What I Learned about Using a Humidifier to Ease my Asthma Symptoms

small humidifier, sitting on table

I grew up with asthma. Bad asthma. When I was younger, my teachers had to carry my inhaler for me while I played at recess, just in case. I kept it behind the bench during basketball games, and had to tug on my jersey so my coach knew when I couldn’t breathe.

I’m older now, but it’s the same story. It could happen at any time, and I simply lose my breath. It’s impossible to breathe, like I’m 10 feet underwater and don’t have a chance to swim to the surface for air. Never in my 26 years of life would I ever want to see a child endure the same symptoms I did. The feeling of not being able to breathe is scary enough as an adult. Imagine being a child and thinking you’re going to die every time you experience an asthma attack.

Now, I hate humidity as much as the next guy (or girl). It’s no fun to step outside in the heat of summer and start sweating. Still, it certainly makes it easier to breathe. Once the deep winter gets here and the air is dry and crisp, asthma symptoms can get much worse. But I’ve learned that in the dry months, a humidifier goes a long, long way. Adding extra moisture to the air – especially when I’m sleeping – really helps my lungs. Children who are prone to asthma and other upper respiratory issues can likely benefit from a humidifier as well. My only wish is that your children don’t experience the same issues I did growing up.

First, there are several different types of humidifiers that each work in different ways. Humidifiers come in many sizes, from those that can service one room to those that attach to duct work and humidify an entire house. They can also be evaporative, which blows air over a wet wick; warm-mist, which boils water; or ultrasonic style, which uses high-frequency sound waves to create moisture. Once you’ve found the right one, you have to take good care of it, or it may stop working.

I’ve been through quite a few humidifiers, and I eventually figured out that where I went wrong was using tap water to fill the tank. You have to replenish the water in the humidifier as it’s blown into the air. The issue is that tap water contains a number of minerals that don’t evaporate. These minerals stick to heating elements or stay behind in tubes and clog the machine. And then you need to spend time scrubbing your machine with white vinegar, which is about as fun as it sounds. Tap water can sometimes contain chemicals that may get projected into the air. And when you have sensitive lungs or a weak immune system, breathing these chemicals can create serious health issues, or aggravate ones you already have. Like asthma.

I’ve found that you can use filtered water in your humidifier to keep it in good shape. You’ll still need to clean it occasionally, but the purified water doesn’t have the minerals or other sediment that causes humidifiers to gunk-up. Of course, you probably don’t have the spare money (or the desire to spend the money) on bottled water just to put into a humidifier, and that’s fine. There are other options. You can use a standard pitcher-filter, although I just get my I have a refrigerator that dispenses filtered water, so I use that to fill my humidifier.

In my experience, using filtered water in my humidifier, emptying the tank when it’s not in use and occasionally rinsing it with vinegar keeps it working longer. It’s the least I can do to breathe a little easier at night.

What do you do to clear the air for you and your family?

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to ease asthma.

Image courtesy of uberzombie via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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