but not in quantities that can affect respiratory functions in any matter. However, sometimes humidifiers can cause more harm than good to the lung function of the user, if it is poorly maintained, set at high humidity levels, and being run using regular tap water or dirty water. 

For proper working of the humidifier so that the lung function does not get adversely affected, it is vital to use only distilled water for cleaning as well as for usage, regularly cleaning the device and replacing the air filters present, and investing in humidifiers that contain UV germicidal light which can prevent formation of any microorganisms.

FAQs

Can you get pneumonia from humidity?

No, humidity itself cannot cause pneumonia. It is caused when a person inhales pneumonia causing bacteria or virus in their lungs.

However, humidity sometimes can play a role in this, as high humidity levels 

Can a humidifier cause shortness of breath?

Yes, humidifiers can cause shortness of breath. Humidifiers can aggravate asthma if they run continuously or at an excessively high setting, making the air highly humid.

Furthermore, If you use tap water to fill your humidifier, the minerals in the water may irritate your lungs. Humidifiers might aggravate asthma if they aren’t cleaned correctly or on a frequent basis.

Other FAQs about Air Humidifiers that you may be interested in.

Humidifier vs Dehumidifier

Humidifier vs Dehumidifier vs Air Purifier

References

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