Do Humidifiers Help With Congestion?

A stuffy nose caused by a stubborn cold can be absolute misery. As we patiently wait for the bug to work its way out of our system, we naturally do what we can to try and make the recovery process as smooth as possible. Along with soup, crackers, plenty of fluids, and rest, can a humidifier help ease congestion from a stuffed-up nose?

Whether due to illness, allergens, or overly dry air, nasal congestion is the result of swelling in the blood vessels and nasal tissue from fluid buildup (via the Mayo Clinic). This inflammation that occurs is what gives us that clogged-up sensation in our nasal passages. This can be particularly problematic for infants, who may struggle to sleep or feed due to the discomfort. For adults, experts claim certain at-home remedies may provide some relief, such as softly blowing one's nose, drinking adequate amounts of water, or the use of products, such as saline rinses or sprays. When all else fails, can a humidifier provide some much-needed relief?

How to use a humidifier safely

Because dry air can be one of the culprits behind a stuffed-up nose, a humidifier can be beneficial in boosting the moisture in your home, thereby relieving the discomfort of congestion and breaking up mucus (via MedlinePlus).

"The nose is supposed to provide humidity and warmth and clean the air that passes through it," Dr. Mark A. Zacharek, residency program director for the department of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, told Everyday Health. "Forced heating systems in homes and workplaces often over-dry the nasal passages, aggravating allergies and sinusitis. Humidifiers can help nasal congestion in that they provide for more moisture and humidity within the nose."

When using a humidifier, it's important to keep safety in mind. MedlinePlus notes that users should keep the unit about 2 meters (or roughly 6.5 feet) back from the bed and not let it run for long periods of time. To prevent the room from becoming overly damp, be sure to set humidity levels on the unit between 30-50%. Remember to fill the unit with distilled water and to drain and clean it thoroughly after use. Lastly, if it's a child experiencing congestion, opt for a cool-mist humidifier over units that produce warm air, as they can burn the skin if touched. Because instructions may vary, be sure to consult your specific unit's user manual.