In the summer, it is sometimes hard for you to think of needing more humidity. But in the fall and winter months, humidity is extremely important. In fact, two related subjects are equally important – adding humidity to dry winter air and keeping your humidifying devices germ-free.

Your lungs require a great deal of moisture – actually 100% relative humidity – to keep their cleansing systems working and to keep you free of infection. The nose provides a great deal of this moisture to incoming air, but in wintertime, your nose is vastly overworked by very dry air.  Briefly, here’s why cold air is not capable of holding much moisture. When cold air is heating in your house, the warmer air is capable of holding more moisture, but the moisture is not present in the air, so the relative humidity drops exceedingly low–often as low as 6 or 7 percent relative humidity. Dry air can be extremely harmful to everyone. To children – it brings on continual winter sniffles. To people with chronic lung problems, dry air can cause serious and lengthy respiratory infections, which should be avoided if at all possible.

Here is what you should do:

  • Drink plenty of liquids – your nose’s humidification system needs a lot. Try to drink 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of liquids every day. If this means having to make extra trips to the bathroom, drink lots anyway. The exercise will do you good! Drinking most of the liquid before your evening meal should minimize interruptions during the night. Drink water, juices and more water!
  • Add humidity to the air you breathe. How much humidity you have to add is not easy to answer – but on the other hand, adding too much is almost impossible. Remember, the air in your lungs contains 100% humidity. Too much humidity can affect your comfort and furniture.  A good rule of thumb is to add humidity until water collects in excess on cold windows (some condensation is natural – just wipe it up occasionally).

Room humidifiers can cost anywhere from $5.00 to hundreds of dollars. Amazingly, the lower priced humidifiers may be better and easier to keep clean. There are 3 categories of humidifiers: 1) heated steam vaporizers; 2) cold spray type, or 3) evaporation plate/rotary belt humidifier.

Type number three can be most effective and automatic, but they can also breed dangerous bacteria if they are not kept absolutely clean. Daily cleaning can be difficult, so generally speaking, this system is not best suited for respiratory patients.

The heated steam and the cold spray type humidifiers are usually less expensive, $5-$25 and are relatively easy to clean each day. Which is better is hard to say. There has been a trend towards the cool spray type, particularly for apartments and rooms that run hotter than normal because steam vaporizers only add more heat.

  • An unclean humidifier can do more harm than good. Bacteria grow well in moist, warm environments – such as humidifiers. Most harmful bacteria take longer than 24 hours to develop; therefore, your unit must be cleaned once a day. The cool spray units are probably easiest to clean. It is a good idea to get two units – one for the bedroom and one for living room. The one in use can be cleaned in minutes and left to air-dry.

Some other good living tips for wintertime:

Avoid drafts
Wear a sweater to keep comfortably warm. Open neck sweaters may be fashionable, but not warm. Try a high collar or turtle neck, particularly for going outdoors.

When outside
Breathe through your nose.  This will help warm the inhaled air. On cold days, wrap a scarf around your face.  That will help warm the cold, raw air before it reaches your nose. Also, when you first step outside, stop and breathe a few short breaths before proceeding – this can save you a few coughing spells.

If others have colds
Avoid them. Their germs are airborne. If they have to be near you, ask them to wear a surgical face mask (available from drug stores at a very low cost). Also be sure not to use their plates or utensils. The same thing applies to crowds. Avoid crowds when possible since there are always cold germs aplenty where there are groups of people.

Blow your nose
This may seem like an unnecessary statement to make. But not so– your nose works overtime in the winter in trapping out dust and germs. And it’s always a good idea to use fresh, disposable tissues (Kleenex) so you can throw them away, in paper bags not waste baskets.

Many people think that when the weather gets bad, exercise such as walking is not practical. Daily exercise is extremely important all year, so when the weather is bad, walk around the house and climb stairs. Try to do as much as you would if you went outdoors, even though it’s boring. Exercycles are inexpensive and can give you ample exercise while you watch your favorite TV programs.

Breathing exercises are also important in strengthening the respiratory muscles. If you do not have information on these exercises, ask your doctor.

Dust-free air
With the dryness of winter comes a great amount of dust. There are several things you can do to minimize this problem:

  • If you have central, forced air heating, replace the air filters before turning the system on.
  • Dust frequently, but use a dusting agent (such as Endust) which will keep the dust on the cloth. Drapes and curtains should be laundered or dry-cleaned occasionally – take them down carefully to reduce the amount of dust. Vacuum or dust behind radiators. Change vacuum cleaner bags and filters regularly, before they look full or dirty.

Diet and Weight Control
Try to stay at or a little below your ideal weight. Since eating and digesting food can be exhausting, it is better to eat 5 or 6 small meals than 3 regular meals.

Flu shots
In order to minimize the chance of getting flu, many respiratory patients get an influenza vaccination in the fall, before the flu season begins. Ask your doctor if you should get one. Be sure to get plenty of rest 2 or 3 days before getting the vaccination.

Stay away from smokers
You probably gave up smoking years ago. But be aware that smoke from someone else’s cigarette can be irritating and as harmful to you as if you were smoking it yourself. Ask your friends not to smoke or at least smoke away from you, preferably in another room.

When to Call Your Doctor

  • When there is an unusual increase or decrease in sputum production;
  • when there is an unusual increase in the thickness or stickiness of sputum;
  • when sputum is a new color or is tinged with blood;
  • when you feel an increase in severity of breathlessness;
  • where you have pain in the chest, fever, swelling at the ankles, extreme fatigue or unusual drowsiness;
  • when there is a need for more pillows in order to sleep comfortably;
  • when there is an unexplainable increase or decrease in weight;
  • when you have is increased fatigue and lack of energy;
  • where there are complaints of frequent morning headaches, dizzy spells, loss of libido and insomnia;

where there is a development of confusion, disorientation, slurring of speech and somnolence.