Can air purifiers make you sick

In this blog, we shall discuss whether air purifiers have any adverse effects on human health. Furthermore, we discuss the conditions in which air purifiers can affect our health, and in what ways we can prevent that.

Can air purifiers make you sick

Yes, air purifiers, under certain circumstances, can make you sick. Air purifiers, as the name suggests, are devices that remove pollutants that may be present in the indoor ambient air.

Why do we need an air purifier?

Over the previous decades, the rise in air pollution has been prevalent, especially in urban areas. Air pollution is caused by both natural processes as well as anthropogenic (i.e., human-based) activities, however, the latter is the main culprit.

Activities related to rapid urbanisation, such as traffic related air pollution (TRAP), emissions from industries such as thermal power plants, brick kilns, factories, etc., and other such processes have significantly contributed towards the steady degradation of air quality.

An average individual spends more than 90% of their time within an enclosement, with more than 80% of this time in an indoor setting such as offices, residents, and so on.

There have been studies that have shown that in large cities, indoor air pollution poses a higher risk on human health than outdoor air pollution.

Indoor air pollution can originate from indoor sources, such as household items, furniture, combustion of fuels, smoking, and so on.

Indoor air can also get polluted when pollution from outdoors infiltrates through openings such as doors, windows, gaps, cracks, seeps, and so on.

Amongst these pollutants, the worst is particulate matter, or simply PM. PM refers to particles in the sub-micron range that are suspended in the air. 

There are two forms of particulate matter: coarse particulate matter (PM10) and tiny particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is a prevalent problem among them.

There are many sources of PM in the ambient air. Some of the main sources include factories, power plants, refuse incinerators, fumes from automobiles, construction activities, fires and natural windblown dust.

Indoor sources include burning of  fuels, smoking, and other hobbies, such as woodworking, painting, etc.

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to polluted air containing particulate matter have been shown to cause various issues, such as:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • nonfatal heart attacks
  • irregular heartbeat
  • aggravated asthma
  • decreased lung function
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

Given the variety of PM present, they have various sources. These particles can originate from a variety of sources, which can be indoors, or outdoor pollution that enters through doors, windows, seeps, cracks, and so on.

This is where air purifiers come in the picture. Air purifiers mainly work on particulate matter, and rid the indoor ambient air of the PM pollution in the room, thereby cleaning the indoor air and making it safe for breathing.

They filter out particulate matter less than 0.3 microns, and the HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters typically have an efficiency of more than 99%.

For people who suffer from allergies, asthma, or other illnesses, air purifiers can be a lifesaver. These ingenious gadgets function to remove dust, smoke, pollen, and other noxious pollutants from the air, which may cause discomfort and sickness.

How does an air purifier make one sick?


As discussed, air purifiers are a lifesaver in the current scenario where air pollution is more or less prevalent everywhere around the World. 

However, there can be circumstances in which an air purifier, a device meant for protecting your health, might be doing more harm to your health than good. 

There are certain circumstances where air purifiers adversely affect the human health, and some of these include:

  • Generation of ozone
  • Breeding ground for mold and bacteria
  • UV Rays
  • Ionising air purifiers

We shall discuss these in detail.

Generation of ozone

Air purifier necklaces work by generating ions at the rate of thousands per minute. They do so by using a mechanism called corona charging, in which oxygen molecules can also get broken down, which in turn react with each other to form ozone.

Ozone is a highly reactive gaseous molecule which is naturally present in the upper layers of the atmosphere, where it absorbs the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation.

When present in the lower levels of the atmosphere, however, it acts as a pollutant, and can have serious adverse effects on human health, which also includes afflictions related to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Ozone acts as an irritant, due to its pungent odor. It can cause wheezing, irritation in the nose and throat, runny nose, watery eyes, difficulty in breathing, and so on.

Additionally, ozone can also worsen the condition of people who are suffering from diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.

Breeding ground for mold and bacteria

For cases where the air purifier is installed in rooms with high relative humidity, one of the common substances to get trapped in the air filter would be mold and bacteria.

If the filter is left on at all times, the amount of water vapour that gets entrapped in the filter will also increase.

Not only will this reduce the efficiency of the filter, it will also serve as a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, which in turn would be propagated through the air purifier.

So, it is vital to install a dehumidifier along with the air purifier, and to regularly check the filter for the presence of mold or other bacteria.

UV Rays 


UV rays in a filter kill all the particulate matter that passes through it. UV technology is commonly combined with air filters to attain efficiency and maximum air quality.

Facts are also astonishing for humans as the filter fixed with UV technology also tends to break the oxygen and water molecules into ozone and hydroxyl. The broken down elements will then react with other pollutants and turn even more harmful.

UV air purifiers, thus, may not be an effective solution for particulate matter. Many UV air purifiers miss out on trapping microorganisms because of shielding provided by the particles.

Ionising air purifiers

Certain air purifiers, like necklace air purifiers, utilise ions as their working mechanism. These purifiers generate charged ions, which attract pollutants that have a charge. 

When these combine, the pollutant species become heavy and get removed from the air by settling on the ground.

However, sometimes, this can also affect human health, as these ions can also get stuck to the skin, particularly in the face and neck region.

In turn, these ions can attract pollutants towards the user itself, and can cause deposition of pollutants on the skin of the user. This can cause adverse effects on the skin, depending on the nature of the pollutant species.

Certain toxic species, which are heavy metal pollutants like lead, can be attracted towards the skin, and can have serious implications on the health of the user.

Additionally, in case if the air contains Volatile Organic Compounds, or simply VOCs, the ozone generated from the device as a byproduct can react with the VOCs in order to give rise to secondary organic aerosols (SOAs).

These SOAs do not have any implications on human health. However, they reduce the efficiency of the air purifier necklaces, as they reduce the  particle removal performance.

How to prevent the negative effects of air purifiers

AS we have seen, there are certain ways in which an air purifier can adversely affect human health. However, the good news is that these issues can be completely avoided, thereby making it safe to use air purifiers.

The following methods can be used to prevent the negative effects of air purifiers:

  • Look for air purifiers that do not produce ozone
  • Avoid investing in an ioniser air purifier
  • Get your air purifier serviced regularly

We shall discuss these in more detail.

Look for air purifiers that do not produce ozone

Not all air purifiers generate ozone when they are running. Furthermore, certain air purifiers generate very little ozone which would not affect health in any manner, provided there is adequate ventilation.

Therefore, look for air purifying models that do not produce ozone, such as the MSA3 Air Purifier unit, and other similar types of devices.

Avoid investing in ionising air purifiers

Ionising air purifiers, although work well on fine and ultrafine particulate matter, have typically low efficiency in cleaning the air than the traditional air purifiers with HEPA filters.

Furthermore, these devices do not remove the pollutants, but rather cause them to deposit on surfaces, which could cause allergic reactions in certain people.

Therefore, one should refrain from investing in such devices, and go with the traditional air purifiers which use HEPA filters.

Get your air purifier serviced regularly

In places where the relative humidity is high, there are chances that there would be mold spores or bacteria in the indoor air. Some of these might get trapped within the filters.

Under such conditions, the air purifying unit would serve as an ideal breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Therefore, it is important to regularly maintain your air purifier, in order to ensure its longevity and efficiency.

Conclusion

Air purifiers are meant to keep the indoor environment safe, as they keep the air clean and fit for breathing. However, under certain circumstances, they can adversely affect human health.

Certain circumstances, such as ozone generation, high relative humidity, and the effect of ionising air purifiers, can create unfavourable conditions.

However, these can be dealt with ease, which involve one to see the ozone generating potential of the air purifier, refraining from buying ionising air purifiers, and regular maintenance of the air purifier unit.

FAQs

How to tell if my air purifier is producing ozone?


Although manufacturers usually mention it along with the product, sometimes, due to technical issues, your air purifier might start generating ozone. 

You can tell whether there is ozone by looking out for some of the  most common symptoms such as a feeling of irritation in the eyes, nose and throat. 

Some people may also experience respiratory or heart symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and wheezing.

Is there radiation from air purifiers?

Yes, air purifiers produce a safe & small amount of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation. However, there is no data supporting the claims that they’re harmful. Therefore, one should not worry about side effects due to radiation.

Other FAQs about Air Purifiers and Filters that you may be interested in.

Air purifier necklace side effects

how air purifier necklace works

Should air purifiers be placed on the floor?

References

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