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Do Air Purifiers Actually Work? Private

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Do Air Purifiers Actually Work?

The promise of an air purifier is an enticing one: An appliance designed to cleanse the air in your home, getting rid of all the impurities including odors, smoke, dust, and pet dander. Given the fact that indoor air can have levels of certain pollutants up to five times higher than outdoor air, we get it. Some models may even be able to target bad air that creeps into your apartment or home, especially if you live in an area affected by pollution, or natural disaster.

Most people shouldn't be worried about exposure to temporary pollutants like smoke or exhaust in the air outside your home, as they dissipate over time, explains Ryan Roten, D.O., an emergency medicine doctor with Redlands Community Hospital in California. "In the short term, people will have asthma-like symptoms, primarily, or symptoms closer to allergies or sinusitis, including stuffy nose and a bit of a cough," says Dr. Doten, who has been treating patients with underlying respiratory illnesses as mass wildfires rage along the West Coast and air quality reaches new lows. "If the smoke is dense enough, you might have some headaches due to carbon dioxide, and those with issues like asthma or COPD will have it worse in the moment."

Air purifier can indeed neutralize some of the threat posed by air pollution and by indoor activities. In reality, though, not all air purifiers necessarily live up to their marketing hype.

How do air purifiers work?

Other air purifiers use ionizers to help attract particles like static — negative ions bond to dust and allergens and make them settle out of the air. If you're interested in buying desktop air purifier that uses ionizers, make sure it does not produce ozone, a gas made up of three oxygen atoms that is often marketed as helping break down pollutants, because ozone could be a lung irritant and further aggravate asthma conditions. Usually the air purifiers with ozone will have that listed on packaging or in the marketing descriptions.

Can air purifiers filter the outdoor air that enters your home?

Sometimes, non-organic air pollutants — like the VOCs we mentioned previously — can originate from outside your home. "There are all sorts of scenarios in structure fires where large doses of smoke inhalation may lead to cyanide toxicity. But that would largely need to be someone who was standing directly in or near the fire: Those people are brought to emergency rooms immediately," Dr. Roten explains. "Generally, outside pollution or smoke or temporary bad air isn't a constant concern for bystanders."

But the right kind of purifier can address any environmental air qualities in your locale. Using nearby wildfires as an example, Dr. Roten adds that a HEPA filter-equipped purifier is your best bet: "Anything that has a true HEPA filter in it is probably adequate enough to filter out most all the large particles that would be concerning," he says. "Most of the smoky smell will also be addressed as well."

So… should I buy an air purifier?

Before you do, know that air purifiers are not a cure-all. There is very little medical evidence to support that air purifiers directly help improve your health or alleviate allergies and respiratory symptoms. That’s due in part to the fact that it is very difficult to separate the effects of known air-quality pollutants in your home from other environmental and genetic factors. (For instance, how are the furnishings and ventilation in your home affecting you in addition to any indoor pollutants?) But if you are an allergy or asthma sufferer, an air purifier with a HEPA filter may be helpful for you as it will be good at removing fine airborne particles.

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