Will a humidifier help or hurt someone with COPD?

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 22, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father has emphysema,COPD, and also had a half a lung removed about 20 years ago due to cancer. He is 78 years old and not doing well. My mother thinks running a humidifier is helpful, but I don't think it is good for him and it doesn't help his breathing at all that I can see. He seems to need the oxygen more while it's on. Can running the humidifier be hampering his breathing??

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

In someone with COPD, a humidifier can help keep the air moist, which can help with making it easier to cough up phelgm. Humidifiers can be especially helpful if the indoor air becomes too dry, which can happen during the winter, as we tend to run our heaters non-stop, and this takes most of the moisture out of the air. Keep in mind that the humidifier should be a cool mist humidifier, and the water needs to be changed daily to make sure it is clean. Also, the humidifier's filter needs to be changed regularly according to the manufacturer's recommendations, so that contamination will not occur.

You say that your mother thinks the humidifier helps, but you are not so sure. Can you ask your father? How does he feel about it? From my experience, you should keep in mind that oxygen can be drying itself and it can then irritate the nasal passages, especially if using a nasal prong system. The humidified air may help reduce his nasal irritation, which will help make the oxygen easier to use. Perhaps that is why he seems to wear the oxygen more.

The bottom line is that I do not think that a humidifer is going to hurt his breathing. Good luck.

Community Answers

Srframe answered...

I would suggest that the most important point is that the term "Humidifier" is inclusive of all types of humidity producing devices and this can be misleading given that not all such devices are the same. The main thing that separates each device in terms of effectiveness (ability to help your fathers breathing) is the amount of water vapor they are able to produce. Keep in mind that a mist is not the same as water vapor. A mist is actually a dense cloud of tiny water droplets, each of which are very tiny but still large enough to see and large enough to transport pathogens from the water chamber to the human airway - Hence the need to change the water in a cool mist "Humidifier" and reduce the transportable pathogens.

Water vapor is simply the gas form of water, one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms flying around independently , obviously it can not be seen, cannot transport pathogens, it is in the air all around you all the time and the human airway is specially equipped to add water vapor to the gas we breath before it gets to the lungs, this is a natural conditioning process that occurs every time you inhale. A true and effective, water vapor humidifier will only ever aim to produce water vapor, not mist or steam, to supplement this natural gas conditioning. It can be very useful in preventing the effects of airway dehydration that you will see being caused by dry oxygen use (water vapor humidificayion can be used simultaneously with oxygen delivery via some nasal prong systems) and it can be very usefull in providing active hydration of the airway to mobilise secretions. Water vapor can not be produced without water and heat energy, so all such water vapor humidification devices are called heated water vapor pass over humidification devices, sometimes also called active humidification devices. The most effective of these devices will be able to deliver fully humidified gas at a dew point temperature of 37 degrees Celsius (core body temperature). This means that there is no further water vapor for the airway to add to the inhaled gas and therefore no dehydration can occur in the airway which could thicken secretions.

A study published in a medical journal called Respiratory Medicine and authored by Harry Rea and colleagues in April 2010 found that using water vapor humidification in the home for one hour a day on top of any other medication etc. resulted in fewer and less severe exacerbations in patients with COPD. It also suggests that the higher gas flows which are tolerable given the humidity levels may help to encourage slower and deeper breathing which would have also contributed to the result. I am not aware of any studies which have shown a benefit to COPD patients from cool mist or non heated humidification.

In summary, if it was my father I would not hesitate in encouraging him to use a humidifier provided it was capable of producing high levels of water vapor humidity (aka 37 degree C dew point or there abouts, at least more than 33 degree C dew point anyway) I would also encourage him to use it as often as possible at high flow rates (it's just humidified air remember) and in conjunction with any other medication his doctor has prescribed.

I hope this was of some help.

Srframe answered...

I should clarify that in the last paragraph of my response above I am suggesting only a humidification system applied directly to a person's airway, i.e. a personal humidification system with delivery directly to the nostrils, not a whole room humidifier. I wouldn't consider a whole room humidifier to be a practical solution given that I'd only be aiming to provide the treatment to my father's lungs and airway, not the whole house.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I suffer from COPD, generally I manage it very well. Recently I was having some problems with my breathing particularly in the morning. As the day progressed my breathing would improve. We were using a cool humidifier each night. Spring finally arrived and we put the humidifier away and I have not had a problem since. I believe my problem was associated with the humidifier and I also believe if we use the cool humidifier next year we will have to clean it more often.

Kamikat answered...

My mother is suffering from Stage 3 COPD and emphazema. She was running both a cool mist and a regular(warm) humidifer, so much so that water was running down the windows inside - and she's been dealing with a severe flare up with her COPD. I told her I was worried about the humifiers becuase in the spring/summer when it's humid, she struggles to breathe. her sat. had been at 88 in the morning, the day after turning them off she was at 92. I urged her to ask the doc, he said if she needs it because of nose bleeds from the dry air, it MUST be a cool mist humidifier and the water must be changed routinely. If you're worried about your dad, please consult his pulmonary doctor as we did. You can't be too careful. Our doc said COOL MIST ONLY for COPD patients.

Valentineh answered...

It depends on what humidifier you mean, that would not explain much, I'll give you a link http://best-humidifier.com/ where you can read what will suit your better,