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The hidden risks of humidifiers

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If you’re like lots of moms, you might put a humidifier in your child’s bedroom with good intentions, like to help him or her breathe easier. However, when used incorrectly, humidifiers may pose a risk to your child’s health.

What are the pros and cons of humidifiers?
Humidifiers can help add moisture to dry living spaces, which can be uncomfortable for children. However, “white dust,” a substance left behind by ultrasonic (or “cool mist”) humidifiers, has been linked to inhalation lung damage in children. This is according to a study by Robin Deterding, MD, professor of pediatrics and Director of the Breathing Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

What does “white dust” do?
“The white dust minerals are small enough to be inhaled and deposited into lungs, and they can cause problems in children,” Dr. Deterding said. “If you see the dust, people who are in the room with the humidifier are inhaling it.”

What are the dos and don’ts of using humidifiers?
Humidifiers aren’t all bad. Take these precautions when deciding to place one in your home:
• Clean your humidifier daily to avoid mineral buildup and growth of microorganisms.
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper cleaning and usage.
• Test-run your humidifier and look for white dust before placing it in your child’s room.
• Don’t use it in a closed room, and instead leave a door or window open.
• Don’t use tap water, which contains minerals that can be emitted as white dust. Use distilled water instead.

What’s the best humidifier to buy?

Check with your pediatrician to see which kind of humidifier or vaporizer they recommend. Dr. Deterding suggests warm vaporizers, but be sure to put it in a place where kids will not be in danger of burning themselves from the steam.

Learn more about Children’s Colorado.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 13, 2012

    We are all so painfully dry and chapped during the winter that we run humidifiers at night. But I had no idea what went into the care of them and have since repented of my slothfulness. I regularly clean mine out with vinegar and water.

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