Can Air Purifiers Improve Your Lung and Heart Health?

Benefits may go beyond breathing
Air pollution

Installing an air purifier in your home or office might help you breathe better, but can it also improve your heart health? Experts — and a few studies — say it’s possible.

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Pulmonologist Rachel Taliercio, DO, notes that air pollution can either cause or worsen respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing, cough, and upper airway congestion. But it has also been implicated in heart disease, Dr. Taliercio says.

Cardiologist Kenneth Shafer, MD, further explains that airborne toxins are irritants. They have chemical compositions that lead to changes in the blood chemistry, which in turn causes adverse health effects.

For instance, recent research found an association between air particulate pollution and carotid artery disease, a condition that can lead to stroke. Another study named pollution as one of the most important risk factors for chronic disease.

“To the extent that you could eliminate some of those particles in the air and reduce the exposure, you’re going to reduce effects on health,” Dr. Shafer says.

How air purifiers can boost health

Many of the potential benefits of using an air purifier are related to the lungs, particularly conditions such as asthma. By filtering out fine particles, purifiers help clean the air you breathe and lessen the potential negative effects of pollution, Dr. Taliercio says.

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But Dr. Shafer notes that purifiers have been shown to alter the blood chemistry in a way that may benefit heart health, as well.

Several studies have shown improvements in blood pressure and heart rate after the installation of air purifiers. For example, one small-scale study of 35 Chinese college students found that the devices improved air quality, reducing levels of fine particulate matter by 57 percent. Improvements were reported in both blood pressure levels and lung functions among the students.

However, clinicians don’t have any long-term data that points to air purifiers reducing strokes, heart attacks or death rates.

“These are all endpoints that look at changes in the blood chemistry that can be monitored, and presumably will have benefits for the heart,” Dr. Shafer says. But such studies have yet to be conducted.

Who benefits from air purifiers?

Since air purifiers cost hundreds of dollars at least, patients should weigh who is most likely to benefit  — especially since data is limited on benefits in some cases.

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Air purifier users are most likely to reap health benefits in areas with the greatest air pollution, Dr. Taliercio says. That could mean living in a city with poor air quality or near a major source of pollution.

“Benefits may also be higher in young children, elderly, and people with heart and/or lung disease,” Dr. Taliercio adds.

In particular, these devices may help people who already have diseases that affect the lungs. Those diseases include asthma, cystic fibrosis and conditions of the immune system. Others who may benefit include those who have difficulty fighting infections, according to Dr. Shafer.

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