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What is a humidifier?

A humidifier is usually used when a patient undergoes oxygen therapy to avoid the drying out of the airways. However, more recently, the process of humidifying administered oxygen is done on an ad hoc basis. Inadequate humidification during oxygen therapy results in the patient's secretions becoming more viscous and the gradual build-up of such thickened layers of mucous along the tracheal and bronchial walls increases the work of breathing in the patient. In very severe cases, occlusion of the airways may occur leading to procedural complications. The use of a humidifier is aimed at appropriating humidity levels in the patient’s airways during oxygen supplementation to prevent occlusion of the airways, dysfunction of the cilia, airway inflammation and ulceration. In the 1980-90’s, it was a frequent practice to humidify all the supplement oxygen that was administered to patients in most of North America and Europe.

What category of patients is the humidifier used for?

  • • For adult patients who have been admitted for primary respiratory management including pneumonia, chronic obstructive airways disease and asthma.
  • • For mouth breathers, exercise induced bronchospasm.
  • • For patients requiring oxygen for more than 24 hours post operation.
  • • Oxygen should always be humidified if it is presented through a tracheostomy tube and does not pass through the moisture-optimising effect of the upper airways.

What are the contraindications for the use of the humidifier?

  • • The humidifier should not be used wherein the patient’s secretions are copious or watery.
  • • In the event of a cardio-respiratory attack.
  • • For patients who receive oxygen through a mask without the provision of separate exhalation system as condensation would collect in the reservoir bag.

What are the precautions to the use of a Humidifier?

The humidifier should be operated correctly so as to promote continuous vaporisation and avoid condensation to prevent the possibility of infection and the colonisation of bacteria in the tubing. It should be noted that over-humidification may lead to increased unnecessary secretions that may cause further complications like collapse of the lungs. Excess moisture in the airways may also result in altered pulmonary function causing arterial hypoxaemia. The risk of mucosal heating and burning should also be avoided by correct controlling of humidifier temperatures.

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