Humidifiers: Is Yours Poisoning Your Child?

Julie Ryan Evans

humidifierThe first thing I do when one of my children starts getting sniffly is to get out the humidifier, and with a daughter in the first year of preschool, that thing is out  A LOT. My mom used one when my siblings and I were small; doctors have recommended them to me for coughs and cold; and they've always seemed to work. But now doctors are cautioning that they may not only NOT be working, but they may also be harmful as well. Great.

In a recent article in Pediatrics journal, doctors found the use of humidifiers could cause lung problems in children. Beyond the risk of burns from the old steam-producing versions, doctors say humidifiers can spread germs, mold, and toxic metals.

"So you can imagine in a humidifier that those bacteria, those molds may be growing as well, and what you're doing is you're dispersing them into the air," Dr. Erwin Gelfand, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at National Jewish Health, said in a recent NPR interview.

Of course, there are all those instructions included with the humidifiers about how to clean them and how we're supposed to use distilled water, but when was the last time you cleaned yours? And used distilled water? I'm usually digging my humidifier out while half asleep in the middle of the night, so seeking out distilled water isn't going to happen.

What's more, doctors say they really don't do anything to help a cold anyway.

"There's a lot of old wives' tales about humidified air and how beneficial it is, because I think everybody thinks that if you have humidified air, it's easier to breathe," Dr. Gelfand said. But he noted that the best humidifiers are already attached to our children's faces -- their noses.

"That's why we go through the nose. We have the hairs in the nose filter out, you know, large particles, and we do humidify the air before it goes down into the lung."

It's going to be a hard habit to break, I have to admit. I can't imagine nursing my toddler daughter through a cold without one. But this information is disturbing enough to me that I'll try the next time she gets one ... which will be all too soon I'm sure.

Do you use a humidifier to treat your children's colds? Will this new information change that?

Image via Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

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