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The Air in There: How Indoor Humidity Affects Your Health

Frizzy hair, dry skin, chapped lips — the humidity in your home or office can affect your body in different ways. Here’s a quick guide to help you determine whether your home is too dry or too humid, and how you can change it if necessary.

What is humidity?

As Tennesseans, we understand humidity, which is the amount of water in the air. The more water vapor or molecules that are present, the higher the humidity.

Why does humidity decrease when the temperature drops?

The amount of moisture an environment can hold depends on air temperature. When the temperature drops, molecules contract, which gives them less space to hold moisture. This is why moisture condenses on cold surfaces — water drops on the inside of a window, for example. An abundance of moisture can encourage mold or mildew.

How do you know if an environment is too dry or too humid?

Everyone is affected by humidity differently, but there are telltale signs that your indoor spaces are too dry or too humid.

Too dry

  • Dry skin
  • Chapped lips
  • Bloody nose
  • Itchy throat
  • Dry eyes
  • Waking up coughing
  • Asthma, allergy and sinus problems

Even if you’re perfectly healthy, dry air can negatively affect your skin, nasal passages and lungs. If your house is too dry, you may also experience increased static electricity on your clothes, hair or carpet.

Too humid

  • Mold or mildew
  • Wet spots on floors, walls or ceilings
  • Dust mites
  • Frizzy hair
  • Feeling hot or sweaty
  • Feeling like the air is stuffy or not circulating properly
  • Asthma, allergy and sinus problems

Molds produce allergens and toxins. Inhaling or touching mold can cause hay fever-type symptoms (sneezing, red eyes, rash) as well as asthma attacks. If you find mold in your home, clean up the mold and fix the moisture problem. If you clean up the mold but don’t figure out where the water is coming from and stop it, the mold will likely return. To learn more about how to prevent mold, click here.

High humidity can also trick your body into thinking the temperature has increased even when it hasn’t, and make it harder for sweat to evaporate.

Since asthma, allergy and sinus problems can be indicative that your house is too dry or too humid, you’ll have to determine which you’re dealing with based on other symptoms, or by measuring the level of humidity in your home.

What’s an ideal level of indoor humidity?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends indoor humidity levels remain between 30-50%. A humidity monitor (hygrometer) can help you determine if your home is outside of that range.

What kind of devices can you use to address indoor humidity problems?

Humidifiers

Humidifiers create water vapor or steam to increase moisture levels. They can soothe problems caused by dry air, but be aware that humidifiers can make you sick if they aren’t maintained properly.

The EPA recommends:

  • Monitoring humidity levels using a hygrometer
  • Using filtered water
  • Changing the filter monthly in large humidifiers
  • Changing the water daily in room humidifiers
  • Washing the pieces of your room humidifier every two to three days, and
  • Talking to your doctor before starting to use a humidifier.

You can also use funds from your Health Savings Account (HSA) to purchase a humidity monitor or humidifier.

Dehumidifiers

Just as a humidifier adds moisture to the air, dehumidifiers collect and remove excess moisture. Dehumidifiers work well in hot, humid climates, however you must be careful the appliances remains clean and the water it collects is emptied often so they don’t become sources of biological pollutants.

Air purifiers

Air purifiers remove contaminants from the air but don’t always help adjust the humidity. Some people who suffer from allergies and asthma find them beneficial.

Household plants

Adding certain plants to your environment can also help regulate indoor humidity and purify air.  But, if you have pets you should check with your vet before bringing plants into your home because some can be toxic if eaten.

  • Peace lilies reduce humidity by absorbing moisture from the air through their leaves. They also purify air. But remember: they are mildly toxic to people and animals, so keep them up high for safety.
  • Reed palms also absorb moisture through their leaves and help purify air. They can survive in lower light, which makes them great indoor plants.
  • English ivy can help mitigate airborne mold found in humid places.
  • Boston ferns can absorb humidity but also help balance the atmosphere to make the environment more comfortable. If your air gets drier in colder months, remember to mist your fern with water.
Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As Content Producer/Writer at bohan Advertising, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

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Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As Content Producer/Writer at bohan Advertising, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Ashley – I love this easy to read article. It gave so much information in a great format. I have a Peace Plant and never knew all those things about it. Can’t wait to read more of your posts.

  2. Hi Ashley – I must get a hygrometer. I never know the level of humidity in my home and that seems like the best way to measure it. Thank you for all the great information. I am going to bookmark this article.

    • Ashley Brantley
      Ashley Brantley says

      So glad it is helpful, Brenda! I hope the hygrometer helps. Thanks for reading.

WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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