Can Air Purifiers Improve COPD Symptoms?
By Becky Dotson
12 min read
If you suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), then you probably already understand how crucial it is to keep the air you’re breathing as clean as possible. What you may be less certain about is the role that air purifiers can play in helping improve the symptoms of COPD: how do they work? Can they really make a difference? Should you invest in one?
Fortunately, air purifiers really can make a difference for sufferers of COPD, vastly improving their quality of life and turning their home into a livable, breathable, and safe environment.
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, is a group of progressive lung diseases that cause your airways to become partially blocked, making it harder to breathe. COPD includes Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, or both. The symptoms of COPD include:
- Frequent or constant coughing (sometimes be referred to as a “smoker’s cough”)
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble taking a deep breath
- Excessive amounts of mucus, phlegm, or sputum
COPD often goes undetected in its early stages. It’s not until the disease has progressed and symptoms have become noticeable before COPD is fully diagnosed. If you’re a current or former smoker, have had long-term exposure to airborne irritants, or have a family history of COPD, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility, even if you don’t think you have any of the symptoms.
Your physician will perform a non-invasive, simple test called spirometry. It shows how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale and how quickly you exhale. It’s a standard test used to diagnose a variety of lung conditions. Once you have a diagnosis, it can also help determine if your medications or treatments are working as they should.
What Causes COPD?
The leading cause of COPD in the United States is long-term cigarette smoking. The more you smoke, the greater your risk for developing the disease. Pipe, cigar, and marijuana smokers are also at risk. Aside from smoking, other things can make you susceptible to developing COPD.
- Secondhand smoke – You may never smoke a cigarette in your life but live with someone who does. Being exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke over a significant amount of time can also cause COPD.
- Asthma – An estimated 25 million Americans have asthma., a condition that causes your airways to swell. Allergens and unclean air can trigger asthma, and it can be a risk factor for developing COPD. If you have asthma and smoke, your risk is even greater.
- Dust and chemical exposure – Many individuals are exposed to chemical fumes, vapors, or dust in the workplace. Over time, those things can irritate and inflame your lungs, resulting in COPD.
- Genetics – Lifestyle and environment are not the only causes of COPD. Although uncommon, there is a genetic disorder called Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency that can cause COPD. If you have this disorder, your body doesn’t produce a protein that protects the lungs.
Sometimes, COPD can be difficult to diagnose. In the early stages, it can mimic other breathing-related illnesses. So, it may take some time and testing before you know for sure if you have it. COPD is a progressive disease with no cure. But the best way to prevent it is to stop smoking now. Quitting is difficult, so committing to your health and finding the appropriate support are essential.
If you have routine exposure to chemical fumes and dust in your work environment, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. The first thing to do is talk to your supervisor. Your boss may not realize the danger. So, it’s essential to address it with them and discuss ways to protect you and your co-workers.
COPD can also put you at risk for other issues:
- Respiratory infections – Having COPD can make it easier for you to catch colds, flu, or pneumonia and lead to more lung damage.
- Heart problems – Researchers aren’t sure why, but COPD can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Lung cancer – COPD can increase your risk of having lung cancer.
- High blood pressure – COPD can cause the pressure to rise in arteries that carry blood to your lungs.
If you have COPD, you must listen to your doctor, take your prescribed medication and participate in the types of therapies your doctor may recommend. While there is no cure for COPD, there are certain things you can do to slow down the progression of the disease.
Who Suffers from COPD?
COPD is a prevalent disease with more than 3 million US cases per year. Between 85 and 90 percent of cases are caused by smoking. Cases of COPD caused by smoking are more prevalent in the Southeast and Midwest.
A COPD diagnosis is most common in middle-aged or older adults, and women are nearly 40 percent more likely to develop COPD than men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COPD was the fourth-leading cause of death in 2018.
How Air Purifiers Can Help
If you or someone you love has COPD, you understand how it can interfere with daily life. Breathing therapies and medications can be beneficial in the treatment of the disease. But since there isn’t a cure for COPD, it’s crucial to find as many ways as possible to help improve your breathing and quality of life.
You obviously can’t control what’s in the air outside, but you can take steps to ensure cleaner air indoors at home and at work. Pollen, dust, dander, mold, and many other tiny things flying in the air can irritate your lungs making it harder to breathe. Air purifier inside can help ease and reduce the symptoms of COPD.
Air purifiers can be costly but are worth the investment. There are a few things to consider when deciding to buy an air purifier.
- HEPA filters – Generally speaking, the best air purifiers use certified HEPA filters designed to pull 99.99 percent of airborne particles out of the air.
- Consider buying more than one – If you can afford it, you may want to buy more than one unit so you can have one in the common areas of your home, as well as your bedroom. If you only have the budget for one air purifier, you’ll probably want to put it in a space like the living room, where you spend most of your time. Many systems come with wheels or a handle so you can move them around. But even if they don’t come with those features, air purifiers are typically small, relatively lightweight, and easy to adjust and maneuver.
- Pay attention to square footage – Once you decide where you’re going to put the air purifier, you’ll need to know how big the room is. All air purifiers have a maximum area of square footage they can effectively cover. You’ll find the number displayed on the box. You’ll want to make sure your room falls at or below that number. For example, if you’re looking at an air purifier that covers 200 square feet, but the space you plan to use it in is 400 square feet – it may not be adequate.
- Activated carbon – Many air purifiers have activated carbon filters that use charcoal to trap gases, odor, and smoke. Units with this feature will offer an extra layer of filtration and help reduce breathing issues from smoke or other odors.
Millions of Americans have had to learn how to live with COPD. It’s a progressive disease with no cure, but you can slow it down by making changes in your daily life. If you smoke, please stop. Talk to your doctor, follow your treatment plan, stay inside when pollen counts and the air humidity is high. And consider investing in an air purifier for your home. Pulling impurities out of the air can help ease your COPD-related breathing trouble, and being able to provide cleaner, purer air in your home can be a benefit for your whole family.