Each year, 1.7 million people visit the hospital seeking comfort, care, and treatment for illness. However, a shocking number — over 100,000 — end up passing away due to infections contracted during their time in the building.
Due to the current pandemic, these numbers have almost certainly seen a drastic rise.
The main culprit: dry air, which not only increases the risk for airborne infections, but also creates an uncomfortable environment for the patient overall.
When it comes to air quality, a little moisture goes a long way, and there exists a simple, effective solution in an affordable device that’s already common in homes and offices all over the country: the humidifier.
Over recent years, more and more scientific studies have demonstrated the ability of humidifiers to lower viral infection rates in hospitals and even help alleviate the worst symptoms of diseases such as COVID-19.
In this article, we’ll detail the wide-ranging benefits of humidifiers in hospitals.
In order to ensure patient health, the indoor relative humidity (RH) should be maintained between 40% to 60%, where an even 50% may be the “sweet spot”. Deviation from this range may increase the of airborne infection from diseases like COVID-19. In fact, the CDC officially recommends the use of humidifiers in hospitals to ease coronavirus symptoms.
The chart below is taken from a peer-reviewed study done by researchers at the University of Sydney and the Fudan University of Public Health. According to their findings, a 1% decrease in RH can increase COVID-19 cases by 7-8%, and a 10% decrease in RH can double the likelihood of infection.
In the words of Dr. Stephanie Taylor (Harvard Medical School), "the dry air harms our natural immune barriers which protect us from infections."
When the humidity level in a room is too low, the dry air will essentially try to extract moisture from all possible sources, including mucous membranes in the human body. Mucous membranes are the body’s first line of defense against airborne infections, so if they are dried out and rendered ineffective, the body becomes much more susceptible to colds, flus, and other viruses. This is especially the case for patients in the hospital, who are likely already suffering from a compromised immune system and various underlying conditions.
However, if humidifiers are used to maintain a sufficient RH in the hospital, the surrounding air will not have the tendency to draw moisture from the body, and patients’ mucous membranes will not be dangerously compromised.
Preventing Further Health Risks
Humidity control is also critical in maintaining a healthy environment for maternity wards, as newborn babies are likely to have respiratory problems and are therefore especially sensitive to dry air.
Patients in burn units may also suffer from lack of humidity. A dry atmosphere can cause itchy skin and premature drying of wounds, a dangerous effect that can lead to coagulation and clotting.
Even hospital equipment may be damaged by low RH levels. When the humidity drops below 40%, the build-up of static electricity increases, which may damage sensitive electronic equipment.
From medical treatment to patient care to various other operations, running a hospital is already an immense task. Therefore, optimal air humidification can help reduce a whole host of issues caused by dry air for the patient community as well as hospital employees, creating a much more pleasant healthcare environment.
Humidifiers - Well Worth the Price and Risk?
While the health benefits of humidifiers are undeniable, they do not come without risks, as high costs, maintenance, and sanitary quality are common concerns.
Industrial and commercial humidifiers obviously aren't cheap, especially considering various other hospital expenses.
Humidifiers are also often difficult to maintain; if not cleaned frequently and properly, the insides of these devices can essentially turn into incubators for germs, which are then dispersed out into the air for everyone to breathe.
And while dry air carries many health risks, so does having an extremely high level of humidity. Too much moisture in the air promotes the buildup of mold and bacteria in the environment, which can be dangerous to people with allergies and immunocompromised patients.
However, these problems are not at all unavoidable.
Bacterial growth can be minimized through proper sanitization or even eliminated altogether with a germ-free humidifier like CarePod. Making sure to keep the RH at a consistent level between 40% and 60% will help avoid the risks associated with insufficient or excessive moisture in the air. And at the end of the day, most well-funded hospitals should have the capital to make such an important investment in the health and well-being of their patients and staff.
If used and cared for properly, humidifiers are powerful devices whose benefits, especially in the medical field, greatly outweigh potential drawbacks. After all, studies show that humidifiers in hospitals may help reduce the rate of in-hospital infection, minimize other health risks associated with dry air, and improve the overall healthcare environment for hospital patients and staff, and are therefore, well worth the price and risk involved.