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Finding the best air purifier for allergies

Each day, we breathe about 25,000 times.1 

With each breath taken outdoors, we inhale various air pollutants due to traffic, construction, industrialization, and urbanization.2 

Can an air purifier help? And what is the best air purifier for allergies?

Indoors, our air quality is impacted by factors such as dust, dust mites, mold spores, household pets, and chemicals in cleaning products, all of which can be allergens.3,4

Air quality and allergies

For those who suffer from allergies, exposure to environmental triggers can cause respiratory symptoms, particularly coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and/or breathlessness.5,6 

While most of us are not involved in urban planning and design focused on mitigating outdoor air pollution, we can take matters into our own hands when we are at home by using portable air purifiers to clean the air we breathe in.5,7

Common types of air filters

To find the best air purifier for allergies, you first need to know about the different types that are available for residential use.

In addition to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that filter the air in the whole house, portable air purifiers can be used to clean the air in the room that they are placed in.7 

These small units filter particles as they pass through the device and then re-circulate clean air.8 

Air purifiers commonly have high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA), activated carbon, or electrostatic filters.4

HEPA air purifiers

Air purifiers with HEPA filters function by mechanically capturing air pollutants.4 In one study, the effects of HEPA air purifiers on allergic rhinitis, or allergies, were investigated.9 

To analyze changes in the air, researchers measured the concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10, which refer to particulate matter with a diameter under 2.5 and 10 micrometers.5

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid and liquid particles found in the air and is a risk factor for people with allergies.8

The results of this study demonstrated that the placement of a HEPA air purifier in the bedroom and living room, running 24 hours/day for 6 weeks, significantly reduced both PM2.5 and PM10 by at least 30%.9 

However, a placebo effect was also observed wherein people reported a reduction in allergy-associated symptoms and an improvement in quality of life despite not being given an active filter.9

Activated carbon air purifiers

Besides HEPA filters, air purifiers can be equipped with a carbon filter. Upon activation, carbon’s inherent adsorptive properties are enhanced.7 

Activated carbon air purifiers remove gaseous pollutants by trapping them to the surface of the device through chemical reactions that occur between the air particles and activated carbon.7 

This type of air purifier is most effective at removing volatile organic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde.2,4

A drawback to using activated carbon as a filter in air purifiers is that it does not remove all types of pollutants.4 

Although it removes organic compounds, activated carbon filters cannot clean air contaminated with particulate matter.4 

Activated carbon air purifiers also need to be regularly cleaned to maintain their efficacy and to ensure that dirty air filters don’t become a source of pollution in your home.3

Electrostatic air purifiers

The air we breathe in can be purified using electrostatic purifiers as well.

Electrostatic purifiers remove airborne particles by giving them an electrical charge as they pass through the filter and then entrapping these ions on an oppositely charged plate.4

In terms of what electrostatic air purifiers can filter, they do what activated carbon cannot – they remove particulate matter but not volatile organic compounds.4 

One of the disadvantages of using electrostatic air purifiers is that they can produce ozone, a pollutant, and harmful agent to human health, as a by-product.2–4

What’s the best air purifier for allergies?

Given that air purifiers can reduce exposure to pollutants, the resulting improvement in air quality may alleviate the symptoms of an allergy sufferer.2 

For optimal use, these portable air cleaning systems should be placed in open areas of the home or in the room where you spend most of your time.9

Another factor to consider before purchasing an air purifier is what type of pollutant you want to clear from the air in your home.

To select the best air purifier for allergies, ensure that it has the right technology to effectively capture particulate matter – HEPA or electrostatic filters would work best for this purpose.

In addition to using an air purifier to remove indoor allergens, be sure to consult your healthcare provider to see how you can go about improving your allergies.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Harmeet Gurm
Harmeet Gurm
Harmeet obtained her Master of Science at McMaster University in 2021. Her research was focused on understanding how the placenta develops during early human pregnancy. Currently, she works as a Clinical Research Coordinator to investigate the safety and effectiveness of novel therapeutics in dermatology. As a content writer for Medical News Bulletin from 2022-2023, Harmeet worked towards making health-related information accessible to readers from different backgrounds.
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