Indoor air humidity, air quality, and health - An overview

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2018 Apr;221(3):376-390. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.01.015. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


There is a long-standing dispute about indoor air humidity and perceived indoor air quality (IAQ) and associated health effects. Complaints about sensory irritation in eyes and upper airways are generally among top-two symptoms together with the perception "dry air" in office environments. This calls for an integrated analysis of indoor air humidity and eye and airway health effects. This overview has reviewed the literature about the effects of extended exposure to low humidity on perceived IAQ, sensory irritation symptoms in eyes and airways, work performance, sleep quality, virus survival, and voice disruption. Elevation of the indoor air humidity may positively impact perceived IAQ, eye symptomatology, and possibly work performance in the office environment; however, mice inhalation studies do not show exacerbation of sensory irritation in the airways by low humidity. Elevated humidified indoor air appears to reduce nasal symptoms in patients suffering from obstructive apnea syndrome, while no clear improvement on voice production has been identified, except for those with vocal fatigue. Both low and high RH, and perhaps even better absolute humidity (water vapor), favors transmission and survival of influenza virus in many studies, but the relationship between temperature, humidity, and the virus and aerosol dynamics is complex, which in the end depends on the individual virus type and its physical/chemical properties. Dry and humid air perception continues to be reported in offices and in residential areas, despite the IAQ parameter "dry air" (or "wet/humid air") is semantically misleading, because a sensory organ for humidity is non-existing in humans. This IAQ parameter appears to reflect different perceptions among other odor, dustiness, and possibly exacerbated by desiccation effect of low air humidity. It is salient to distinguish between indoor air humidity (relative or absolute) near the breathing and ocular zone and phenomena caused by moisture-damage of the building construction and emissions therefrom. Further, residential versus public environments should be considered as separate entities with different characteristics and demands of humidity. Research is needed about particle, bacteria and virus dynamics indoors for improvement of quality of life and with more focus on the impact of absolute humidity. "Dry (or wet) air" should be redefined to become a meaningful IAQ descriptor.

Keywords: Air quality; Airways; Eyes; Humidity; Influenza virus; Sensory irritation; Sleep quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution
  • Air Pollution, Indoor
  • Desiccation
  • Eye
  • Health*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Humidity*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Respiratory System
  • Steam*
  • Viruses / growth & development
  • Workplace*


  • Steam