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If I were to choose between living in a place with low humidity or high humidity, I’d go with the first option. Both too little and too much humidity are uncomfortable and bad for your health, but high humidity is particularly pernicious.
Too much moisture in the air not only causes discomfort, it can have some pretty serious health consequences.
In this post, we look at how high humidity affects your health and sleep, plus what you can do to keep your home at the right humidity level.
High Humidity Affects Your Respiratory Health
When the air is very humid, it feels dense and you struggle to breathe. This is made worse by the fact that high humidity is often accompanied by high temperatures. One study found that an increase in temperature and relative humidity leads to decreased lung function.
That’s why it feels harder to breathe and you may even find yourself experiencing shortness of breath. You may also experience more sneezing and coughing. Too much humidity can also affect your sinuses, leading to a stuffy nose.
People with existing respiratory health problems usually have it worse. High humidity can trigger a flare up in symptoms.
If you have asthma, anything that causes your airways to constrict can trigger an attack. That’s exactly what humid air does. It triggers nerves that narrow your airways, resulting in a flare up of asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
The same thing happens with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD already causes restricted airflow, which is further worsened by high levels of humidity. Too much humidity can worsen COPD symptoms.
There’s yet another way high humidity is bad for COPD and asthma patients. Pollutants and allergens can trigger and worsen symptoms of both conditions. High humidity traps allergens and pollutants in the air, so you breathe more of them in, triggering flare ups.
Too Much Humidity Can Worsen Allergies
As moisture traps allergens and pollutants in the air, your allergies can get worse. This is part of the reason why spring and summer are peak allergy seasons. In addition to pollen from trees, higher levels of humidity result in increased concentrations of airborne allergens both indoors and outdoors.
Some allergens like dust mites thrive in humid air. As the number of dust mites on bedding, furniture and other surfaces go up with humidity, it leads to more and worse allergy flare ups.
And we’ve not even talked about one of the worst allergens that thrives in high humidity — mold.
Humidity Can Cause Mold
Mold loves warmth and moisture. As spring warms the air and increases humidity, mold grows more aggressively. It only gets more aggressive in the summer as humidity further rises.
If you are not careful to keep your home from getting too humid, you could have mold growing in hidden nooks and crannies. As it grows, it releases microscopic mold spores that are terrible for allergies. They are especially bad for people who are specifically sensitive to mold.
Mold exposure can cause all sorts of respiratory discomforts like stuffy nose, nasal irritation, coughing and sneezing. It can also cause itchy eyes, dry skin and an irritated throat.
And don’t forget that mold spores can also trigger COPD and asthma attacks.
This may not be as big a deal, but it’s still annoying — high humidity also leaves your home smelling like mold or mildew, which doesn't help with ambience and comfort. The smell will be concentrated in areas with the most mold growth like the bathroom, in the basement and other humid areas. This can actually give you an idea of where to hunt for the mold.
High Humidity Worsens Indoor Air Quality
We already have problems with terrible indoor air quality. In most homes, it is several times worse than outdoor air quality since the pollutants are more concentrated.
High levels of humidity further worsen indoor air quality. As we mentioned before, the moisture traps pollutants closer to the ground. So even with good ventilation, you still have unhealthy levels of pollutants in your home.
Poor indoor air quality affects everyone. It’s linked to respiratory diseases like asthma, heart disease, cognitive decline and even cancer. The effects are worse for people already suffering from various health problems.
How High Humidity Affects Your Skin
Skin health is one area where dry air is worse for you than humid air. But too much humidity can harm your skin in several ways.
The biggest one is excessive sweating. You sweat more when it is humid, but the sweat stays on your skin since it can’t evaporate as fast when it’s humid. It blocks your pores and increases the risk of a breakout.
Too much humidity also increases the amount of bacteria on your skin, which can also cause acne breakouts.
Tips for Dealing With Too Much Humidity
Whether you are dealing with seasonal humidity or you live in a perpetually humid climate, here are some tips for dealing with excessive humidity. They’ll help you protect your health, get better quality sleep and feel more comfortable.
- A dehumidifier is the best way to bring down humidity indoors. You can get a powerful whole-house dehumidifier or a smaller one for just one room.
- When humidity levels are not too high, cooling your home can be enough to reduce humidity. Turn down the thermostat or use a portable AC to lower indoor temperature. As it cools the air, the AC also removes some of the moisture.
- Turn on a fan to help circulate the air. This will not actually reduce humidity, but it can make the room feel cooler and more comfortable. It can also reduce sweating.
- Look for any plumbing, groundwater or rain leaks inside your home. These can increase indoor humidity and cause mold to grow.
- Install exhaust fans in places like the bathroom and kitchen to expel moist air outside. This will prevent the moisture from cooking and showering from building up inside the house.
- When going outdoors, where it’s impossible to control humidity, it’s all about how you dress. Put on light and loose-fitting clothes made from fabrics that are absorbent and breathable. Some good fabrics include linen, rayon, bamboo, silk, wool and cotton.
Remember to hydrate even when you don't feel thirsty. Because of excessive sweating, you lose a lot of water when humidity is too high and it’s easy to get dehydrated.