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On Your Health

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Is an Air Purifier Worth It?

With Americans spending 90 percent of their time indoors, coupled with an increased focus on respiratory health due to COVID-19, air purifiers and air purification systems have become increasingly popular. These filtration systems have many names and use various technologies. But, are they worth the price and can they alleviate any health risks? This blog is a resource to provide you with more information on the medical benefits of air purifiers.

 

What does an air purifier do?

The lungs are sensitive when it comes to the air you breathe. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but indoor air concentrations can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The lack of indoor air circulation can lead to a higher concentration of allergens and pollutants that can cause lung irritation and inflammation when chronically inhaled. Indoor air pollutants can also cause eye and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness and respiratory disease.

To combat this, it’s important to get rid of the source (such as dusting) and ventilate indoor air via a window. But in cases when neither can be done, air purifiers can help remove small particles, pollutants and toxins from the air through the use of filters and chemicals. The trapping and elimination of these particles may provide you with some relief.

Portable air cleaners, also known as air purifiers, use either a filter or a sanitizer — some systems use both — to purify the air you breathe in a single room of your house. For more robust purification, a whole-house system runs through a house’s HVAC unit.

 

What is a HEPA filter?

Many purifiers contain a HEPA filter, which stands for high-efficiency particulate arresting. These filters trap particles that are 0.03 micrometer in diameter. HEPA filters have several pleats to trap dust and pet hair in the home to help alleviate allergy symptoms. However, they don’t work well with odors or gases. 

HEPA filters can trap small particles that remain airborne for longer periods of time. Dust, pollen and mold are heavier and tend to fall to the ground or latch onto surfaces before they have the chance to pass through a filter.

As an alternative to HEPA filters, some filtration systems use activated carbon to purify odors and gases. Activated carbon filters are more expensive and need to be replaced more often.

 

What is a UV light air purifier?

Unlike filters that merely trap odors and pollutants, purifiers that run on a sanitizing system are designed to kill viruses, bacteria and fungi. Most sanitizing air purifiers use ultraviolet light, also known as UV germicidal irradiation. Air passes through a HVAC system, fan or open window into a disinfection zone that kills any pollutants or pathogens. 

UV light is seldom used on its own, mainly because it can’t trap or remove particles and pollutants. Instead, many air purification systems combine sanitizers with filters to kill and remove particles.

 

What is an ionizer air purifier?

Ionizers provide an electrical charge to air particles so they can be pulled to a collecting device using an opposite charge. According to the EPA, ionizer air purifiers can remove small particles and pollutants, but they aren’t the best at removing larger pollen, dust mites, odors or gases.

Ion generators also produce ozone as a byproduct, which can be a lung irritant. 

 

Do air purifiers work?

In short, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish or alleviate. For people with severe allergies, HEPA filters can help trap pet dander and other larger allergens. If you’re simply attempting to freshen up your air, then the price tag may not be worth it. In other words, air purifiers aren’t a cure for everyone.

Purification systems with more than one technology tend to work the best. For example, a machine may have a HEPA filter to trap particles, a sanitizer to kill germs and activated carbon to decrease odors and gases.

Air purifiers will only work if you maintain the system you’re using, so make sure to change the filter as directed by the manufacturer. You should also practice good indoor hygiene and dust and vacuum regularly, especially if you have pets.

Some air purifiers work better than others for specific symptoms or to alleviate certain airborne particles. Your household likely contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as gases from paint or byproducts of cooking, that linger in the air. HEPA filters can’t remove VOCs, although air purifiers with activated carbon can. The carbon, typically in a fine granular or powdered form, absorbs gases and odors.

If you plan on purchasing an air purifier, look for filtration systems with a stamp of approval from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). You should also check the manufacturer’s label for the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), a number that measures how effective the machine is at removing airborne particles and gases. The number should be equal or close to two-thirds of the room’s area. For instance, a 300-square-foot room should have a CADR of 200 to properly purifier the air.

 

Do air purifiers help with COVID?

The chance of COVID spreading indoors is increased because indoor air circulation and ventilation isn’t as strong as being outdoors. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that produces COVID, has a delicate structure that can be altered by environmental factors such as wind. In indoor settings, there tends to be higher concentrations of the virus, thus raising the likelihood of it spreading indoors.

Air filtration systems and ventilation practices can lower concentration levels and reduce airborne contaminants. However, this alone won’t eradicate COVID. You should still practice social distancing when appropriate and remember to wash your hands.

According to the EPA, air purifiers must have the capability of removing particles in the range of 0.1 to 1.0 micrometers to remove airborne viruses.

By themselves, virus particles are small. But they tend to latch onto larger particles that help carry them through the air and eventually land on high-touch surfaces such as door handles and countertops. For example, the coronavirus is around 0.1 micrometers but the particles are often part of respiratory droplets that are big enough (0.5 micrometers) for a HEPA filter to trap — a HEPA filter can trap 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 micrometers.

UV light can also be effective in inactivating the coronavirus, which is why health care organizations, hospitals and schools have used a combination of HEPA filters and UVGI to filter recirculated air.

 

If an air purifier isn’t an option, ventilating your home with a window or door open can reduce the concentration of indoor contaminants. The downside of opening a window or door is many people have allergies to ragweed or pollen that may become worse when breathing fresh air.

For more trending health and wellness topics, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

 

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