Will a humidifier help or hurt someone with COPD?

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 Answer

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.