Humidifiers are real handy machines, especially when there’s a baby around. For one thing, they’re a great way to keep the little one comfortable, especially through cold, dry winter days. They can also help keep the baby warm, a major plus considering that babies are not yet great at thermoregulation.
But most moms will be familiar with their major benefit: they can do wonders for the baby with a cold. Moisture in the atmosphere can help loosen up the little one’s congested nose and moisturize affected membranes, resulting in less stuffiness and irritation. As such, humidifiers can help both mom and baby get a good night’s sleep.
Humidifiers basically convert water into water vapor and release this into the air at a specific temperature. A healthy amount of water vapor in the air can help relieve numerous conditions that are associated with dry air. This includes the aforementioned colds, but also nosebleeds, dry skin and snoring.
However, humidifiers have also been associated with quite a number of risks. These risks depend greatly on the quality of water input, maintenance of the machine, using incorrect settings and problems with the placement of the machine. These dangers can be scary for the new mom who only wants the best for her little one.
To help quell all fears, we’ve listed fifteen of the dangers of keeping a humidifier in the baby’s room, as well as how to avoid these risks. We do, of course, recommend that each mom consults the baby’s pediatrician for considerations that are specific to humidifier use and the baby.
15 Too High Humidity
Quite a number of the dangers associated with humidifiers is particularly when they are set for too high of a humidity. Of course, these risks can also occur with lower settings, but they do tend to come up more often the higher the settings are. The ideal humidity for most homes is around 40-55%.
Of course, the settings to use will depend entirely on where you live. Certain places will tend to be naturally more humid than others, and so it may be necessary to use lower settings to achieve ideal humidity. Being that in some places, natural humidity is pretty high and the family might want to consider getting a dehumidifier to actually reduce atmospheric humidity instead! The major reason why the family will want to regulate humidity, especially with a baby, is that there are several health risks involved. We’ll discuss all these risks individually.
If the baby experiences recurring allergies, it might be time to take a good look at the humidifier. While humidifiers are often used to reduce allergy symptoms in both children and adults, many don’t know that they can also trigger them. This is particularly if the humidity is at a setting that is too high, which can result in the proliferation of dust mites, which we’ll discuss later. A humidifier can also trigger allergies if it is uncleaned for long periods of time. It may therefore be worth lowering humidity settings or giving the unit a thorough cleaning to prevent problems.
Allergies can often come as coughing, sneezing, sniffles and skin rashes. But in some cases, it can also come in the form of asthma, a potentially dangerous hypersensitivity reaction that results in the constriction of airways. If a humidifier is needed around an asthmatic baby, parents will need to be extra vigilant in keeping it well-maintained.
Mold can grow in humidifiers that are not cleaned out regularly, which can result in mold particles or spores getting spewed out in the air along with water vapor. For a kid prone to allergies, this isn’t exactly a great scenario. In addition, putting the humidifier at settings that are way too high may also result in water droplets adhering to furniture, walls and the ceiling.
Over long periods of time, increased moisture can promote the growth of mold, particularly on surfaces made of porous material such as wood. This can result in telltale black patches on the ceiling or walls, as well as softening and breaking down of furniture, particularly if it is unvarnished. This can, in turn, result in the spread of even more mold particles and spores in the atmosphere. As such, many people find that when they control the mold problem in their house, their children’s health improves greatly.
12 Dust Mites
A dust mite is a tiny creature that just loves hanging around humans. It does so because we provide it with so much of its favorite food, the flakes of our skin, which we shed every single moment of our lives. Dust mites are rather tame, considering the havoc that their fellow mite, scabies, causes. In fact, the relationship between humans and dust mites did have the potential to work out considering the fact that we don’t actually need those shed-off skin flakes anymore. But, unfortunately, this mite can still cause a number of problems.
These issues are a result not of the mite itself but of its feces, which still contain some of its digestive enzymes that can irritate human tissue, causing coughing, wheezing and rashes. These pesky creatures proliferate in places of high humidity, which is another reason why families with humidifiers might want to keep those settings low.
Yet another thing that thrives in moist environments, as well as in dirty humidifiers, is bacteria. These microscopic critters can not only cause allergies, they can also result in infections as well. This is especially in people with vulnerable immune systems, newborns included! Don’t be fooled by humidifiers that claim to be “antibacterial” either. Some folks have actually tested models such as these and found that most of them still bred the same levels of bacteria as units that did not have any antibacterial claims.
The exception was evaporative wick humidifiers, which didn’t emit any bacteria at all. Of course, it is still extremely important to replace the evaporative wick filters as recommended by the manufacturer so that it continues to have this benefit. Regardless of this, however, bacteria can still find its way and multiply on damp surfaces. So it’s still best to keep the humidifier settings as low as possible.
10 “White Dust”
Some parents may find a film of white dust on their furniture after a long day of humidifier use. This is not supposed to happen. Chances are, this white dust are trace minerals found in the water that can build up inside the humidifier and, in some cases, get dispersed into the atmosphere. Depending on the minerals present in the water, these particles can be dangerous. But also, deposits of this white dust on furniture, in combination with high environmental moisture, can encourage bacterial growth.
To prevent white dust, it’s important to use distilled water in the humidifier. This is because regular unfiltered water often contains trace minerals that it gets from the soil from whence it is extracted. The process of distillation and demineralization removes these trace minerals to ensure that the consumer gets nothing but pure water. For baby’s safety, therefore, it’s best to use just the right kind of water for the job. Most humidifier manufacturers recommend distilled water in their owner’s manuals.
9 Toxic Metals
White dust itself can be made up of minerals that aren’t too harmful for the baby, but can promote the growth of bacteria. However, we have hinted that some particles that come along with water can be dangerous. Some of these are alright in small amounts in drinking water, but are dangerous when inhaled.
In fact, some sources of water can have high amounts of metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and copper. In some places, industrial chemicals from pesticide and fertilizer may even find their way into ground water sources or tap water pipes, further increasing the chance of problems. Babies are at particular risk for this, as they have lower body weights and sizes, which means that the toxic metals can build up in their bloodstream faster. It is therefore ill-advised to use tap water in the humidifier. As we’ve said earlier, distilled is best for the job.
8 Recurring Colds And Coughs
Have a baby or another member of the family with recurring colds and coughs? It may be time to give the humidifier a good clean. These symptoms are often mistaken for the latest cold virus floating around the local preschool. However, they could be the result of an allergy to something that the humidifier is spewing around. Worse, infectious bacteria that someone brings home may find its way into the humidifier and spread around. While the normal child or adult immune system may be able to handle this quite well, the baby may not.
In fact, it’s advisable to clean out the humidifier and change the filter every time after someone in the household recovers from a cough or cold to keep microorganisms from building up. Better yet, anyone who has some sort of respiratory infection shouldn’t be allowed near the baby, or even in the room with the little one’s humidifier.
7 Tripping On Wires
Health issues aren’t the only reason that parents have to watch out for humidifiers in the baby’s room. There are also hazards associated with the hardware of the humidifier itself. Among them are the often long wires that come with these units. While it is quite convenient to have them loose, especially when the family transfers it to different locations, these can be a hazard, particularly around kids and busy adults.
Kids are prone to tripping on the wires, which could result in all sorts of injury. In some cases, large humidifier units may even topple over the child, posing additional danger. At particular risk are toddlers and babies who have just learned to walk and may therefore not have very good coordination. It is therefore best for parents to keep the wires on humidifiers secure. If possible, keep the humidifier close to the wall and baby-proof both the wire and the outlet.
6 Spilling Water
There are several conditions in which a humidifier may leak. It’s important to address these issues for safety, especially when there are kids in the house. Water spills that are left unattended to can result in children slipping and getting injured. Babies and toddlers, in particular, are prone to getting injured as a result of these spills.
A humidifier will leak, first of all, if it’s been overfilled. It may also leak if the drainage tube is blocked or kinked, which can prevent water from flowing through. Another reason for a spill might be an evaporator pad that is clogged, which will usually happen when the aforementioned white dust builds up on the pad. If a unit continues to leak water and an apparent cause cannot be determined, it’s best to call someone in for repairs. Not only can the water cause spills, it can also contribute to the next hazard on this list, electrocution.
Water and electricity mix well. Too well, in fact. Water is a conductor of electricity and so any water spillage that comes into contact with a loose wire is extremely dangerous, especially for babies. To avoid this, it’s important to address any of the aforementioned spills and leaks. Never turn on a unit that is leaking, even when there’s a water “catchment” below it. Kids love to explore and touch things, which can result in a tragic accident if the little one reaches out, thinking it’s just harmless water. It’s also important to check the wires periodically, as sometimes the casing can degrade over time, which is another thing that any parent will want to keep away from the curious child.
Not only does the adult have to take precautions for the kids, but for herself as well. It’s important to turn off the humidifier, possibly even unplugging it, when replacing the water inside.
The most common injury associated with humidifiers are burns. This is particularly for those who use a warm mist variety that disperses water vapor as steam. This model is popular among those living in cold, dry locations as it can address both humidity and temperature. These also tend to be the most common as they’re cheap and can be bought at the nearest drug store.
However, the process in which water is converted to steam requires a lot of heat. As such, the unit can be hot to touch or, at higher temperature settings, the emitted steam can be hot enough to cause burns. A curious tot who comes to close to the humidifier may find himself getting injured. It is therefore advisable to pick a model that doesn’t need to heat the water to produce vapor. Many recommend ultrasonic humidifiers, which may cause more vapor than the steam humidifier, but is far more kid-friendly.
3 Different Reactions
With humidifier use, it’s important to check on the baby for his reaction to the air. Note the pattern of breathing, or if there is any visible discomfort or difficulty breathing with no apparent cause. This may mean that the humidifier settings are too high, or that dirt in the humidifier is triggering a reaction.
It’s important to take note of this per individual baby because each baby responds to humidity levels differently. One setting, therefore, that is just right for the next-door neighbor’s niece may just not work out for your little one. It’s important to hit a sweet spot that’s comfortable for the baby and, also, approved by the pediatrician. Babies who have lung conditions, particularly those with asthma or born prematurely, will need extra attention during humidifier use. It is, of course, advisable to place a baby monitor in the room. Better yet, allow the baby to room in a crib in mom and dad’s room.
2 Not For The Low-Maintenance
As we’ve repeatedly hinted earlier, it is extremely important to clean the humidifier at regular intervals, as well as to replace the filters as necessary. It can be easy for a parent to say that she will remember to do so. However, it’s important to note that some parents are often so busy with work and chores that they might forget this small detail or, sometimes, put it off for later. It may seem inconsequential at the time, but it can be extremely important for the baby’s health.
For those who aren’t up to the frequent cleanings that a humidifying unit requires, it may be worth installing a whole-house humidifier that covers more than just the baby’s room. Such humidifiers require cleaning and maintenance just once a year. If the parents are busy when it’s due to be cleaned, they can get an HVAC serviceman to do it for them.
Some like to add essential oils or rubs into the humidifier to help relieve a stuffy nose or a headache. This may seem like a great idea to help the little one recover from a bad cold. However, this isn’t exactly advised for kids below three years of age. A rub that allows the volatile compounds in essential oils to diffuse naturally may be acceptable. But with a humidifier, the particles are often larger than what the little one would breathe through a normal application. Not only can these large particles potentially cause irritation on the baby’s mucosa, it can also damage the humidifier as well.
Remember, the humidifier is designed to diffuse plain old water into the air. It may be able to do so with oils, but not as well. After all, there are other ways to ensure that the little one is able to get the benefits of essential oils without putting them in a place where they absolutely should not be!