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The ENT’s Guide to Humidifiers

The ENT’s Guide to Humidifiers

The arrival of cooler temperatures brings nosebleeds, dry nose and dry sinus syndromes. That’s because the heated forced air we use to keep us warm lowers the humidity in our homes. The drier air often leads to problems with nosebleeds, dried and irritated nasal passages and sinuses. It is recommended you use humidifiers to bring humidity levels up to the 30-40 percent range for comfort.

Different Types of Humidifiers

There are many makes and models of humidifiers on the market. They each have advantages and disadvantages. They can be classified as either a warm mist or a cool mist humidifier. Here are the differences:

Warm mist: This is probably the type of humidifier that first comes to mind, as it is the oldest humidifying technology around. Water is heated to the point of producing steam, and the steam is released into the air to increase humidity levels. They have the advantage of being very inexpensive to purchase. Like all humidifiers, you should only use distilled water in an effort to reduce “white dust” caused by mineral deposits. Because these humidifiers use heat to produce humidity, they can cause burns.  Don’t use these around children or the elderly.

Cool mist: These humidifiers use newer technology. They may be evaporative, ultrasonic or impeller style and cost more to purchase. Like warm mist humidifiers, you always want to use distilled water in these units, which eliminates any ‘white dust,’ as well as keeps the elements free of calcium and other mineral deposits.

  • Evaporative humidifiers use a wick to draw water and a fan to blow air across the wick. The moisture they release is cool and is safe to use around children and the elderly. Wicks require replacement and the units themselves must be cleaned.
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers use sound waves to vibrate the water to product a mist. No heat is used so these units also stay cool to the touch. The vibrating nebulizer replaces a standard fan so these units are exceptionally quiet, making them a great choice for the bedroom of a light sleeper.
  • Impeller-style humidifiers use a rotating disk to spray water at a diffuser. These droplets are further reduced in size by a the diffuser and then sprayed into the air.  They will create a large amount of white dust if you don’t use distilled water.  Also, they must be cleaned frequently.

Extra Features the ENT Recommends

No matter what style of humidifier you choose, your ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) recommends that you look for the following features:

Humidistat: This allows you to set the humidity level of the room. You want enough moisture to make breathing easier and keep skin moist, but not enough to promote the growth of molds or dust mites.

UV light: Since water can be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses, you want a humidifier that has a method of keeping the water in the reservoir clean. The most common method is use of a UV light; however, you might find some models that use silver ions as a bacteriastat.

Easy to clean: This is the most important feature to consider. Because of the risk of mold, bacteria or viruses growing in the water and in the unit, it is imperative to find a unit that is easy to clean thoroughly after every three days of use. Some tabletop units can be sanitized in the upper rack of the dishwasher, making them the ideal selection of ENTs.

When You Should See the ENT for Nosebleeds

Most nosebleeds during the dry season can be avoided or reduced by using a humidifier.  If you have recurrent nosebleeds and the use of a humidifier doesn’t provide a relief, its time to call your ENT. The ENT will take a complete medical history and then examine your nose using a special tool called an endoscope. The endoscope is a tube with a light that allows the ENT to see inside your nose and determine the cause of your nosebleeds.


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