Complete Guide to Ecuador Travel & Relocation (GringosAbroad)

Health Concerns In Cuenca: Dry Air

Cuenca is a beautiful city high up in the Andes Mountains. The climate here is spring like cool-warm during the day and cold at night. From what we have experienced the health care system is good here: good doctors/specialists and clean modern hospitals. The health concerns that we (more specifically Bryan) have experienced are somewhat odd. But because knowing our little story may help others, I’m going to make a short-story, well … long.

Problems With The Climate In Cuenca

When Bryan was a little boy in Canada he was sick every winter with bronchial infections. He was put on antibiotics every year to help fight the bronchial and related ear infections. As he became an adult these problems disappeared, but when we moved to Cuenca they started coming back.

After about 6 months of living here in Cuenca Bryan started developing a really strong cough, and his ears began giving him problems. His cough was so bad that it was interfering with his daily life. He was losing sleep and spending much time during the day in bed. We couldn’t figure out what the problem was because it was much warmer in Cuenca than it was in Canada during the winter. The recurrence of his childhood health problems did not make any sense to us.

We went to the doctor and he was put on antibiotics again and again. I was worried about the damage the antibiotics were doing to his system so we started seeking out a specialist that might be able to get to the root of the problem. We found an allergy specialist and after many tests we were told that the climate here was not good for him. The doctor felt that because the climate changes so much during the day (chilly in the morning, hot by the afternoon and cold at night) it was kind of shocking his system and causing an allergic reaction. We were told that moving to a warmer climate would be better for him.

yunguilla valley

The mountainous and lush Yunguilla Valley

WeeklyPhoto-Yunguilla-Valley-River

One of the many streams running through Yunguilla Valley

WeeklyPhoto-Santa-Isabel-Ecuador

The view of Santa Isabel, Yunguilla Valley

Moving From Cuenca To A Small Town, And Back Again

We packed up and moved to Santa Isabel which a small town in Yunguilla Valley –  a subtropical valley about an hour and twenty minutes away from Cuenca. As soon as we arrived in Santa Isabel Bryan’s health improved and his coughing totally disappeared. We were very happy about that and enjoyed life there, but after a year we needed to move back to Cuenca.

I was very worried about Bryan’s health problems coming back, but we thought that if we rented an apartment in a large building it would be warmer and he would be fine. We rented a furnished apartment  in a large complex for about a month before moving all of our things back. A few days after we arrived his cough started coming back. The apartment was warm, so I realized that the difference must have been due to the dry air not just the temperature.

Solving The Climate Problem In Cuenca

I started boiling water to put humidity into the air and within a half an hour his coughing stopped! I was shocked at the difference such a simple thing could make, and relieved to know that we could successfully live in Cuenca once again.

When we found an apartment of our own and moved all of our things back we picked up a couple of humidifiers. We put one right beside the bed so that Bryan could breath humid air all night long. He no longer has the health problems he experienced when we arrived.

dry-air-cuenca-ecuador-humidifier

What To If The Dry Air Is Annoying You

The air is dry here in Cuenca, we didn’t notice it at first but after a number of months our skin started feeling really dry. We were waking up with a lot of  mucus because the dry air was irritating our lungs and nasal passages. My nose was even cracking on the inside. I know, that sounds gross but if you are having similar problems you know how annoying these things can be.

I didn’t need the humidifier for a serious problem like Bryan had, but I’ve noticed that since we got it we no longer have the mucus problems and my nose is back to normal. We live in a second floor apartment, we have no problems with moisture. The humidifier does not cause any problems with mold because the air is dry the moisture put in the air during the night dries up during the following day.

I think Bryan’s lungs are damaged from the health problems he had as a child, so hopefully you won’t experience the same problems here in Cuenca as he had when we arrived. But if you are experiencing any problems due to the dry air, you might just need to pick up a humidifier.

Update (March 2013): After purchasing the above baby humidifier in Cuenca, we ordered the Crane Ee-8065 Humidifier and the AcuRite Indoor Humidity Monitor on Amazon. Both are highly recommended. Just be careful not to drop the humidity monitor on a tile floor. It tends to affect performance…

An article by

Dena is a writer, artist, expat and mom. She enjoys being cozied away in one of her favorite cafes, sipping coffee and spending time with her family. She writes about life abroad (Gringos Abroad) and doing business abroad (Blogger Abroad). Connect with Dena on LinkedIn. Work with Dena & Bryan

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{ 45 comments… add one }

  • F.W. Leyland March 26, 2014, 5:13 pm

    I have mild asthma and am currently living in a wet/cool climate at sea level. I notice from the net the high levels of humidity in Cuenca throughout the year. After reading this informative blog with comments, I understand that one needs a humidifier in Cuenca. Because of the high humidity, I would have thought one would need a de-humidifier?
    But perhaps those are only for the tropical coast?
    -Winston

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines March 26, 2014, 5:43 pm

      We’ve noticed that many online forecasts get it wrong. Sometimes they show the weather from the coast as Cuenca’s weather. From our experience, the only reason someone would use a dehumidifier in Cuenca is if the house was poorly constructed and the rain water is getting into the walls. We’ve run a humidifier at night for years and still the air is dry by the next night.

      Reply
    • GarySisk March 26, 2014, 8:12 pm

      I thought when I first moved here that it was humid, but I found out the opposite. Humidity here seems to run 40-60%. I also have asthma and had trouble with dry throat at night but after reading Bryan’s article I bought a humidifier and if helps mucho!
      I do have to stop often to caught my breathe here and that has not changed in two years!

      Reply
  • Mary December 11, 2013, 7:28 pm

    I found all of these articles interesting. But, if you do a search for Cuenca with the word mold and humidity in the headline…….or do the same on you tube, there will be a gentleman who speaks about the mold in homes. Many times people who are affected by mold get numerous lung issues…….his entire family came down with this. CUENCA is very prone to mold which is very very dangerous. I have had a mold illness for the past 12 years. Please be careful ! Humidifiers will not help the mold situation. Listen to the you tube programs…..he has 8 on there and then you decide. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines December 11, 2013, 8:11 pm

      Thanks for your concerns Mary. While it’s true that some homes have mold problems, from my experience I haven’t seen this to be common.

      There are poorly constructed houses with insufficient ventilation. Some house are built very close, and without rain gutters, so that rain water runs down between the walls of the two homes and soaks through the concrete. This will causes mold growth. I’ve known a number of families affected by this – both expats and Cuencanos. They had mold growing up the walls and became sick with lung infections.

      Generally speaking though, the air is dry. In Cuenca we’ve lived in well constructed and well ventilated homes and haven’t had trouble with mold. But we did have symptoms as Dena describes in the post. My symptoms went away almost immediately upon using the humidifier. The humidifier running every night / all night never caused any mold growth in our home.

      The thing to remember when reading blogs and watching videos is that we all write about our experiences. It isn’t that one of us is right and the other is wrong. It really depends on our personal experiences.

      Reply
  • Noreen OBrien February 17, 2013, 7:57 pm

    Our family is moving to the Cotacachi area this Spring from the USA. I would like to ask you about medical care for you daughter. Have you found a local pediatrician for her – one whom you trust and who speaks English? ALso what about Dental, eye and orthodontic care? Do you fine these all accessible in Ecuador? That is my primary worry. Our son is 13. We lived in granada, Nicaragua for a while and the medical care was sub par. No orthodontists anywhere… For example, if your child comes down with a horrid stomach bug, what do you do – who do you go see. Anything you can offer would be completely appreciated. Thanks, Noreen

    Reply
  • Gary Sisk January 7, 2013, 9:39 am

    I am 64 with severe asthma, moving to this altitude was a challenge along with being out of shape and overweight. I could not walk a block without stopping to caught my breath, but I was determined to get in shape. Now minus 35 pounds I stop less to caught my breath for shorter periods of time on my daily walks, but at night I was having trouble with coughing and congestion which lead to several infections.
    After reading your article I bought a humidifier and what a difference it has made. It does loosen me up and I sleep through the night much better.
    I was surprised when I moved here how dry the air is even when it says we have a high humidity. Plus I do drink lots of water, even during the night.
    All in all my asthma is much better after one year here and I am using less medications.
    Your site and all the information you give has been a real help to me and I am sure many others wanting to move here or all ready living here. I do recommend your site and I also mentioned you in my book: Why Ecuador for me – now available on Amazon!
    Thanks again for great advice!

    Gary

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines January 7, 2013, 1:34 pm

      Hi Gary – I’m so happy to hear that the humidifier is working for you. It has become a necessary piece of equipment for our life in Cuenca.

      Thanks for recommending us on your site and in your book!

      Bryan

      Reply
    • Jim January 7, 2013, 1:45 pm

      When we first moved to Cuenca we lived at about 9400 feet just outside of the city. It was difficult at best and a very stupid mistake to live there. We moved down into the city and lived at about 8300 feet above sea level and that helped but we still had problems because of the pollution in the city. So we moved out of Cuenca to a small town in the Loja province. There is no pollution to speak of and we live at just a little over 4000 feet and that has solved most of the problems we experienced in Cuenca. It’s also a lot warmer here so you don’t need a heater, though ceiling fans would be a big help. Sometimes moving to Ecuador is not about living in the jewel city of Cuenca. There are a lot of great choices for places to live in Ecuador.

      Reply
  • Terri David June 10, 2012, 3:47 am

    My husband and I recently visited Cuenca with the idea of living there, but I developed a violent cough and sore throat. I am convinced it was from the exhaust of vehicles using low-quality diesel fuel. I was alright for a while when we arrived in Quito, but quickly developed a deep, deep cough. It was always worse when vehicles passed, and in the city it was pretty constant. I eventually had to wear a construction mask, which helped. I found out that surgical masks don’t provide any relief.

    Reply
  • Dennis Osborn May 28, 2012, 10:16 pm

    My wife and I spent the month of April in Cuenca and enjoyed it very much. My wife suffers from fibromyalgia and it has been very hard on her here in Ohio. For the month we were in Cuenca, she claims she had little or no trouble with it. We are wondering if the altitude (reduced atmospheric pressure on her body) could have had this wonderful effect. Any others out there had this or a similar experience? Thanks for all your great posts. We are returning in October and November. Glad you made it back to Cuenca and are in good health Bryan.

    Reply
    • A&M May 29, 2012, 11:13 am

      Dennis,
      Hello! I have Fibromyalgia, and although I had a few rough days while we were in Cuenca — usually due to not enough sleep — I think that the lifestyle of walking everywhere helped me immensely! This type of movement keeps everything more relaxed, and helps the body in many other ways. I hope to see you when you return to Cuenca. We’ll be back in August, hopefully for long-term! :-)

      Reply
    • Jim January 7, 2013, 2:09 pm

      That’s a very interesting comment Dennis. My wife doesn’t have fibromyalgia that we know of, but we spent a few days in Guayaquil at pretty much sea level and her chronic body and neck pain seemed to be greatly reduced and almost eliminated there.

      Reply
      • Ecuador Enthusiast March 6, 2013, 5:22 pm

        The food in South America, in particular Ecuador, is also very different than what you’re likely eating in The States. I’m not discounting the pressure hypotheses, but additional factors could be reduced consumption of wheat/grains, GMOs, and pesticides, eating more organic and grass fed vegetables and meats, eating fewer processed foods, less hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup, or some combination of those. Reducing these irritants in your diet can help reduce overall inflammation in your body. It would be worth an experiment to try eating like that at home to see if it helps those chronic conditions.

        Reply
  • A&M May 27, 2012, 3:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this information! My husband and I were in Cuenca for 2 1/2 months and during that time he got sick 2 times, and also had a cough that he couldn’t get rid of. As soon as I started reading your article on moving away from Cuenca to the Yungilla Valley, and why, I thought of the humidifier. I grew up in “high desert” and we needed a humidifier as kids, too. As soon as we move to Cuenca in August, a humidifier is one of the first things that we’ll buy. Thanks for your candor even when dealing with “gross” health issues. It has already helped us prepare for our move. BTW, we need to buy a memory foam bed as soon as we arrive. Do you have any recommendations? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 28, 2012, 9:05 am

      Thanks for the feedback. The humidifier has made a huge difference to my health.

      About a memory foam bed, I’m not really sure. You might want to check with Su Casa – they sell some high end products. Also, there are some good furniture shops in the center – we found a very good mattress there. It might take a little searching…

      All the best on your plans!

      Bryan

      Reply
    • Bryan Haines June 11, 2012, 4:40 pm

      Just heard from a reader about memory foam in Cuenca. Here is what he has to say:

      BTW, for the person looking for memory foam mattresses, there is a shop that sells exclusively Tempurpedic Memory Foam beds. It is on Ordonez Lazo, about 100 meters to the east of the Oro Verde hotel, on the same side of the street. Ridiculously over priced, based on my experience in the U.S., but I’m sure it beats trying to bring one in on your own.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  • Glen Phibbs May 11, 2012, 12:06 am

    Dena,
    Thanks for advice on Sleep Apnea,I’ll bring my device. Another question, What employment demand exists for Register Nurses (BS Degree)there, and where are Medical Schools in Ecuador? Grand daughter asked me to check it out. Thanks, Glen Phibbs

    Reply
  • Patty Grimm May 10, 2012, 10:01 am

    We both have congestion here and think that a humidifier could help. Where did you purchase yours?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 10, 2012, 10:12 am

      You’ll laugh… we found them at Bebe Mundo (Baby World). Less than $30 each, we bought three. I even have one in my office – works great. Bebe Mundo is in the Plaza de Las Americas (with Supermaxi and Su Casa). It is at the intersection where the work is being done – where Gran Columbia meets Avenida de las Americas.

      Reply
      • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 11:23 am

        Hi Patty,

        Babe Mundo is on the front of the building close to the road. There is a ramp that takes you up(it’s not on the main level like the other stores)to the front door.

        I hope it helps with your congestion.

        Reply
  • Glen Phibbs May 9, 2012, 11:01 pm

    Hi Dena/Bryan,
    Excellent read on health issues,common to one degree or another to all of us. My problem is sleep apnea, insuffient Oxygen when sleeping. So, higher,dryer might be problematic. Your writings on Ecuador, Cuenca, etc. are wonderful. At age 75 I’m generally in good health but adequate medical care is important for me. I had been considering northern Argentina when I found your website. Do you know of anyone who shares info, as you do, but for northern Argentina. I’m flyng to Houston the end of May to visit some Consulates there. Can anyone provide me with information on agriculture,owning acreage,marketing food products in these region (Ecuador or Argentina). Thanks, and keep up the good work. Glen Phibbs,Oklahoma, USA

    Reply
    • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 11:29 am

      Hi Glen,

      I’m sorry that I can’t help with the information you are looking for.

      My father in-law has sleep apnea as well. He brings his sleep apnea machine with him when he visits us, and it seems to help.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Aaron Evans May 9, 2012, 9:21 pm

    My guess would be the dust & diesel smoke in the air might contribute — particularly from the buses. It gets to a lot of people here. I’m glad the humidifier helps Brian’s lungs & bronchial tubes.

    Reply
  • Alex May 9, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Humidity inside of the apartment could be much worse if you use electric heaters. Bigger the difference between inside and outside temperature, less humidity you will get inside, so information from wunderground.com is not very meaningful, if heaters are used.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 11:34 am

      Hi Alex,

      We do use electric heaters. We didn’t have them when we arrived, we picked up a couple when we moved back to Cuenca. They help take the chill of in the bedrooms at night. We usually put them on for a half hour or so before we go to bed.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
      • Anna June 2, 2014, 1:22 am

        Bryan, I understood there were no electric heaters in Cuenca. Glad to hear you found them. I will not sleep with oil heater in a bedroom as I got very ill once via oil heating. I found some small ceramic heaters on amazon.com. May I ask the price range there? I don’t want a toasty place, just the ability to take off the chill.
        Your information is SO helpful, thanks.

        Reply
        • Bryan Haines June 2, 2014, 7:01 am

          We did have an electric heater but it burnt out pretty quickly. The oil heaters don’t burn oil – they are electric and use a sealed, oil-filled container to radiate the heat.

          Reply
  • Ray Irizarry May 9, 2012, 5:04 pm

    I don’t think it is as much a lack of humidity here in Cuenca, as it is where you have moved here from that will determine how you are affected. Three months after I arrived, I came down with a bronchial infection and, I too, thought it might be attributed to the driER air here. But then again, I came here from metro Houston – your proverbial steam bath city on the Gulf of Mexico. And I too, had asthma as a child, not to mention 40 years of smoking behind me.(My lungs are certainly not ready for prime time.) But to call Cuenca a place of low humidity is not supported by meteorological data.

    For example, according to the weather site wunderground.com, humitidty today is ranging from 50% to 90%. The last few days have been similar. A spot check of various days over different months has humidity from 20% to 100%, usually highest in the morning, and lowest at midday, according to their historical data.

    I’m sure that people coming here from certain parts of Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest will feel that Cuenca is quite dry, whereas transplants from places in Arizona and New Mexico will feel like a wet sponge.

    I’ve been here about ten months now and seem to have acclimated. Nevertheless, I may invest in one of those humidifiers that’s been recommended.

    Ray

    Reply
    • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 11:59 am

      Hi Ray,

      I think you may be right about how the climate here will affect you depending on where you are coming from.

      Bryan did not have asthma as a child. But I do feel that the bronchial problems he had damaged his lungs and that is why he has problems with the climate here in Cuenca. I do not suffer from the same problems.

      Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
  • Lisa May 9, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Hi Dena. So glad the article had a happy ending, and I know how much you liked Cuenca, so you to much be happy with the outcome.:) Hope all is going well. Look forward to reading your next blog, and Drew’s as well.

    Lisa

    Reply
    • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 12:04 pm

      Hey Lisa,

      We are really happy as well, we didn’t want to have to get used to a new area again so soon.

      It was nice talking with you last night :)

      Reply
  • John C. A. Manley May 9, 2012, 3:23 pm

    I was very surprised to here the air was dry in Cuenca. I guess it’s just a little too cool too often.

    I know a very, very effective Ayurvedic method for dealing with the dryness that I think you’d very helpful. I use to suffer severe problems (much like Bryan) and this fixed by body instead of fixing my surroundings.

    It’s extremely inexpensive (20 or 30 cents a day – U.S. price — probably pennies in Cuenca). If you’d like instructions send me an email, I’d be glad to help.

    Thanks for the great blog and info.

    Reply
  • Peter Leeflang May 9, 2012, 1:00 pm

    Added benefit of humdifying dry air is that you protect the health of your wooden floors and/or wooden furniture, so they will last much longer.

    To last, wood requires a minimum level of relative humidity humidity which varies with temperature (at 65/75 degrees ideally about 50/55%, can be a bit lower). Otherwise, while doing its natural absorbing and exuding moisture it will dry out, crack and split due to too much contracting and expanding.

    A good indicator that your air may be too dry or too moist is when you see the wood deteriorating (cracking or mold).

    Reply
  • Wolf Wilbert May 9, 2012, 11:53 am

    Hello Dena,

    here is an old, old Grandma recipe for your nose, and Brian’s lungs.

    Every time we are bothered by a cold, coughing, sneezing, mucus and the rest of it, we wet a towel with vinegar (pure apple vinegar is best), and hang it over night over a chair next to the bed. Three days in a row and you should be fine. The smell of the vinegar is the only downside, but will very quickly disappear with some air ventilation.

    I hope this little trick will help some of your readers too.

    Reply
  • Jim May 9, 2012, 11:31 am

    I really liked this post Dena. Very informative but also enlightening. Some people come here for a few weeks and look at you funny when you mention different health issues related to living here. We’ve had our share of issues since being here, but not near as severe as Bryan’s. Whether we’ll be in Cuenca long term or not, I am not certain. But I am interested in the realities(health issues etc.) of living in coastal Ecuador. If you were ever inclined to write about coastal Ecuador, I’d be interested in reading it.

    Reply
    • John and Mary May 9, 2012, 2:30 pm

      Hola Jim,

      My husband I have lived on the coast now for 5 months in San Clemente. Our main concerns regarding staying healthy is staying hydrated and avoiding being out in the sun for extended periods between the hours of noon to 3. Rainy season has ended and we now have hot, humid weather. We use dehumidifiers in our closets to control those problem areas. I’ve had a bit of hayfever issues off and on the last couple months, seems to worsen on cloudy, breezeless hours/days. All in all, seems to be a healthy place to live. According to the locals, the weather will cool off a bit and the humidity should lessen. Hope this helps.
      Another great article Dena and Bryan..thanks !
      Mary and John

      Reply
      • Jim May 9, 2012, 5:30 pm

        That is a help, thanks Mary and John.

        Reply
  • charles May 9, 2012, 10:56 am

    Amazing how ambient humidity can have such a drastic impact. I come from the midwestern USA, where it tends to be humid half the year and dry the other half. My father for years suffered terrible “sinus” headaches which always started during autumn and lasted until the next spring. No doctor could help him. Once we stayed somewhere else for a week over Xmas, and the whole time my father suffered no headaches. Turned out someone else in that other house had suffered the exact same types of headaches some years earlier, and an old country doctor suggested getting a humidifier to make the air less dry. My father did the same and his suffering was ended. The moral is, sometimes we have to find a way to “cure ourselves”.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 12:16 pm

      Hi Charles,

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      I think another moral could be that, sometimes complex problems have simple solutions.

      Reply
  • Bob Barber May 9, 2012, 10:50 am

    Hi, this was a good post with good information, as usual.

    I have also had problems with my respiratory system in Ecuador. In addition to the dry air that you mention, another factor for me was all of the open-air burning of brush, trash, etc. in the semi-rural area outside of Ambato where I lived, as well as ash from Tungurahua volcano, which was only a few miles away. We could see the ash coming out of the volcano. It was not visible in the air around our house, but we knew it was there, and it irritated my nasal passages.

    When I lived in Quito, I complained every day about the air pollution to anybody that would listen, but the air in Quito never made me sick as the dry and smoky air near Ambato did. The air in Ambato looks much cleaner than the air in Quito too.

    Some of your readers might not know that the climate in Ecuador varies not only between the three regions, coast, sierra, and oriente, but also within each region. In the sierra there are some areas that are practically desert, just north of Quito in particular near La Mitad del Mundo. There are also areas where it rains a lot, and areas in between the two extremes.

    Next time Flor and I will be looking for somewhere to live that is not quite as dry as Ambato was.

    Reply
  • Kim Tremblay May 9, 2012, 10:48 am

    Maybe Brian has got asthma. I have mild asthma. When I lived in Alberta, where the air is really dry, my symptoms were worse. When I moved to Quebec where there is much more humidity, my symptoms were not as bad. Comfortable humidity should be between 25 to 50% humidity. We use a wood stove in winter, so we have two humidifiers that work all through the winter months.

    Reply
  • Susan Klopfer May 9, 2012, 10:31 am

    Thank you so much for this great information. We’re moving to Cuenca in the fall and could run into the same situation. Currently we are living in a high, dry climate (New Mexico) and added humidity helps here. Happy for you both that you can stay in Cuenca. Your blog is really helping us prepare for the move. Take care, Susan.

    Reply
    • Lee May 9, 2012, 11:15 am

      Hi,

      I have severe asthma but I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona for 18 years which is very dry. I am wondering if the altitude and rain in Cuenca will impact my asthma?

      Thank you for the information.

      Lee

      Reply
      • Dena Haines May 10, 2012, 12:29 pm

        Hi Lee,

        This is an interesting question. I don’t know if the altitude affects the way the humidity (or lack of) here affects people. It seems to me that it does, but that is just an opinion based on the problems Bryan has had. I am no expert, but because we get good rainfall here and everything is nice and green, it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

        It’s best if you talk to a doctor about your health concerns. And if you plan a trip to see what it’s like here, make sure it’s long enough so you can get a good idea of how the climate will affect you. We didn’t start noticing problems until we had been here for a number of months.

        Thanks for your comment.

        Reply

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