There are several reasons to consider buying a humidifier. Humidifiers raise the level of indoor relative humidity, which can ease a small child's cold symptoms and reduce dry skin and itchy eyes--especially during winter.
Ideally, indoor humidity should be 30 to 50 percent. In winter, heating in your home or apartment can cause the relative humidity to drop as low as 10 percent. A If you live in a dry climate, or in a region where winter means turning up the heat, regularly running a humidifier can alleviate the discomfort of colds--for everyone in the family.
"They can be very helpful for upper respiratory and lower respiratory tract infections," says Dr. John Santa, Director of the Health Ratings Center for Consumer Reports. "In a winter environment where you have hot, dry air, a humidifier can loosen secretions and help people expectorate and get rid of both nasal and oral secretions."
Of course, adults can also turn to cold remedies and get preventative flu shots, but that isn't an option for very young children. The FDA now recommends that children under the age of 2 should not be given over-the-counter cough and cold products. Babies under 6 months can't receive a flu vaccine either.
Parents looking for a way to give their children some relief can try using a humidifier. Along with a suctioning bulb and saline drops (or a fine mist saline spray designed for babies), a humidifier can make it easier for your baby to breathe, even if she is sick. "Definitely they can help kids with cold symptoms because it can help relieve stuffiness and keep the passages more comfortable," says Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta and the editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting site.
Since viruses can grow more easily in cold, dry air, running a humidifier may help prevent children from getting sick in the first place. "Using a humidifier may kill the viruses faster, and create an environment that prevents viruses from thriving," says Dr. Shu.
Be careful about where you place the humidifier and remember that it should be on a flat surface. If you put it on the floor or bureau, children and pets may try to explore it or tug on the electrical cords. Always unplug the humidifier if you are going to move it, and don't leave it plugged in when it is not in use.
"One other problem with these is that if you step on them you can spill water on the floor where other electrical devices are," says Dr. Santa "You have to use commonsense safety principles with humidifiers. You should also remember not to close the doors to a child's room while a humidifier is running because the room can get overly humid.
Avoid using warm mist humidifiers, or vaporizers, in children's rooms. The hot steam can easily cause burns, and there may be other hot surfaces.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.