I read an article on the web this morning that said people with COPD should be careful when buying an air purifier, and the truth is, I tend to agree with this statement.
The article stated that COPD is a “serious life threatening health problem that can be aggravated with the use of inferior poor performance air filters.”
First, what is COPD?
According to Wikipedia, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become narrowed. This leads to a limitation of the flow of air to and from the lungs causing shortness of breath. In contrast to asthma, the limitation of airflow is poorly reversible and usually gradually gets worse over time.
So can an air purifier help a person with COPD?
An October 2008 report by the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health reports that people with COPD “have substantial mortality risks associated with exposure to particles.” According to the study, particles may impair ventilation in COPD patients by causing airway narrowing and increasing the work of breathing.
So while air purifiers are certainly not a cure for COPD, they can provide cleaner air, which according to the Harvard study, is paramount to people with COPD.
A good HEPA filter can remove 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns from indoor air. It’s pretty safe to say that most air purifiers come (or should come) equipped with a HEPA filter— and since there is no such thing as a “better” HEPA filter, then it would be difficult to separate a superior air filter, from a poor performance air filter based simply on its HEPA filter.
While HEPA filters are indeed designed to remove particles, and since any good purifier comes equipped with this filtration method, what then makes one air purifier superior to another?
Not Just Particles—- Chemicals are also Dangerous for People with COPD
Inhaling chemicals such as gas, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, or dry particulate chemicals, such as microscopic particles is dangerous for everyone, but can be especially dangerous for people with COPD. In fact the number one cause for COPD is smoking… and one of the main chemicals in smoke is formaldehyde.
But formaldehyde is also emitted from other everyday things, other than cigarettes, like stain-resistant furniture, flame retardant clothing, wood products such as particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood, and even carpeting, upholstery and baby furniture. In fact, formaldehyde is found in many seemingly harmless things, despite it being considered a human carcinogen. A branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency goes so far as to report that there is no safe level of formaldehyde.
Carbon for Chemicals
Activated carbon is one of the most adsorbent materials known to exist. Activated carbon has been processed to create millions of tiny pores, producing a very large surface area available for adsorption of chemicals and gases. Just one gram of activated carbon has a surface area of approximately 500 m².
Carbon is key when it comes to adsorbing chemicals, just as HEPA is key to filtering particles. The difference is, not all air purifiers have carbon. And many that do, feature mere ounces of carbon, or a type of carbon spray—- both of which are equally ineffective in adsorbing chemicals.
An effective chemical-adsorbing air purifier, and an ideal choice for people with COPD, would be an air purifier that contains both a HEPA filter for particles, and pounds of activated carbon to adsorb dangerous airborne chemicals, like formaldehyde.
Can Air Purifiers Cure COPD?
Absolutely not. Air purifiers are not a cure for COPD, but rather devices that can provide cleaner indoor air, with significantly reduced levels of particles and chemicals. Cleaner air is important for everyone, but perhaps most important for people with reduced lung capacity.
Should people with COPD be cautious when purchasing an air purifier? The answer is yes. A HEPA filter is great for particle filtration, but will do nothing to adsorb the dangerous airborne chemicals. Carbon will adsorb chemicals, but only an air purifier with pounds of activated carbon, not ounces, will be truly effective.
AllerAir manufactures a full line of combination carbon-HEPA air purifiers, and has specific units designed for people with COPD. For more information on AllerAir, please visit the www.allerair.com website, or call 1.888.852.8247 to speak to one of their Indoor Air Quality Experts.