Airway Injury Associated With Humidifier “White Dust”
Physicians at the University of Utah, Respiratory medicine department reported a case involving a patient seen in their facility in the January 2011 issue of, Pediatrics. After exposure to “white dust” dispersed incidentally from the use of an ultrasonic home humidifier machine, the 6-month old infant went on to have lower respiratory tract injury with attendant clinical features and a prolonged recovery.
Home Humidifiers are commonly used to relieve symptoms associated with acute respiratory tract infections in young children and are especially popular in the winter months annually. Benefits with the use of these devices have not been documented. It is noteworthy that the Environmental Protection Agency has not found any adverse health effects related to humidifier use as well.
Humidifier white dust can be generated as part of the normal functioning of these devices and while in full adherence to manufacturer specifications for usage. This may represent a concern for airway injury or reactivity in infants and young children, yet the true risks of home humidifier use have not been well studied and the case report mentioned above rank lower in the hierarchy of medical evidence and do not prove causality. Humidification may reduce patient discomfort in the setting of cold symptoms and nasal congestion, further evaluation by a medical professional is recommended if parental concerns should arise or symptoms worsen.
This case however raises important questions about the safety of exposing infants and young children to humidifiers and emphasizes the need for further study.