The Desert Air: In Your House

During the winter heating season, the average British home is drier than the Sahara Desert - relative humidity of 13% to 15% vs. the desert's 25%. And this low humidity draws a lot of the blame for winter colds. It makes the entire respiratory tract more vulnerable to infection, chronic hoarseness, and coughing. The older you are, the more the discomfort and hazard.

One solution is to install a home humidifier - which can raise relative humidity to 35% or 45%. Large 40-1b. console-style humidifiers are equipped with humidistats to give proper moisture control. Cost: £100. Using about a gallon of water per day per room they humidify six to eight rooms for 24 hours before needing a refill. Smaller, portable units take two to four gallons of water, weight 12 to 15 lb., and cost £50 (plus an extra £10 to £20 for a humidistat).

If you live in an area where the mineral content of the water is high, get the evaporator type rather than the atomizer variety. If you have a hot-air heating system, consider a furnace unit with automatic water refill. The unit costs roughly £100 to £150, with installation. A house using 1,000 gallons of oil a year probably would use 11 to 12 gallons of water daily.

Reputable makes of various types include Eaton, Cory, Sunbeam, Wirthington, Aprilair. Be sure to get a unit of copper or stainless steel, which resists rust and corrosion. Incidentally, a humidifier has another important virtue: It helps protect valuable antiques and paintings from drying out and cracking.

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Vip Virus: A Nasty Cold, That Is

If you are felled by executive flu - a nasty winter cold, that is - be extra cautious about what you buy to treat it. And read labels carefully. With today's array of non-prescription cold preparations - pills, drops, lozenges, cough syrups, and all the rest - it's tempting to take the doctoring into your own hands. But taking the TV ads too seriously can be dangerous.

If fact, it's a good idea to consult your doctor if you're running a fever - especially if a sore throat or chest pains go along. It's also a danger signal if a cold drags on for 10 days without improvement or hoarseness persists three or four days.

The reason for caution is that over-the-counter drugs are potent.... see: Vip Virus: A Nasty Cold, That Is