Can You Improve Your Allergy Symptoms with an Air Purifier? Answering Your Questions About Air Purifiers

Fact checked by Megan Soliman MD, MSc
Board-certified physician at Saba University School of Medicine

Do air purifiers actually help with allergies? Can an air purifier remove pollen particles from your home? What about dust? Do air purifiers help relieve nasal congestion and headaches?

The time has come to clear the air by answering your questions about air filters and allergies.

Do air purifiers help with allergies?

Yes! According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, air filters can be useful for people with allergies. Since they are able to reduce the airborne allergens in your home, such as mold, dust, and animal dander, they can improve your allergy symptoms.

Air purifiers can also be beneficial for people with asthma and other respiratory problems. They can trap pollutants too, such as smoke, so if you live in a busy city with a high level of air pollution, an air purifier can make sure you breathe clean air, at least when you’re at home.

Can an air purifier reduce pollen in your home?

Spring and summer are peak seasons for pollen allergies. If you’re allergic to pollen, you may want to limit your exposure as much as possible. But staying indoors isn’t always the answer, because pollen particles can enter your home on clothes, with pets, or through cracks in your windows and doors.

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If you have watery eyes, a runny nose, and can’t stop sneezing even when you’re at home, you may be wondering if air purifiers can help with pollen allergies. Can they clear your indoor air of these tiny pollen particles? The answer is yes. Studies proved that air purifiers can help with common allergies, including pollen allergy. By filtering the air, they can remove pollen and other air pollutants — so using an air purifier can provide relief from pollen allergies when you are in your own home.

Do air purifiers help with nasal congestion?

That’s a tricky question — it depends on what’s causing the congestion. If nasal congestion is the result of a common cold, an air purifier is unlikely to improve your symptoms. But if your stuffy nose is caused by allergies, an air purifier can definitely help.

If you are allergic to dust, pollen, or other airborne allergens, they can irritate your sinuses as you breathe them in, causing your nasal tissue to swell. Air purifiers can reduce the amount of these triggers in your home, lowering your chance of an allergic reaction and nasal congestion.

An air purifier in a living room to filter the air and help with allergies

What are the best air filters for allergies?

When you’re choosing an air purifier for your home, the most important thing to consider is what filter it uses to clean the air. You have several types of air filters to choose from:

  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter
  • Activated carbon filter
  • UV light filter
  • Electrostatic filter

Some of them like UV light filters are effective at killing viruses and bacteria, and some are great at removing bad odors — like carbon filters. But they may not clean the air of allergens and other pollutants.

So when it comes to removing small allergen particles from the air, HEPA filters are your best option.

They can capture up to 99.7 percent of all tiny particles that cause an allergic reaction or an asthma attack when they get into your airways and lungs. Most freestanding air purifiers are fitted with HEPA filters, so they are able to remove common allergens, such as pollen, mold, and dust mites from the air, along with some small smoke particles and other air pollutants.

If you want your indoor air to be particularly clean, especially during pollen season, you can also use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. But keep in mind that the amount of allergens in the air may temporarily increase after you vacuum, so allow some time for them to settle before deeming your HEPA filter appliance ineffective.

Can air purifiers make allergies worse?

Although most air purifiers improve allergy symptoms, some of them, namely ionizing air purifiers, can make them worse.

Air ionizers stir up the air pollutants like pollen and dust and charge them making them heavier, so they can settle on surfaces. During this process, more allergens can get suspended in the air, and if the air purifier isn’t powerful enough and has a limited ability to filter the air, this can make your allergies worse. Think of how you start sneezing after cleaning and dusting your room — these ionizers can have the same effect.

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But there is another reason why ionizing air purifiers can sometimes aggravate allergy symptoms — they actually produce ozone which is a lung irritant and can trigger allergies in some people. So if you're looking to improve the air quality in your home, an air purifier with a HEPA filter is your best bet.

Can air purifiers cause headaches?

Headaches are a common symptom of allergies, so air purifiers should help, right? Well, it’s not always the case.

There are many causes of headaches; if you’re sensitive to certain chemicals and smells like tobacco smoke or are allergic to pollen or dust, your sinuses can become irritated and swollen, which in turn puts pressure on your trigeminal nerve and nearby areas causing a headache. Most air purifiers can filter the air and remove these triggers, relieving your symptoms.

But some can actually produce by-products that can have the opposite effect.

And that’s when we go back to the ionizers and other emitting air purifiers like ozone generators. As part of their air cleaning process, they release ozone or ions that can trigger a headache in some people.

Another instance where an air purifier may give you a headache is if it is old or faulty. That’s why it is crucial to properly care for your air purifier and stop using it when you can smell burning or other unpleasant odors after turning it on.

Woman changing an air filter in the air purifier

How to take care of an air purifier?

To make sure your air purifier serves you for a long time and is as effective at cleaning the air as when you first got it, you need to follow a few simple maintenance steps:

  • Read the manufacturer’s manual before using an air purifier and follow their instructions.
  • Avoid using an air purifier in rooms with high humidity and limited air flow like bathrooms.
  • Make sure the air intakes and outlets aren’t blocked and the air purifier can take in the air freely.
  • Avoid placing any heavy objects on top of the air purifier.
  • Regularly clean or replace air filters.
  • Turn the air purifier off before unplugging it.
  • Clean inside the air purifier with a dry cloth — never use water or any type of detergent to clean it.
  • Stop using the air purifier if you notice unusual smells or noises.

If the humidity level in your home is high, you should also check your air purifier for mold — it can grow very quickly in damp areas. Remove the filters from time to time to check if there’s mold on them and consider using a dehumidifier to control humidity levels in your home. It can help your air purifier serve longer and also make your home more comfortable in general.

Final thoughts

If you have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems, air purifiers can help improve your symptoms. However, some emitting air purifiers like ionizers can make your allergies worse. When it comes to choosing an air filter to improve your allergies, HEPA filters are the best at cleaning the air. They can efficiently remove small pollutants and allergens from your home and give you a breath of fresh air.

November 11, 2022