If you suffer from allergies such as dust mites, pet dander or pollen, you’re probably willing to try anything that might bring you relief. Two products that are often used to prevent these allergies from causing major issues are humidifiers and air purifiers. But do they work, and which is the most effective? To help you find your way, we’ve investigated how both of these options can help, along with the pros and cons for each.
How do humidifiers help with airborne allergies?
Humidifiers can help to relieve the symptoms of airborne allergies by reducing dryness in the air, making it easier to breathe. There are a few humidifier types available, with different characteristics that should be considered when deciding between them – all can be categorized as either warm mist or cool mist humidifiers, although some models offer both options. Warm mist humidifiers are generally quieter and better for smaller spaces, and the choice can also depend on your local climate.
Here are the main types of humidifiers on the market:
- Steam vapor humidifiers
These humidifiers, also known as vaporizers, work by heating up water to create steam, which is then released into the air. One advantage of this is that heating the water can kill bacteria, making them safer and reducing the frequency of cleaning required. Some of them cool the steam to prevent the risk of burning, which can be valuable in a home with pets or small children.
- Ultrasonic humidifiers
Ultrasonic humidifiers work by using high-frequency vibrations to disturb the water and release the freed particles into the air as a mist, which can be either warm or cool. Ultrasonic humidifiers need to be cleaned regularly.
- Evaporative humidifiers
These cool mist humidifiers work by evaporating water into the air from a partially submerged wick material.
- Other types
There are lots of different humidifiers available, and depending where you look they can be categorized differently. A couple of other types that you might come across are console humidifiers, which are larger models that can humidify an entire house and air washer humidifiers, which offer air filtration as well as adding moisture to the air.
There are a few ways that humidifiers can help people struggling with airborne allergies:
- Easing symptoms
Allergic reactions can cause unpleasant symptoms like itchiness, rhinitis and breathing difficulties. A humidifier can provide relief from these symptoms by moisturizing the skin and lubricating the airways.
- Reducing airborne allergens
Because they release mist or vapor into a room, humidifiers can catch some allergen particles by trapping them in the water droplets and carrying them to the floor or a nearby surface. However, they don’t remove allergens from the air and are not reliable for this purpose.
- Help with other problems
In addition to offering relief from allergy symptoms, humidifying the air can also help with other health issues like eczema, dry skin, cracked lips, asthma, dry throat, coughs and breathing difficulties, which can make them a useful tool in your allergy-fighting armory if you also suffer from these issues.
There are some disadvantages to consider, too:
- Build-up of pathogens such as bacteria and fungus
Over time, bacteria and fungal spores can build up in your humidifier and be released into the air. This can be avoided by regularly changing the filter and following the manufacturer’s care instructions.
- Frequent checking, cleaning and maintenance required
Changing a humidifier filter costs money and can be time-consuming, and water can become stagnant or accumulate impurities if the device is not properly monitored and maintained.
- They don’t eliminate allergens
Humidifiers can help to soothe the symptoms of allergies such as dry skin or itchy eyes, nose and throat. However, they don’t actually remove allergens from the air.
- Dust mites thrive in humid environments
Humidifying the air in your home can actually cause more harm than good if you’re allergic to dust mites, which prefer moist air due to their need to ingest water vapor from the surrounding air rather than drinking it.
If you’re sensitive to background noises, you might find the operating sound of a dehumidifier disturbing. If so, you’ll probably be better off getting a model with a lower noise output, such as an ultrasonic humidifier.
- Too much moisture causes problems
If left unchecked, humidifiers can end up humidifying the air too much, which can lead to other health problems, encourage mold growth and cause condensation to build up on your windows and walls. Many models come with a built-in humidistat, which can help you avoid this issue.
- White dust
White dust from the minerals in water from a humidifier move through the air and settle as white dust in your home, which can potentially be unhealthy. They can also cause damage if allowed to build up in your humidifier, which is why many people use distilled water rather than tap water, especially in areas with hard water.
And what about air purifiers?
An air purifier does exactly what you would expect from the name. Most of them work by drawing in air, passing it through a filtration system and releasing the cleaned air back into the room. The HEPA filters in these units are typically capable of trapping particles much smaller than half a micron in diameter, which makes them effective at reducing exposure to many allergens like pet dander, mold spores, pollen and dust, as well as some bacterial and viral microorganisms.
Some purifiers use just one type of technology, such as HEPA or carbon filtration, while others combine multiple kinds of air purification technology for a greater cumulative effect. For example, some purifiers use bipolar ionization, activated carbon filtration or ultraviolet light to attract more particles, filter out different types of particles and odors, or kill pathogens. On the surface it makes sense to have a device that simultaneously purifies the air in several different ways, but some of these technologies come with their own concerns, such as releasing harmful chemicals into the air.
Air purifiers offer some key benefits for those struggling with airborne allergies:
- They filter out allergens
Unlike humidifiers, air purifiers actually remove allergy-causing particles from the air, meaning that they provide preventative protection to stop the allergy from flaring up to begin with.
- They help with other issues
By removing dust and other harmful particles from the air, purifiers can help to alleviate headaches and lung issues and remove chemicals and odors from the air. If you struggle with any of these issues in addition to an allergy, an air purifier may be the solution for you.
They come with some disadvantages too, though:
- They are expensive to buy and run
If purchasing an air purifier, be prepared to budget for the cost of running it and regularly replacing the filter and UV bulb (if it has one). The initial cost is also relatively high, and while it can be tempting to try and save money, less expensive models can turn out to be of very little use whatsoever – especially those with less effective HVAC filters – so it’s always better to choose a high-quality model with a HEPA filter, despite the higher cost.
- They can harbor mold and bacteria
If the filters in an air purifier are not regularly cleaned or replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions, mold and bacteria can start to build up on the filter, which will be harmful if these particles are released back into the air.
- Maintenance is required
Like humidifiers, air purifiers need to be checked, cleaned and have their filters replaced on a regular basis to keep working optimally.
- They can be noisy
Air purifiers use a fan to pull the air through, and inevitably that will lead to a certain level of background noise, which is worth considering if you’re particularly sensitive to noise or planning to use the purifier in your bedroom at night.
- Some air purifiers produce ozone
Ozone is a harmful gas that has a bleachy odor and can cause respiratory issues in sufficiently large quantities, and some air purifiers that use negative ions or UV in their filtration mechanisms release this chemical into the air. Of course, the amount released is within safe limits, but if using the device in a smaller space or keeping it running all the time, this may be a cause for concern.
- They don’t work with the windows open
Air purifiers are made to be operated in enclosed spaces – if you have a window or door open, they won’t do you much good at all because the air will already be flowing in and out of the house.
Which allergy symptoms do humidifiers and air purifiers help with?
Because they work differently, air purifiers and humidifiers can relieve your allergies in different ways. Below is a summary of how these appliances help with the symptoms you may experience.
|Itchy throat||Provides relief from dryness by keeping the air at a healthy humidity level.||Removes allergens from the air, reducing the overall risk of exposure and the severity of symptoms if they occur.|
|Itchy eyes||Can give some comfort by providing moisture, but not significantly.|
|Breathing issues||Can help in some cases by moisturizing the airways.|
|Sneezing||Can alleviate irritation in the airways, which can in turn reduce sneezing.|
|Runny nose||Does not provide relief.|
So, which should you get – a humidifier or an air purifier?
When looking for a device to help with allergies, it’s always a good idea to get your doctor’s recommendation first, as they may have information that can help you make your decision or provide you with advice based on your specific allergies and any other conditions you may suffer from.
If you’re looking for relief from your allergy symptoms and you live in a cold or dry area, a humidifier will almost certainly be beneficial for you. Ultimately though, when it comes to beating airborne allergies, an air purifier will outperform a humidifier in all the important ways – because purifiers remove allergens from the air, they can prevent allergic reactions from occurring to begin with, or at least limit the harm allergens can cause, whereas humidifiers only relieve symptoms once the reaction has taken place.
Whether you’re planning to buy an air purifier or humidifier, it’s important to get one that’s rated for the size of your home or the room where you plan to use it. Using one of these devices in a space that is too large will limit its effectiveness, while using a humidifier in a small space can result in your house becoming too humid.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different models of air purifiers and humidifiers come with different price tags and accordingly, different quality levels. That means that not every purifier will necessarily be more effective than every humidifier, and different products have their own features and advantages, so it’s also about choosing the right one for your overall needs.
Can you use both at the same time, and will it help?
There’s no reason not to use an air purifier and a humidifier in the same room, and because they perform different functions, it could be a good idea in many cases. Humidifiers can provide relief from typical allergy symptoms but they don’t remove allergens from the air as air purifiers do. If you live in a cold or dry climate or regularly suffer from colds and flus, a humidifier can help you to keep moisture in the air at a healthy level and reduce your symptoms, while a purifier will provide the added benefit of reducing the presence of allergens and other harmful particles in your home.
Using a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air can also help to free up dust particles, which can then be filtered out by the purifier. Just remember to keep them at least a few feet apart, as moisture emitted from the humidifier can get trapped by the purifier, reducing the effectiveness of both devices. If you like the idea of combining the benefits, you might prefer to invest in an air washer humidifier, which draws in air and filters it before humidifying it and releasing it back into the room.
Introducing Respiray Wear A+
Wear A+ is a wearable air purifier that is specially designed to provide relief from airborne allergens. Being significantly smaller and lighter than standard models, Wear A+ is your own personal air purifier that can be worn around your neck to filter the air around you and provide a constant supply of clean air directly to your airways – providing filtration just where you need it and saving energy costs by eliminating the need to purify the entire room.