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Does Humidifier Help Cough Or Make It Worse?

Here's another common question I received regularly. Is my humidifier making me cough worse or more? While the immediate answer is no, there is more to discuss on the effects of having good moisture in the air. In this article, we will look at the types of cough you are going through and what is the likely root cause of it. We will also look into the impact a humidifier brings and can it actually aggravate or relieve a cough. Continue reading to learn more.

Can Humidifier Make Cough Worse?

A clean humidifier will not worsen a cough. Instead, a humidifier can ease coughing by adding moisture into a dry environment. Breathing in dry air can irritate your nose and throat thus making you cough more. It will also affect your lungs as the fluid in nasal passageways will evaporate quicker resulting in swelling, dry mouth, cracked lips, rashes, sore throat, and dry cough. On the other hand, excessive humidity can increase the body temperature, increase airway resistance, worsen asthma, and trigger cough.

How Does Humidifier Help Cough?

Humidifiers are household appliances that help relieve cough and discomfort by releasing moisture into the air. The increased humidity will moisten the dry nasal passages and removes excess mucus for easier breathing. A humidifier will also reduce inflammation, nasal congestion, and prevent cough from spreading to other people. In the long-run, it can help alleviate seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis), COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) mainly chronic bronchitis and emphysema. A breathing-related illness that is especially dangerous to children and elderly.

Can Humidifier Give You Cough?

A well-maintained humidifier will not give you a cough. However, a poorly-maintained, dirty humidifier will tickle in one’s throat. You will be at risk of “humidifier fever”, a condition when you inhaled vapors contaminated with mold, fungi, bacteria, viruses that aggravate cough and other illness symptoms. Routine maintenance is a must to ensure the humidifier is in tip-top condition. Here are the safety precautions one must take to when using a humidifier.

Will Warm-mist Or Cool-mist Humidifier Help Cough?

Both cold-mist and warm-mist humidifiers can help alleviate a cough. Our pick would be a warm-mist humidifier because it requires less maintenance, produces less white dust, supports additives, and kills microorganisms via its heating elements. There is less likelihood of you breathing in harmful pathogens and bacteria with a warm-mist humidifier. However, if you have children or pets at home, go with a cool-mist humidifier that can ease cough and congestion without the burning risk of boiling water spills.

The Many Types Of Humidifiers For Cough

Humidifiers are household appliances that add moisture into a room by emitting water vapor or steam. There are four common types of humidifiers in the market: Warm-mist, cool-mist, ultrasonic, whole house. Each type varies in technologies, sizes, usability, performance, and pricing. Pick the one that suits you the best when dealing with a persistent cough.

  • Warm mist humidifier - AKA vaporizer that boils the water in the reservoir and converts it into steam. The soothing steam can help reduce inflammation, nosebleeds, cold, sore throat, and cough. You can even add aromatherapy diffusers, essential oil, or medicine like Vicks in a warm-mist humidifier to help with sleep and breathing.
  • Cool mist humidifier - AKA evaporative that uses a fan to pull air into a soaked wick filter and diffuse cool water vapor. Great for winter use and is the safer option for cough because it does not generate heat that could cause a burn. The downside to a cool-mist is there is more mineral buildup compared to a warm-mist model. Routine cleaning is needed to prevent microorganisms' growth in the bucket.
  • Ultrasonic humidifier - Latest technology that uses piezoelectric transducer and ceramic diaphragm to oscillates ultrasonic frequency. The high frequency plate vibration safely creates and distributes water vapor back into the air. An ultrasonic humidifier is very silent and cheap to maintain as it does not rely on a filter. Unfortunately, it does create a lot of white dust that could be detrimental to a cough.
  • Whole house humidifier - AKA central humidifier that is built into a home to humidify the entire house. While a whole-house humidifier is space-saving and can add moisture to every room, it is costly to install and a hassle to maintain.

What Is a Cough And What Triggers It?

Cough is a voluntary or involuntary hacking sound to expulse air from the lungs and clears out irritations. A cough can be dry (nonproductive) or wet/ chesty that produces mucus or phlegm (sputum). Tussis is often associated with illnesses like colds, flu, postnasal drip, sore throat, chest tightness, hoarseness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In general, a cough will last 1-3 weeks depending on the condition such as acute, subacute, or chronic. Here are some of the known triggers.

  • Asthma - A common cause of dry, non-productive cough and a chronic condition that inflamed the airways in the lungs. Can be deadly especially to children.
  • Smoking - AKA smoker’s cough that has a distinctive cracking noise and wheezing symptoms. People who smoke often will develop a chesty cough as the body is trying to clear out foreign chemicals and phlegm that enter the lungs' airways through the cigarette.
  • Bacteria and viruses - Viral infection is the most common cause for cough like pneumonia, tonsillitis, pulmonary embolism, sinusitis, cold, and flu. The respiratory tract infections could last for weeks and might require antibiotics to clear up.
  • Drugs - Whether in syrup, capsule, spray, tablet, or lozenge form, coughing is one of the side effects of medication such as Angiotensin, Zestril, Vasotec.
  • Allergies - Another known condition that induces cough. Some people have hypersensitivity where the body immune system will overreact to foreign substances like dust, mold, mildew, pet dander, pollen.
  • Environmental factors - Coughs are often triggered due to air pollution such as wildfire, haze, traffic jam, or industrial area. It is the lungs' natural reflex to reject allergens and reverse the irritating feeling.

The Various Types of Coughs

Before we go over the various types of coughs and overlapping symptoms, there are 3 conditions you should be aware of: acute, subacute, and chronic. Acute cough will last no more than 3 weeks and is typically associated with a virus infection. At this stage, the cough will usually go away on its own. Subacute coughs will last between 3 to 8 weeks depending on the severity. Common causes include postinfectious cough, postnatal drip, and eosinophilic bronchitis. The most severe condition is chronic coughs that will last longer than 8 weeks (4 weeks in children). Common causes include smoking, asthma, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), COPD, heart issue, and lung cancer.

  • Dry cough - A dry, nonproductive cough that does not produce mucus or phlegm.
  • Chest cough - A wet, productive cough that produces mucus or phlegm with a heaviness feeling in the chest. A chesty cough is often followed by a sore throat or a cold.
  • Nocturnal cough/ night cough - Occurs at night as the mucus starts pooling in the back of your throat during sleep.
  • Whooping cough/ pertussis - A respiratory tract infection with a distinctive, high-pitched "whooping" sound. Highly contagious and can be deadly to infants, babies, and children. A humidifier can ease the chest pressure during each cough.
  • Croup cough - A productive, contagious, and hoarse-sounding cough that irritates the upper airways. Croup coughs are more common in the fall/ early winter months when the weather is cold and dry. Babies and children under the age of 5 are at the highest risk.
  • Asthma cough - A non-productive, cough-induced asthma without any of the classic cough symptoms.
  • Bronchitis - A very common respiratory infection and contagious cough due to inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Symptoms of bronchitis include shortness of breath and coughing up discolored thickened mucus.

Tips On How To Use a Humidifier For Cough

Only a clean humidifier can help alleviate cough and prevent it from spreading to others. In order for a humidifier to function properly, you will need to perform maintenance regularly. There are no two ways about it. Here are some tips on keeping your humidifier safe, clean, and healthy.

  • Clean the humidifier regularly - This is to prevent the growth and spread of mold, mildew, bacteria, or fungi in the water tank. Inhaling to the allergens can lead to all kinds of health issues and further aggravate a cough. We recommend cleaning the humidifier every 3-5 days depending on the size of the reservoir. Use natural ingredients like vinegar to remove the residues rather than harsh detergents that have adverse effects on our health.
  • Use only distilled or demineralized water - That has 99.9% fewer impurities than regular tap water. Distilled water prevents the formation of mineral residues in the water tank and other parts. You are at less risk of exposing to organic matter and mineral dust during dispersion. Never use filtered or mineral water as it contains traces of mineral deposits that can trigger a cough.
  • Change the water daily - Even though this is a simple task, many choose to ignore it when there is water left in the bucket. Falling to empty and refill the water would increase the risk of microbes accumulating in the bucket. A dirty humidifier is bad for our health and can aggravate a cough.
  • Use when necessarily - The best time to use a humidifier for cough is when the indoor humidity falls below 30%. Using a humidifier in a damp environment exceeding 50% can worsen asthma and promote the growth of microorganisms. To be on the safe side, get a hygrometer to monitor the home humidity level and only use a humidifier when the humidity level falls below 30%. A telltale sign to stop using a humidifier is when you notice there is condensation on the windows.
  • Pick the right type of humidifier - Depending on your needs, a smaller humidifier with fewer features can save you time in maintenance and care. Warm-mist humidifier can relieve cough while produces the least mineral deposits. Cool-mist humidifier is also a great option and safe to use around children.
  • Keep all windows and doors closed - This helps maintain the room humidity level and prevent cough-induced irritants from flowing in. The humidifier will also not have to go through an endless cycle of humidifying.
  • Make sure there is no obstruction - Give some space to your humidifier to avoid airflow disruption. Leave 2 feet of gap between the wall and avoid object/shelve hanging over the humidifier outlet.
  • Periodically clean the humidifier - All appliances that deal with water require extra care and cleaning. Use a clean cloth and start wiping parts that are exposed to the water including the exterior. Natural disinfectants are encouraged to remove stubborn mineral deposits such as mold. Rinse the water tank thoroughly after cleaning and wipe it dry before next use.

Relieving Night Cough Without a Humidifier

A humidifier will help you breathe easier, recover faster, and shield you from flu and germs, but there are also other ways to fight off a tussis.

  • Take cold medicine, suppressants, or decongestant like chlorpheniramine, pseudoephedrine that dissolve phlegms and reduce throat irritation. You can also suck on a cough drop to soothe your throat. There are specific OTC medications for toddlers and children under 12 with milder dosages.
  • For sleepless night, take nighttime cough medicine typically contains antihistamines that make you feel drowsy and sleep through the night.
  • Add a spoonful of honey to warm water or tea that has modest benefits in reducing nocturnal cough.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Warm liquids help thin out the mucus in your throat and work extremely well for night cough.
  • A good shuteye will also help ease the tussis irritation temporarily. Sleep with the head elevated helps decrease postnasal drip and GERD.
  • Take a hot steamy shower to loosen mucus in the throat and add moisture into the nasal passageways.
  • A HEPA air purifier pairs well with a humidifier to improve indoor air quality and captures allergens like mold or viruses that would otherwise worsen your cough.
  • Keep radiator and HVAC clean as they are dust magnets and can circulate germs.
  • Try sipping herbal tea or lozenge to decrease throat dryness. Some tea like chamomile tea would also help you sleep better at night.

Final Thoughts

There are mixed signals on the humidifier's effectiveness in dealing with the sickness. Some people might think is a marketing gimmick while others think it is the next best thing since sliced bread. As different people may experience different results, even if you are not entirely sure a humidifier will do for you, there is no harm in getting one.

Remember, our body will fight off bacterial and cough infections on its own. A humidifier will not cure your cough or make it disappear instantaneously. There could be other factors that are causing the frog in one's throat. Pay close attention to when and where you experience the cough symptoms. If your cough has been persistent for more than 1 week or experience difficulty breathing, consult a doctor for medical treatment.

Kingsley King

A humidifier distributor with more than 11 years of experience in the field, Kingsley King is no stranger to the moisture capturing machine. You can catch him here reviewing humidifiers and preaching on the importance of perfect humidity.