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Are Air Purifiers Good For COPD?

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease whereby your airways are partially blocked and you struggle to breathe can be a lot to deal with. If you suffer from COPD, one thing you will sooner or later realize is the importance of good air quality. In view of this, in this article, I show you whether an air purifier can help you or not.

Before delving into the details, briefly put, are air purifiers good for COPD? The short answer is yes, air purifiers are good for COPD. Air purifiers have proven effective for COPD to the extent that the COPD Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control recommend them as a means of helping treat the condition. However, not all air purifiers are suitable for COPD.

The cleaning byproducts of some air purifiers can prove harmful for COPD sufferers. Besides this, you also have to know how to use your air purifier properly to actually benefit from having one. I explain all these things and more in the rest of this post.

How Bad Air Quality Really Affects COPD

When I started looking into air purifiers and COPD, the one thing I found important to understand is the mechanism of how poor air quality worsens COPD. Only when I understood this did I fully appreciate how good air purifiers are for this condition.

So its all really straight forward. When you have any form of COPD, airborne particles that your respiratory system would otherwise naturally filter out instead get trapped in your airways. The trapped particles, in turn, make it painful and hard for you to breathe.

The particles include pet dander, dust, chemicals, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), exhaust fumes and many others. Your lungs get stressed because the pollutants you inhale reduce their capacity, and cause inflammation and irritation. 

Furthermore, inflammation and mucus block your airways or your alveoli get damaged and cannot function properly, making it increasingly difficult to breathe.

In this light, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) constantly warns us of how exposure to pollution particles can worsen COPD and cause COPD hospitalizations and even premature deaths. 

You may think you are safe indoors but according to the EPA, the air in your home can actually be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoors. This is further confirmed in a study conducted in 2006, which states that beyond worsening your COPD condition, indoor air pollution can further worsen your overall health.

From all this information you can immediately see that improving your air quality goes a long way in dealing with COPD and this where air purifiers play a significant role if you are COPD sufferer. Air purifiers are made to remove pollutants in your air and can really help you get some relief.

How Do Air Purifiers Help?

The first thing you need to note when it comes to air purifiers and COPD is that COPD is a progressive disease and an irreversible condition.  Accordingly air purifiers can in no way substitute your doctor’s medical treatment.

Air purifiers are best placed to reduce the number of indoor pollutant particles that aggravate your COPD. Whether you live with pets, or in an area where you have reoccurring wildfires, good air purifiers can clean the air in your room enough, to a point you will notice the improvement in your breathing.

Many air purifiers will help you get rid of 99.9% of particulates (solid airborne pollutant particles).  As mentioned earlier, these include bacteria, viruses, mold and mildew spores, dust and many more COPD triggering pollutants.

Air purifiers can also help by reducing the level of airborne cytokines or cell proteins responsible for triggering inflammations in your sensitive airways. In short, air purifiers help keep your condition under control by getting rid of the airborne gases, vapors, and particulate in your home that can worsen your COPD symptoms. 

While air purifiers can help with many respiratory issues including COPD, they will by no means cure COPD. Their role is really only to lessen the symptoms and provide you with some relief. 

The best air purifiers will do for you is to slow down the damaging effects of the disease and help make life more bearable. That said they are well worth the benefit they provide.

Which Type Of Air Purifiers Work?

Now that you know how an air purifier can help you with COPD let us look into what kind of air purifier actually works for your condition. There are many types of air purifiers out there and you have to make sure you choose the right kind to successfully get some relief.

With the correct air purifier, you can get rid of a large percentage of the particulates that worsen COPD indoors. However, if you have the wrong type it can be ineffective or, even worse, dangerous.

I won’t discuss all the different types of air purifiers here but will focus on what you should immediately avoid or look for. First and foremost with COPD do not get any type of air purifier that produces ozone or leaves behind any neutralized pollutants in your home.

The main types of air purifiers that do this include Ozone Generators and Ionizers or Ionic air purifiers. Both of these devices produce ozone, however, ionizers produce a fraction of the amount of ozone produced by ozone generators. 

The thing with ozone is that it is actually a good cleaning agent and it does an awesome job getting rid of pollutants in your air. However, it has abrasive qualities that cause irritation and damage to even the healthiest of lungs if you inhale enough of it. So you can just imagine how bad it is for a COPD sufferer.

 Besides producing ozone ionizers also leave behind thin films of dust around your home which can easily be reintroduced into your air. The film of dust produced as a byproduct by ionizers may not be harmful if you are in good health but with COPD, you do not want to inhale any leftover impurities whether they are neutralized or not. 

According to the EPA, the ionized particles that settle on surfaces from ionizers can actually fall into your lungs and get absorbed into your bloodstream. So based on all this info don’t waste your time with ionizers. As for ozone generators, they are as their name describes them. They make ozone and blow it all over your home, so they are best avoided.

The main types of air purifiers you want to go for include activated carbon True HEPA air purifiers or Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) air purifiers and these can either be portable (some even small enough for your desk) or HVAC based air purifiers. 

Your choice here will depend largely on your budget once you know the kind of space you want your air purifier to clean and cover. With activated carbon True HEPA air purifiers, you can get rid of particles that are as small as 0.1 microns while a PCO air purifier can get rid of dangerous particulates and gases as small as 0.001 microns. 

This means PCO air purifiers will deal with way more types of pollutants and much smaller airborne pollutants than your activated carbon True HEPA air purifier can. I believe the main thing that will determine your decision between the two is the cost. 

The few available PCO purifiers are quite pricey compared to the more readily available activated carbon True HEPA purifiers.

I would go with an activated carbon True HEPA air purifier if all I was really concerned about are solid airborne particulates. So these include particulates like smoke, dust, exhaust fumes, pollen, pet dander, some odors, some VOCs and mold spores.

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However, the moment I am concerned about much finer airborne particulates and gases like smog, some viruses, gaseous contaminants and pollutant vapor that’s when I would go for a PCO air purifier. For even more intense protection I would go for a PCO air purifier that also contains an activated carbon filter.

Otherwise, if your air is not so bad (see how you can tell your air quality here), an activated carbon True HEPA air purifier should suffice. Just make sure that if you go the HEPA route you get a purifier with HEPA filters that have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) of 11 to 13 or more to get the best level of filtration.

No air purifier will get rid of 100% of all indoor pollutants but for COPD these two types of air purifiers should get rid of most of the unwanted stuff in your air and create a much healthier environment for you. If you want specific examples of these types of air purifiers that do an awesome job I have written a guide on best air purifiers just for you here.

How To Use Air Purifiers Properly For COPD

Once you get your air purifier the next step is to use it the correct way. If you do not use it well your chances of getting good results from it are minimal. The first step in using your air purifier correctly is placing it in the correct rooms.

Ideally, with COPD you should have an air purifier in every single room. This is because portable air purifiers are generally only able to clean the air within the room they are in, especially if you have doors between rooms.

If for whatever reason you can’t have an air purifier in every room then start by installing one in each major room. So that’s your living room and main bedroom where you sleep and your kitchen if you have a standalone kitchen.

At the office, you can even get one that you can place on your desk if you work in a cubicle. Should you only be able to get one air purifier, you can choose to move it around between your bedroom and living room but personally I would place it in the bedroom as first choice as that’s the room where I rest and spend the most time in at home (at least 8 hours).

Once you have gotten an air purifier for each room where you need one, the next step is to position your air purifier properly. The appliance must be placed in an area where it’s free of obstruction, and away from walls to ensure good airflow through its vents and to avoid accidents.

When you have identified your air purifier, also make sure it is able to cover the size of the room you intend to put it in. This means you should measure the room you are in to find its square footage. 

Once you know your room’s size, for more efficient air cleaning get an air purifier that covers at least 100 square feet more area than your room’s size. With size matters out of the way, make sure you run your air purifier 24 hours a day, to ensure you have good air quality round the clock.

Don’t worry, this won’t really affect your energy bill too much as most air purifiers are not energy-intensive. Most consume less energy than a refrigerator. If you are concerned about energy consumption though, be sure to get an Energy Star- rated device and one that has smart features to allow you to program your device to turn on and off as you like.

Lastly, you need to maintain your devices regularly as instructed in your manual. This includes keeping the device clean, replacing your filters and parts of your appliance when they get worn out or as per the recommended schedule. 

So, this is all there really is when it comes to using your air purifier effectively. There are few other minor caveats, but if you keep to these broad steps, you should get the most out of your air purifier. If you have bought a good air purifier, you should start to breathe with less discomfort as your air gets cleaner by the day.

Other Things You Should Consider While Using An Air Purifier

As I have alluded to throughout this post, air purifiers are not a standalone solution or cure for COPD. They are just a supportive measure and you have to make sure you are firstly following all your doctor’s treatment recommendations before turning to them.

If you are on track with your medical advice then it’s all systems go with an air purifier. It does not hurt to have one before consulting your doctor, but under no circumstance can you rely on an air purifier alone for COPD. So make sure you get yourself medically checked.

As air purifiers do not get rid of every single bad thing in your air you have to implement additional measures when running one to get the best air quality possible. In addition to running an air purifier make sure to clean your house regularly.

Clean using eco-friendly cleaning chemicals that do not contain harsh substances that can trigger your COPD symptoms. You also want to use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dust on surfaces around your home. Personally, with COPD, I would avoid rugs and carpets in my home.

The next thing you can do is get hypoallergenic beddings. You can get bedsheets, mattresses, pillows and all kinds of linen that are hypoallergenic. These reduce the level of dust mite allergens and other allergens in your home known to aggravate COPD.

You also want to avoid harsh scents, from perfumes, deodorants, air fresheners and many other things of that nature. It’s a good idea to also invest in carbon monoxide and radon detectors in your home and also have an air quality monitor running just to know when your air quality is getting worse. 

This will allow you to make adjustments quickly and proactively avoid flaring up your condition. Then there are also the obvious things you should do like keeping fit through regular exercise and kicking smokers out of your home, plus quitting smoking yourself if you do smoke.

Lastly, if things get really bad, I think its a good idea to have a respirator on stand by. You can browse through some really great gas masks here that will protect you from the most harmful airborne contaminants. 

Besides offering an extra layer of protection, the beauty of gas masks is you can go almost anywhere you like with them without worrying about air quality. If anyone bothers you, just tell them you have COPD and they should understand. 

And on this note, I can say that’s pretty much all you need to know about COPD and air purifiers. Let me know if I have missed anything in the comments.

About the Author


Jean is a research economist by profession and he runs Fresh Air Genie. He is enthusiastic about maintaining good air quality at home and on the go and he shares his knowledge about this here at Fresh Air Genie.

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