HEALTHY AT HOME DURING THE WINTER – TOP TIPS TO PREVENT COLDS

Do you and your family itch, sneeze or cough during the winter season? Do you get skin irritations, does your child have difficulty breathing or is there static electricity? Those are all signs that you should check the air inside your house, as its humidity level might not be appropriate. Check these top tips to prevent colds.

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Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. Humidity, also called moisture, is created by you, by your family and friends, by your pets and even by your indoor plants.

By breathing and perspiring and through everyday household activities such as showering, bathing, doing laundry, cooking or dishwashing, we produce water which evaporates into the air and raises the humidity level.

We need humidity for our comfort and wellbeing and too little humidity at home or office can produce a host of difficulties for the people living there. The problems that result may be just a nuisance that causes discomfort, but can be far more serious. Humidity affects our wellbeing and health, the structures of our homes and even our furniture! But because air is invisible, it is common to overlook humidity.Vicks_WinterHealthGuide_SleepingBoy

The difficulties that result from low humidity typically occur during the winter, when we are trying to keep our home environment warm. Windows are closed, the central heating switched on, and indoor air circulation and ventilation are reduced. With cooler temperatures outside, all these factors combine to lower the moisture levels in the air.

“We are all vulnerable to the effects of polluted air, laden with dust and either too humid or too dry and some, such as the very young are especially likely to run into problems.

Now research has confirmed that controlling dust levels can be linked to a significant decrease in illness. But controlling moisture or humidity can also greatly improve simple day to day comfort, which is so important not just in preventing disease but as part of our general quality of life.”
Dr. Trisha Macnair, hospital doctor, Surrey UK.

THE RIGHT LEVEL OF HUMIDITY FOR ALL THE HOME’S INHABITANTS

Environmental humidity levels ultimately determine our perception of comfort and most people feel very uncomfortable when humidity is either very high or low.

Parents may not even realise that their babies and juveniles are affected by the indoor air they breathe. The ideal humidity in a home has to take into account the needs of each of a home’s inhabitants, as well as contribute to a suitable environment for household items like books, furniture and electronics. A level of humidity of between 40% and 60% is recommended as being just right for a comfortable home environment.

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Dr. Trisha Macnair believes “Keeping the mucus membranes which lines the respiratory system (from the nose and mouth down into the lungs) moist is essential particularly for children, for the lungs to work effectively to take in oxygen and get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide.

Moisture is also vital if the membranes are to work as an effective barrier to micro-organisms and protect a person or child from infection.”

The level of humidity also directly influences the survival of viruses responsible for respiratory diseases, including influenza viruses and the myriad of viruses which can cause the common cold. The moister the environment, the lower the chances of survival of influenza viruses in the air and on surfaces – with the majority of viruses showing the lowest level of survival at a humidity level of between 40% to 60%. Therefore, maintaining an appropriately high level of humidity could be a useful step towards getting you and your family through the cold and flu season. Here’s a good resource on staying well during flu season.

Indeed research suggests that humidifiers, by raising indoor humidity, can help reduce the survival of viruses in your home.

This is especially important in the winter. Cold air is unable to hold as much moisture as warm air, so humidity levels automatically drop as cold temperatures set in. However, when we heat our homes, the humidity levels can drop even further to as low as 10% – this is drier than the Sahara
Desert!

Proper humidification is especially important for children, since their smaller nostrils can more easily become blocked especially during viral infections, leading to distress and discomfort.

“Humid air may also be helpful once infection is established. One of the first things doctors often recommend when a child comes down with a cold or other respiratory virus is to use a humidifier, to improve comfort for the child and help them to overcome the
virus.”
Dr. Trisha Macnair, hospital doctor, Surrey UK.

When asked about her views on the benefits of humidification in treating cold and flu symptoms in children and infants, Emilie Jouffroy, Pediatrician Doctor said: “Children and infants are particularly vulnerable to viruses during the cold and flu season as their immune system is still developing. Infants aren’t able to blow their nose by themselves and their respiratory airways tend to get blocked causing discomfort and sometimes leading to complications. I strongly recommend the use of a humidifier to keep respiratory airways humid which will allow the child to get rid of excess mucus and will keep airways clear. Not only does this lessen the symptoms of cold and flu, but it also enables both the child and parents to get a better night’s sleep.”

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Aiming a humidifier at the baby’s bed will raise the humidity level around the bed significantly, but the overall humidity of the room will not be as high. This is one way to give a sleeping baby or juvenile the benefit of humidity while keeping the mould risk low.

Some humidifiers come with fragrance cups or scent pad heaters to deliver scented soothing treatments i.e. with menthol or
Rosemary & Lavender scents. These can enhance the effect of the added moisture and provide extra comfort. When family members have a cold or flu, steam inhalation is a natural way of instantly relieving discomfort. Breathing in warm, moist air can help lessen nasal, sinus and chest congestion and quickly soothe a sore throat or cough. Steam inhalers provide an easy and convenient way of reaping the benefits steam inhalation at home, the bedrooms and living room.

Just like breathing in steam, inhaling soothing vapours as menthol and other essential oils can help clear up nasal, throat and sinus passages and provide relief from cold and flu symptoms. By diffusing essential oils into the air, a relaxing mood can be created which is conducive to helping family members deal with the discomfort of colds and coughs. This is particularly useful at night, when a bunged-up nose or a cough can get in the way of a much-needed sleep.


USEFUL WINTER COMFORT TIPS BY DR. MACNAIR, HOSPITAL DOCTOR IN SURREY, UK
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• Aim for a clean atmosphere that is a comfortable temperature and humidity

• Make sure your home is well ventilated – even though it is tempting to shut out the cold winter, throw windows open at least once a week or more to provide a regular supply of fresh air

• Keep all gas fires, cookers, burners and chimney flues regularly serviced or swept to avoid blockages or the build up of dangerous gases

• Don’t overheat your home even when it is very cold outside – the ideal temperature should be around 20°C. If you feel cold at this temperature, then put on another layer of clothing rather than turning the heating up

• Central heating can dry out the air very quickly in the winter. Buy a hygrometer to measure humidity and use a humidifier if humidity is lower than the recommended 40-60%.

• Make sure all chemicals (such as cleaning agents) are properly contained and safely stored, ideally outside the home in a shed or a garage

• Vacuum and dust your home regularly to remove dirt and house dust which can build up very quickly, and keep down numbers of house dust mite (microscopic insects found in every home which can cause allergy problems)

• Frequently wash touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones and light switches where the viruses responsible for colds and flu can be deposited and then spread from person to person

• Make sure the dampest areas of the house such as the bathroom are especially well ventilated to prevent humidity rising so high that mould and other microorganisms can proliferate

• Limit sources of pollution in your home, including cigarette smoke and chemicals. Use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning in food service areas to get rid of irritant vapours and smells

• Try to keep pets outdoors if possible. This can help reduce exposure to pet allergens indoors

• Keep your body well hydrated – we need to take in about 1ml of water for every calorie we burn, so about 2500ml for men and 2000ml for women (remember we get some of this water from the food we eat). You need more if you exercise.

• Keep your skin well moisturised to prevent it drying and cracking. If you develop a respiratory infection such as a cold or flu, drink extra fluid, make sure to moisturise lips and nostrils to prevent cracking, and seek medical help sooner rather than later if you develop breathing problems.


THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY FOR YOU

HUMIDIFICATION

Many technologies exist, but all humidifiers provide the same benefit of increasing the level of humidity in the air.

There are three categories of humidifiers: warm steam, ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers, which can be purchased in pharmacies, at Mothercare, Babies R Us, Argos or on Amazon.co.uk.

WARM STEAM

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Warm steam humidifiers use a heating element that boils water, producing steam. This kills off most bacteria in the water. They also allow for the highest level of moisture saturation in a room, which can be helpful when loosening congestion. Best for: people who do not want to replace filters and a quiet operation.

ULTRASONIC (COOL MIST)

Ultrasonic humidifiers use a metal diaphragm which vibrates at an ultrasonic frequency to create water droplets that are released into the room. Best for: people who want low power consumption, a near silent operation and who do not want to replace filters, as well as for nurseries and children’s rooms, where you need to avoid any risk of potential hot-water injuries.

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We at London Mums loved testing the the Mini-Ultrasonic humidifier recommended by Vicks the Mini-Ultrasonic humidifier recommended by Vicks (£49.99). This was especially good to help us during the cold and flu season. This latest generation cool mist humidifier helps to reduce the survival of flu viruses and ease conditions such as a dry nose, throat, eyes and skin discomfort.

EVAPORATIVE (COOL AIR)

In evaporative humidifiers, the natural process of evaporation is sped up through the use of a fan and filter pad. The filter pad soaks water up from the humidifier base. At the same time a fan blows across the filter pad, causing the water to evaporate into the air. Best for: people who want to be able to cover large areas with a single humidifier and with very low consumption, as well as for nurseries and children’s rooms, to avoid any risk of potential hot-water injuries.

Menthol and Rosemary & Lavender scents released into the room have a soothing smell, reminiscent of childhood, which can help relieve congestion and cold symptoms.

For children weighing less than 4.5kg, a doctor must be consulted before using. Menthol scents can also be used in steam inhalers and in waterless vaporizers to deliver natural essential oils into the air.

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