Air purifiers can improve the indoor air quality in your home, which can lead to better overall health by reducing allergy and asthma triggers and the amount of mold spores and pollutants in the air. But can an air purifier be beneficial for common health issues such as migraine headaches, cold and flu or nasal congestion? And what about specific health problems like COPD, sleep apnea, chemical sensitivity or even cardiovascular problems?
We will take a look at the indoor air pollutants that contribute to health problems and determine how an air purifier can have health benefits for you and your family by removing those pollutants. We will also discuss what air purification technologies have the maximum health benefits, as well as how to use it properly to ensure that your air purifier is good for your health.
Common types of indoor air pollutants that affect health
Different types of indoor air pollutants can affect your health in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common types:
- Allergens: Pollen, pet dander and mold spores can trigger an allergic reaction, causing red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, sneezing and respiratory irritation.
- Smoke: Whether it comes from burning tobacco, a fireplace, wildfires or burnt food, smoke contains particles and chemical compounds than can have immediate effects (i.e. congestion and eye irritation) as well as long term health problems.
- Viruses and bacteria: Biological pollutants in the air can cause disease and infection.
- VOCs: Volatile organic compounds are chemicals given off by plastics, manufactured furniture, carpets, paints and solvents, cleaning products and other sources.
Using air purifiers for common health issues
In addition to improving the overall air quality in your home, an air purifier could also possibly be used to tackle pollutants related to the following health problems:
Migraines and other headaches: Headaches can be caused by stress, caffeine withdrawal, lack of sleep and other factors. Studies have also found that poor indoor air quality may be associated with an overall increase in the number and severity of headaches, including migraines [Tietjen, 2012]. This increase is partly tied to excessively high levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which air purifiers are not intended to remove. Therefore improved ventilation and fresh air flow are the key, especially in office buildings. However, some indoor air pollutants can directly lead to headaches, including many types of VOCs, according to the EPA. The allergic reactions triggered by allergens may cause sinus headaches as well, and headaches are also a symptom of sensitivity or allergy to mold spores or mold toxins [Edmondson et al, 2009].
Removing these pollutants from the air may help reduce or prevent headaches that are caused by poor indoor air quality. Carbon air purifiers use adsorption to remove VOCs from the air, while a purifier with a mechanical filter such as a HEPA filter will remove particulate pollutants such as allergens from the air. However an air purifier using PECO technology goes even further by destroying both VOC molecules and particles in the air. However, as we previously stated, bear in mind that air purifiers are not intended to remove carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide from a home or office—if you suspect elevated levels of these colorless, odorless gases, open the windows to let in fresh air, evacuate the area and call the fire department. Build-up of these gases indoors, usually as the result of improperly ventilated combustion such as a propane heater or a blocked chimney, can be extremely dangerous.
Nasal and sinus congestion: Allergens are the main indoor air pollutants that can lead to a stuffy nose. Dust mites, pet dander, pollen and mold spores may cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive, which can lead to excessive mucus and inflamed sinuses. An air purifier that removes particles from the air could help in this situation. Particle filtration has been shown by multiple studies to produce improvements in health symptoms or objective health outcomes, particularly for subjects with allergies or asthma [Fisk, 2013].
Allergies and asthma: If you suffer from allergies or asthma, air purifiers may provide health benefits for you, as they can remove the pollutants that can cause or exacerbate these conditions from the air. Allergies are caused by allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander and mold spores. As we have seen, allergy and asthma symptoms are closely connected to nasal and sinus congestion, so an air purifier than can reduce allergy and asthma problems may also reduce those unpleasant symptoms.
Cold and flu: The common cold and influenza are both caused by viruses, which are microscopic, and can be as small as 0.01 microns in size. Viruses can stick to dust and other particles in the air, so mechanical filters may help remove some of them from the air, though many can pass through. Other technologies, like UV-C light or ozone generators, which claim to kill biological pollutants, may not be effective against viruses and may have other drawbacks, including the creation of ozone, a known respiratory irritant that is not recommended for air purification by the EPA. Therefore a better option might be to use an air purification technology like PECO to destroy viruses that pass through the device.
Using air purifiers for specific health issues
Here are some health conditions that can be aggravated by levels of indoor and outdoor air pollutants.
- COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is caused by chronic inflammation of the lungs, causing coughing, excessive mucus and shortness of breath. COPD can eventually lead to heart disease, lung cancer or other diseases. The root cause of COPD is exposure to noxious gases and particulate pollutants over months or years, often due to a tobacco smoking habit (Ling & van Eeden, 2009).
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, obesity and even sleeping position. Studies have found that high levels of particulate pollutants in the air are correlated with a higher rate of sleep apnea symptoms, as well as “significant differences between areas with higher and lower pollutants and the interventions on indoor pollution reduced sleep-disordered breathing in children” [Tenero et al, 2017]. Air pollution is linked to sleep apnea.
- Chemical sensitivity: Many of the chemicals, known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds, emitted by plastics, cleaners, solvents and paints are unhealthy if inhaled. People with a chemical sensitivity experience severe symptoms beyond the usual effects of encountering these chemicals in the environment. Carbon filters remove VOCs from the air, although not every carbon filter is equally effective against all VOCs. A PECO air purifier can destroy VOCs that pass through the device, unlike carbon filters which simply trap them.
- Cardiovascular health: Ultrafine particles may have a negative impact on cardiovascular health and lung health. Particle pollution is very small, generally grouped in categories of 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller. These particles can be deeply inhaled and lodged in the lungs. The EPA looked at well-designed studies measuring heart health (which includes lung function, blood pressure, heart rate and other factors) in homes that used air purifiers, and concluded that “ten of the 11 intervention studies found a significant improvement in at least one measured cardiovascular health outcome or marker of cardiovascular health outcomes” in homes using air purifiers (p.43). Reducing particulate pollutants were linked to health benefits in these studies.
Using an air purifier can lead to health benefits if levels of indoor air pollution are reduced, especially if you use a model that is most effective against the type of indoor air pollutant associated with your particular health problem. Although using an air purifier will not solve all your health problems, you can still work with your doctor to create an overall plan of treatment that addresses your health problem’s underlying causes. When carefully selected and properly used, an air purifier can be a useful part of this plan.