Is Humidity Making You Sick?

Is Humidity Making You Sick?
You try to eat right, exercise, and you always wash your hands — but one often overlooked way of staying healthy is making sure the humidity levels in your home are under control. If you never seem able to shake your allergies or are constantly suffering from respiratory illnesses, the humidity in the air may be to blame.

This is something I consider to be a much overlooked yet very important health issue, so brace yourself for an extremely comprehensive post about humidity.

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What is humidity?

Humidity is the amount of moisture that exists in the air. It might not seem to be big a deal to worry about how "wet" the air is, but if you've ever lived in a tropical climate with high humidity, you know just how much it can contribute to making hot conditions worse and how uncomfortable it can make you feel.

Various research seems to show that the optimum humidity level for inside a home should be anywhere 35% and 50%. Too humid, and you may find you’re constantly sweaty, anxious and having trouble breathing. The surfaces in your home might also feel a little sticky to the touch. Too dry, and you might suffer from dry eyes and itchy skin.

What happens to our bodies when humidity is too high?

When humans regulate their body temperature, they often sweat when it’s too hot. However, when the surrounding environment is too humid, our ability to cool ourselves through sweat is severely compromised. This is because sweat takes heat away from the body by exiting through the skin, where it evaporates. However, humid conditions make it more difficult for sweat to evaporate in the air, therefore leaving you a sticky mess.

Although a few degrees difference in humidity may not seem like a big deal, it does dramatically affect the temperature in your home overall. When the humidity of environment is high, it can make the actual temperature feel much hotter than it actually is. Think about it. When you’re outside on a sunny, dry day, 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) may not feel too bad, but add humid conditions to that and suddenly you become a human puddle. This is because when your core temperature is high your body is actually working extra hard to cool it down, yet as the sweat has trouble evaporating due to humid conditions, you're not actually cooling down at all while you're still losing water and other chemicals that your body needs to continue functioning properly. This could lead to serious health consequences, such as dehydration and heat stroke.

This is why it’s important to keep your home environment as close to conditions that will preserve your regular core temperature as possible.

How does humidity also indirectly affect our health?

High humidity can also indirectly impact our health by affecting our surroundings. For example, when the humidity in your home is too high, moisture tends to linger in poorly ventilated areas. Think of your bathroom for example; moisture in corners of the bathroom that don't get a lot of moving air eventually results in the growth of mildew. Beyond looking dirty and unpleasant, mildew contributes to allergies and could trigger asthma. Humid conditions that allow condensation and water to collect in various locations also breeds bacteria, which is also harmful to human health.

What happens when humidity is too low?

So far it seems like it's mostly high humidity conditions that cause the most damage to our health and surroundings, but on the flip side, it's isn't ideal for the humidity to be too low either. Your body is consistently expelling moisture whether you know it or not, and when your surrounding environment is too dry, more moisture leaves your body via your skin, which can become itchy and dried out, perhaps even cracking and bleeding. It isn't really that strange when you think about it; if you've ever suffered from chapped lips, that's usually the most common result of staying in environments that are too dry.

Less humid conditions can also dry out your mucus membranes, leading to dry eyes and dry noses, and if you've ever experienced a bloody nose you know how unpleasant that is. Experiencing dry eyes and noses and maybe a scratchy throat isn't merely unpleasant though, it could lead to an entire host of other problems. If your body is too "dry" in this regard, it has more trouble trapping viruses and bacteria that could potentially do you harm. The purpose of well-hydrated mucus membranes in our bodies is to help filter out such unwanted things, and when they can no longer do this you become more prone to being infected with disease.

What is the optimum humidity level for the home?

As mentioned earlier, it seemed a comfortable level for inside the home would be anywhere between 35% and 50%, although this varies from person to person. I personally like to keep the air in my home on the "wetter" side at 45% humidity. This seems to agree with all my plants, my walls, my furniture, and most importantly, my health.

However, it's important to adjust your humidity levels at home to your comfort levels, and depending on the weather outside and the season.

How do I check the humidity levels in my home?

Beyond listening to your body to figure out what your comfort level is, the easiest way to figure out the humidity level inside your home is to get a hygrometer. They don't cost very much and they're an easy to way to see how humid it is at a glance. Keep in mind that if you live in a big space it might be prudent to get more than one, as humidity levels can change from room to room.

How do I control the humidity levels in my home?

If you have a humidifier or dehumidifier, they sometimes have hygrometers built into the machines with displays to tell you what the current humidity level is, and settings allow you to control what you would like your humidity level to be at. If you live in a mostly dry climate, it is recommended that you keep a humidifier at home, and of course, if you live in a humid environment, invest in a dehumidifier. Good ones sometimes can be a little costly, but consider it a long term investment for your health to keep you from getting sick.

Some people may live in unique climates where they need to keep both a humidifier and dehumidifier in the home to switch out depending on the season and weather, or perhaps even depending on different areas in the house. For example, your bedroom on the second floor may experience very dry conditions and you might feel better by putting a small humidifier in there. However, the basement might be prone to damp conditions and in order to keep the area free of moisture and bacteria, it's best to keep a dehumidifier in there.

Don't discount the usefulness of a strategically opened or closed door or window. If your bathroom has a window, sometimes it's a lot easier to keep that space dry just by opening it if the weather allows, rather than running a dehumidifier, which in comparison is a waste of resources and can be costly in terms of electric bills.

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I hope this post was helpful to everyone and stresses the importance of keeping humidity levels in your home at a comfortable range so that not only will you save your walls and furniture, but maybe save a few dollars in medical bills too!

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