Why Humidity Control in Healthcare Is Essential

By | May 15, 2017

For those not involved in the healthcare industry, it can be hard to understand what the link between healthcare and accurate humidity control. After all, what does humidity have to do with maintaining and improving health? Isn’t the variable nature of humidity something we deal with as humans?

The answer to the latter question is yes, but in a healthcare environment, there’s no denying that humidity plays a huge role – especially during the winter months when the heaters are run.

Heating systems dramatically dry the air, causing atmospheric moisture levels to drop to as low as 15% relative humidity (RH). In a workplace, humidity this low can have a number of effects, from respiratory problems, headaches, sore throats and even stress. In healthcare environments like hospitals, the effects are much worse.

For example, in an operating room low RH causes moisture to be drawn from all available sources – including skin and blood. During an operation, any body tissue that’s exposed to the low RH air will be dried, causing premature drying and promoting the formation of scabs.

There’s also the not-insignificant fact that below 40% RH, electrostatic shocks begin to build up. Using metal instruments and working on humans means that these shocks can lead to some dangerous scenarios. Outside of the theatre, those same electrostatic shocks can affect sensitive medical electronics.

The way to avoid this is through healthcare humidity control systems, designed to maintain humidity between 45 and 60% RH, subject to your requirements.

Below 45% RH, membranes in the throats and noses of young babies can very easily dry out, causing a number of health issues and requiring attention from nursing staff. Indeed, in adults with respiratory problems, low RH can also have a negative effect. That’s why in healthcare environments, we always recommend a relative humidity above 45%.

In medical environments, it’s often the case that typical humidification systems are inadequate – both in size and delivery method. Because healthcare environments require totally sterile air, it’s important that your humidity control system has a hygiene failsafe.

Those requirements mean that steam-based humidification systems, which use steam to create the moisture which is then fed into your working environment. This has the benefit of being 100% sterile, but do be warned – some steam based humidification systems utilise additives which make them unsuitable for hospital and healthcare environments where sterility is absolutely vital.