Why Does It Matter if the Air Is Dry?
Adults breathe approximately 23,000 times a day. The air we are breathing is important in making sure our bodies’ function effectively to ward off illness and infection.
Sinuses that are dry are 50% more likely to attract sinusitis-causing bacteria than moist sinuses. Humidity levels between 40%-50% are the healthiest for your skin and sinuses. Relative humidity is another term for the amount of moisture in the air. Steam heat or forced air in your home cause additional dryness in the air that irritates the nose and dries it out. Problems with mucus drainage may also occur if airborne allergens in the air are inhaled into the sinus through the nasal cavities. This is more likely if you suffer from blockages from a deviated septum or other structural problems in your nasal cavity.
Dr. Bennett urges patients to understand the importance of increasing moisture in the air and maintaining healthy sinuses.
Is dry air affecting my sinuses?
Dry air can be a direct result of cold weather and indoor forced-air heating.
Dry air can have seven principal effects on our bodies:
- 1) Respiratory problems (i.e. asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, and nosebleeds)
- 2) Dehydration: increased respiration due to dry air diminishes bodily fluids; certain types of bacteria, namely pneumococcus, staphylococcus, and streptococcus are eliminated 20 times faster when relative humidity is above 55%
- 3) Less Vitamin A in the body: your immune system works overtime to make up for the changes in the body after being exposed to dry air
- 4) Watery and itchy eyes and throat
- 5) Dry skin, chapped lips and eczema
- 6) Dry nostrils, cracked nasal membranes, damaged cilia, poorly functioning mucus membranes and chronic sinusitis
- 7) Chronic joint and muscle pain, hoarse throat and tender eyes
If you experience dry skin, an itchy throat, watery eyes, or irritants in your nasal passages and sinuses, then you may be in an area that is too dry. This can lead to frequent or chronic sinusitis.
Dry air affects the sinuses because it damages the cilia that filter out the bacteria and debris in the mucus membrane lining the nasal and sinus cavities. The air can also become especially dry if you are exposed to air conditioning, wood burning stoves or forced-air heating.
An interesting example of this was a study where subjects were exposed to three different types of air and were asked to rate their level of nasal irritation. The first box was filled with optimal air with normal humidity levels. The second box held dry air, and the third box was filled with cold air. The majority of volunteers relayed feelings of more nasal congestion when exposed to the dry air in the second box but reported an ability to breathe easier after exposure to normal or cold air.
The study confirms the hypothesis of the researchers – that optimal humidity and temperature in the air facilitates greater airflow to the nasal passages, resulting in less frequent sinus infections.
Is dry air present in my home?
Determining whether you have dry air in your home may be easier than you think. Review these characteristics to determine whether or not the relative humidity in your home may be too low:
- You notice an increase in static electricity
- Cracks and gaps in hardwood flooring
- If you own a piano, it may need tuning frequently
- Gaps in crown moldings along the tops of walls
- Certain household items appear warped and shrunken
- Peeling of wallpaper, usually at the edges
How do I treat my dry sinuses?
There are three principal ways to treat dry sinuses:
1) Avoid dry and unclean air:
- Dust, pollen, dust mites and pet dander
- Cool, dry weather
- Musty air or rooms
- Airborne irritants like hairspray, tobacco smoke, cleaning products
2) Create moisture in the nose through steam inhalation or nasal rinses, i.e.
- Dab a hypoallergenic lotion or a nasal gel in your nostrils
- Dip a washcloth in warm water and place it over your face, inhaling deeply
- Humidify the air through a humidifier or vaporizer
- Spend time taking a hot, steamy shower; go to a steam room
- Use a saline spray or neti pot
3) Be aware of circumstances that tend to flare up your symptoms
- See the Precautions section
What precautions can I take to avoid dryness?
Practice clean hygiene – if you are using a neti pot, vaporizer or humidifier, make sure to clean them thoroughly, otherwise you risk growing mold and bacteria. When making the solution for your neti pot, be sure to only use distilled or sterilized water, since tap water can contain pollutants.
Make sure the air you’re breathing is moist – run a humidifier in the rooms where you spend most of your time. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can always create a room full of moisture by running a hot bath, closing the door in your bathroom, and breathe in in the steam.
Drink plenty of water and juices – Water and juice get rid of mucus that is too thick to drain properly. Eight glasses a day are preferable, and if drinking caffeine or alcohol, keep the amounts to a minimum.
Clean and purify your air – creating an optimal air setting is essential to maximize your sinuses’ ability to filter our harmful irritants. To achieve an optimal air setting, several factors must be present. First, you should not be able to see or smell the air. Secondly, the air must be warm (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). The air must also have a relative humidity of approximately 45% plus or minus ten. Lastly, the air must be filled with oxygen.
Sleep seven to nine hours nightly – we are most susceptible to the harmful effects of dry air if our bodies are not appropriately rested. A well-rested body means a strong immune system, so be sure to get to bed early each night and your body will respond accordingly.
Flush your sinuses – Dr. Bennett reminds his patients that taking care to commit to a regimen of nasal irrigation can help reduce sinus infections for many people; use a neti pot or nasal sprays to irrigate and clean out your sinuses.
Open your sinuses with spicy food – A great quick fix to combat sinus pressure from dry air is to incorporate spicy foods into your diet, i.e. chiles, habanero and cayenne peppers, hot salsa or jalapeno peppers.
The dry air caused by heating systems, especially forced-air heating systems (the most common type of heating system in the United States), can bring on a number of problems for allergy sufferers. Dry air can irritate nasal passageways, leading to sinus infections or sinusitis. Dry air can also lead to increased mucus production, which can pose dangers for asthmatic individuals. Furthermore, dry air can irritate sensitive skin, exacerbating eczema and causing discomfort.
Making sure the air in your home is maintained at the proper level of humidity is one of the best ways to alleviate these concerns. Humidifiers re-introduce moisture to dry air, creating a healthier environment.
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