Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition characterized by dryness, itchiness, and discoloring of the skin. This article addresses frequently asked questions about whether a humidifier is a good treatment for eczema.
Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting about 1 in 10 people in the United States during their lifetime.
Eczema results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that lead to disruption of the skin barrier. When connections between skin cells do not work as they should, it makes it hard for the skin to retain water. This leads to dryness and irritation.
A person may use moisturizers and topical creams or ointments to treat symptoms of eczema. These help return moisture to the skin. Some people may also find relief by adding moisture to the air using a humidifier.
Here we answer common questions about whether using a humidifier can help relieve symptoms of eczema, as well as important considerations for safe humidifier use.
Dry air and low humidity are often considered triggers for eczema symptoms, so many experts recommend using a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air.
In general, it is recommended that humidity be maintained at 50% to 60% to prevent dry skin, but this may not always be practical. Indoor humidity levels that are too high can cause mold growth and attract pests such as cockroaches or dust mites.
For practical purposes, using a humidifier to achieve a humidity level between 30% and 50% may be helpful for people with eczema. If humidity levels are already in this range, using a humidifier may not help.
Humidity levels tend to be lowest in the winter, so people often think to use a humidifier during this time. However, air conditioners also remove moisture from the air too. So even though outdoor humidity levels may seem high during the summer, indoor humidity levels may remain low.
Many digital indoor thermometers measure humidity, but a person can use a hygrometer can keep track of humidity levels throughout the year.
Although experts often recommend using a humidifier to maintain comfortable moisture levels in the air, a person must consider some important safety points.
In a study of 3,302 children ages 5 to 7 years old living in Southern California, those who had used a humidifier in their home were
This doesn’t mean that humidifiers cause eczema, though. For example, children who are more prone to eczema, such as those with parents who have eczema, may be more likely to use a humidifier.
Another possibility is that improper humidifier use contributes to other factors that can make eczema symptoms worse.
As described above, humidity levels that are too high can promote mold growth and create an environment where dust and pests such as cockroaches can thrive. Allergens from these pests are common triggers for people with eczema and may make symptoms worse.
Standing water in humidifiers can also lead to bacterial or mold growth, which can then spread into the air. Breathing in mist containing microorganisms can cause respiratory health conditions and may contribute to inflammation in the skin and lungs.
Keeping the humidifier clean and regularly replacing the water are important parts of safe humidifier use. Experts generally recommend that a person avoid using humidifier disinfectants, though. These can be toxic if inhaled and lead to heart and lung damage.
Although experts often recommend using a humidifier to help with eczema symptoms during dry weather, these recommendations aren’t made based on scientific evidence, and research on the use of humidifiers for eczema remains limited.
Damage to the skin barrier in eczema can cause water loss, which has been linked to itchiness in a variety of skin conditions.
So even though it hasn’t been tested, many experts recommend using a humidifier in places with very dry air to help prevent symptoms associated with eczema, including itchy skin.
Other ways to treat itchy skin include moisturizing immediately after bathing, wearing cotton or other breathable fabrics, and avoiding triggers.
Like all molecules, water moves from areas of high concentration to low concentration.
Human skin is roughly 64% water. When the amount of water in the air gets much lower than that, it can cause the skin to become dehydrated.
Because people with eczema have weaker connections between their skin cells, this happens more easily than in people without eczema. This is why people with eczema may be prone to dry, itchy, irritated skin in dry air.
Moisturizers, creams, and ointments can help to return moisture to the skin during dry periods. Thick creams and moisturizers are typically recommended over lotions, which can evaporate and leave the skin vulnerable to drying out more quickly.
Interrupted skin barrier function in people with eczema can cause epidermal water loss that can be made worse by dry air. Many people with eczema experience symptom flares during periods of low humidity and may turn to a humidifier to relieve their symptoms.
Many experts recommend using a humidifier during dry periods such as the winter seasons, but it’s important to take certain precautions to ensure safe humidifier use. A person should regularly clean the humidifier and change the water to prevent bacterial and mold growth.
People with eczema who are concerned that their symptoms may get worse in dry air should talk with their dermatologist about whether a humidifier is right for them.