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Using Moisture to Help Prevent Breathing Difficulties

This information explains how to relieve breathing difficulties during dry months.

In the winter, the air is often drier than in other seasons. Heating or air conditioning systems can also add to this problem. When there is not enough moisture in the air, the lining of your mouth, nose, and throat can become dry, which can lead to crusting and bleeding. This problem is worse among patients who have had:

  • Radiation to the mouth, throat, nasal cavity, or sinuses
  • A laryngectomy (removal of the larynx)

Here are some things you can do to minimize your discomfort:

  • Buy humidifiers for rooms where you spend most of your time. Try to buy a warm-mist humidifier (also called steam or evaporative) instead of a cool-mist one (also called ultrasonic or impeller). Place one by your bed so that you breathe moisturized air while you sleep. Use distilled water to limit the amount of minerals that build up in the humidifier. Because mold can build up in a humidifier, make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for regular cleaning.
  • Run a hot shower for 10 minutes to steam up the bathroom. Breathe in the warm mist for 30 minutes to keep your nose and throat lining moist.
  • Use the “low” setting on your heating or air conditioning systems instead of the “high” setting.
  • Increase your liquid intake to eight, 8-ounce glasses of noncaffeinated liquids a day (64 ounces total). Limit your intake of coffee, tea, and colas. These caffeinated drinks are diuretics and cause you to urinate more. If you have a feeding tube, add an extra 480 mL of water in divided doses to your free water flushes.
  • If you have dryness in your nose:
  • Use a nasal saline spray, such as Ocean®, as often as necessary.
  • Apply a water-based cream, such as Eucerin®, to the inner lining of your nose.
  • If you have had a laryngectomy:
  • Try to be in a room with a humidifier. If you can't, place moist gauze over your stoma. The gauze will warm, filter, and moisturize the air you breathe. Change the gauze regularly so that it stays moist.