Humidity is the amount of water vapor present in the air. The amount of water vapor air can hold depends on its temperature. Warmer air holds more moisture than cooler air. Humidity is expressed as a percentage. It affects many aspects of our daily lives, such as how comfortable we are in a space or how quickly clothes dry.
Relationship Between Humidity and Indoor Air Quality
Low humidity levels in an indoor environment can have a significant detrimental impact on air quality. High humidity in an indoor environment impacts the health and well-being of its occupants. Humidity levels exceeding 50% can cause respiratory health problems, such as asthma and allergies, due to mold growth, dust mites, and airborne pollutants.
Maintaining good indoor air quality is essential for the health and comfort of those living and working inside a space. Poor indoor air quality can lead to health problems, especially those with allergies and respiratory conditions. Indoor air pollution comes from sources like dust mites, pet fur, mold spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning products and paints, smoke, and emissions from construction materials.
5 Ways Humidity Impacts Indoor Air Quality
1. Increases Pollutant Concentration
Low humidity causes an increase in pollutant concentrations in the air. When the air becomes drier and less humid, it cannot hold as much water vapor, which acts as a natural filter that captures pollutants and prevents them from entering our atmosphere. Without this natural barrier, pollutants like ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides are much more likely to end up in our air.
When the air is less humid, air circulation is slowed due to a decrease in the amount of water vapor present. This means that pollutants and other harmful particles, such as dust, pollen, and bacteria, cannot be carried away by the wind and become trapped in the air. This can lead to an increase in air pollution levels, which harms our health.
2. Increases Chemical Pollutants
Low humidity levels can have many detrimental effects on the environment. When humidity drops, the air becomes dry and arid, causing chemicals like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) to become more concentrated. VOCs are highly toxic gases that cause respiratory irritation. Radon is a radioactive gas that causes lung cancer if inhaled over long periods. Environmental tobacco smoke is a health hazard resulting from burning tobacco products. It consists of two types of smoke — sidestream smoke, emitted directly from the burning cigarette, and mainstream smoke, inhaled and exhaled by the smoker.
3. Wilts Indoor Plants
When the air is too dry, it becomes difficult for plants to absorb the necessary water and nutrients from their environment, leading to extreme wilting, stunted growth, and death. Indoor plants are a great way to improve the air quality in your home or office. They add a touch of natural beauty and greenery to your environment and absorb pollutants and toxins from the air while releasing oxygen. This, in turn, reduces levels of carbon dioxide, smoke, dust particles, and other particles that can affect your health.
4. Affects Biological Pollutants
Humidity is a medium that supports the growth and spread of mold and bacteria. When there is lower humidity, the air has less moisture. These pollutants cannot thrive and, therefore, their concentration will be reduced. Typically, viruses such as influenza spread when droplets containing the virus are suspended in dry air. In this environment, the tiny particles stay airborne for much longer and travel farther than in more humid conditions. This makes it easier for people to become exposed to a virus through contact or inhalation of infected particles. Low humidity can also worsen the effects of some allergens, such as dust and pollen, making them more likely to cause respiratory irritation or allergic reactions.
5. Impacts Occupants’ Quality of Life
Low humidity levels can significantly impact occupants’ comfort, health, and wellness. In dryer environments, nasal and throat mucous membranes become dry and cracked, leading to increased risks of infection from airborne viruses and bacteria. Dry air is also difficult to heat or cool efficiently since it does not retain heat well.
How to Manage Humidity Levels
1. Use Hygrometers
Monitoring humidity levels with a hygrometer ensures an optimum indoor environment. A hygrometer measures the amount of moisture in the air and detects changes in humidity.
2. Proper Ventilation
Proper ventilation regulates humidity levels in any indoor space. Circulating air from outside reduces the moisture content while introducing dry, cooler air. It reduces the risk of mold and mildew growth, which affects a person’s health and well-being. Also, adequately ventilated spaces reduce energy costs by reducing the need for air conditioning and heating systems. Install ventilation systems such as fans or air vents in locations that allow for optimal air circulation.
3. Seal Cracks and Openings on Windows and Doors
By blocking these pathways, you stop the influx of moist air that travels through these spaces. Sealing off entry points for outside air maintains indoor temperatures. Use weather stripping or caulk to seal windows and doors. Weatherstripping is a material that fits into the gap between two surfaces, preventing air infiltration. Caulk is a malleable sealant applied around windows and door frames to form an air-tight seal.
How to Prevent Dry Air Issues
1. Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer
Humidifiers add moisture to the air, raising relative humidity levels and providing relief from dry indoor air. Adding moisture to the air reduces symptoms of dryness and irritation. It also alleviates allergy symptoms by preventing the spread of airborne allergens. Vaporizers work differently than humidifiers by releasing a mist or steam into the air to raise moisture levels. Vaporizers are especially beneficial for those with respiratory illnesses, as breathing in the steam helps to open airways and reduce inflammation.
2. Moisturize Your Skin
Properly moisturizing your skin protects it by keeping the outer layer of the skin hydrated and preventing moisture loss. Moisturizers include creams, lotions, and oils. They act as a barrier to hold moisture in while keeping the skin from drying out. When the air has low humidity, it makes your lips crack and chap due to the lack of moisture. You should apply lip balm often, especially before going out into the cold or windy weather, which further dries out your skin.
3. Nasal Irrigation
Using a nasal spray or neti pot to irrigate your nasal passages keeps the airways hydrated and clear. The saline solution reduces the number of bacteria and allergens that stick to the delicate mucous membranes in the nose, preventing inflammation and congestion. It also reduces chronic sinus infections and improves airflow in the nasal passages.
You should do nasal irrigation using previously boiled or filtered warm water that’s mixed with a teaspoon of salt, baking soda, or saline solution. Pour the mixture into one nostril while tilting your head to the other side. The solution will then flow out of the opposite nostril, and any excess can be blown out of the nose with a tissue. After irrigation, use a gentle saline spray to moisturize and protect the nasal passages.
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