Are humidifiers safe, and what about that buzzing in my ears?

Adding humidity to the air may be beneficial, but too much humidity can cause health difficulties.

Illustrative (photo credit: CRAIG WHITE/TNS)
(photo credit: CRAIG WHITE/TNS)
As I child, I remember my parents turning on a hot-mist humidifier when I had a cold or cough. I remember that Yad Sarah even began when the founder lent out his humidifier to his neighbors. But today, I hear, these devices are not recommended. What is wrong with humidifiers? Is there a difference between hot and cold humidifiers? Should they or should they not be used?
F.M., Jerusalem
Prof. Gabriel Izbicki, director of the pulmonary institute at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, replies:
Humidifier therapy adds moisture to the air to prevent dryness that can cause irritation in many parts of the body (nose, dry throat, dry cough and so on). However, humidifiers can potentially worsen respiratory problems.
Adding humidity to the air may be beneficial, but too much humidity can cause health difficulties. High humidity levels can worsen respiratory problems and create uncomfortable dampness in the air. This can encourage the growth of dust mites, mildew, mold and harmful bacteria. Other risks associated with humidifiers are burns (especially with children) and bacterial growth.
The Israeli Society of Pediatrics published in 2013 a recommendation concerning the use of humidifiers for children. The conclusion is “No therapeutic efficacy has been shown by using a vaporizer in all common respiratory conditions.”
For this reason and in the presence of a significant, although rare, danger of infections (such as Legionnaires’ disease), we do not recommend using various humidifiers – hot or cold.
I am a 42-year-old woman who is somewhat overweight. My doctor recently diagnosed me as suffering from fatty liver. I read in the paper that people with this condition are at higher risk for dementia. This scares me, as my father has Alzheimer’s. Is this really a risk, and how does one get rid of fatty liver?
T.N., Nes Ziona
Prof. Yaron Ilan, director of the internal medicine department and a liver and gastroenterology specialist at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, answers:
The study you mention regarding fatty liver and dementia is just a single study that tried to associate the two. There was much criticism among medical specialists about it. The patient needs to be referred to her physician for treating her liver condition.
Prof Ran Tur-Kaspa, director of the liver institute at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva and the dean of Safed’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University, adds:
Fatty liver is in most cases related to suffering from metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions including high blood sugar, hypertension, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels – that occur together, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The treatment of fatty liver should involve lifestyle modifications: weight reduction through a proper diet and regular exercise and the control of cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose, through the use of medications as well as the above.
There are several clinical studies for new treatments of fatty liver that are ongoing in Israel. The possible relation of fatty liver and brain mass was published in one recent research paper, but I believe that we need more evidence to confirm the association of fatty liver and brain disorders.
I am a 69-year-young male starting to experience tinnitus in my ears. The buzzing is beginning to be unbearable. Are there any remedies for this condition? I have asked my family physician and all he can recommend is biofeedback. The health organizations apparently do not consider it a medical condition. Can an expert give some advice?
R.M., Timrat
Dr. Menachem Orbaum, director of the Center for Natural Medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, answers:
Some people have claimed they were helped by “white noise” or biofeedback, but they have not been proven. I’m afraid that I can’t recommend any effective treatment – conventional or non-conventional – for tinnitus, as I myself have been suffering from it since I was injured in the first Lebanon War. I live “in peace” with my tinnitus; it doesn’t affect my life and I don’t bother about it. If you find an effective treatment, please let me know.
I live in Israel and recently read in The New York Times of a new vaccine called Shingrix against shingles. It was highly praised by the writer. Can you tell me what are the benefits vs the risks? Is it as important for the elderly to get as the article claimed? Is it covered in the basket of health services.
S.H.S., via email
Prof. Itamar Grotto, the associate director-general of the Health Ministry, comments:
The importer of this vaccine has not yet applied for approval in Israel, thus it is not yet available here. When and if an application is made, we will consider it.
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 9100002, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or email it to jsiegel@, giving your initials, age and place of residence.