Dear COPD Coach,
My doctor has suggested that we purchase an air cleaner as part of my COPD therapy. We looked at various internet sites and stores, but came away very undecided as to what would be the best one to purchase. Do you have any suggestions?
–Looking to breathe better
An air cleaner can be an excellent investment for a person with COPD. However, as you have already found out, there are a lot of choices–some good and some bad. The easiest way to get started is by discussing the different types and which ones to avoid.
A fairly recent innovation in air cleaners are ones that use electrically charged plates called “electrostatic precipitators.” The biggest benefit of these types of cleaners is that they don’t require replacement filters. The plates can be cleaned when they become dirty. However –and this is a big however — they generally produce small amounts of ozone, a gas that irritates the lungs and has been shown to cause exacerbations (times when your COPD flares up) in people with COPD. In addition to this, there are electronic cleaners that actually advertise the benefits of ozone. Where COPD is concerned, there are no benefits to ozone and people with COPD should always avoid any type of cleaner that produces ozone!
The second type of cleaner is a HEPA cleaner. These are generally very effective at eliminating dust particles and other irritants that can cause problems in your lungs. However, as you will find, the better the unit, the higher the cost. A newer innovation are HEPA cleaners that also include charcoal filtration and even subject the outgoing air to ultra violet light to kill germs and bacteria. The biggest drawback to these cleaners is that the filters have to be changed regularly (at a minimum of yearly) and this can prove to be quite expensive.
Then there are the higher end whole house cleaning systems. These can be electronic precipitators or ones that use HEPA. They are generally added to your furnace and require the HVAC fan to be run in order to accomplish their task. This means an increased electric bill as well as the high cost of these units to purchase, install, and maintain.
Regarding the portable cleaners, they are tested and rated by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), and are generally sized by the amount of either square or cubic feet they will cover. It is vital that the unit you select has the capability to cover the intended area. The other factor to consider is the efficiency of the unit.
The newest innovation out there is by American Innovation Research called the ICON. This unit mounts in your window much like a room air conditioner. The ICON is a whole house system (up to 4400 square feet) that brings in outside air and produces fresh sterile air into the home equal to that of a hospital operating room. The unit controls differential pressure to create a stream of conditioned, clean, fresh, sterile air into the home and forces out airborne micro-contamination, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and harmful gases. The drawback is the unit is somewhat expensive, but they do offer low interest payment plans with affordable payments.
The quality of the treated air is rated by “minimum efficiency reporting value” (MERV). The higher the MERV rating, the better quality of the unit’s output. Purchase the unit with the highest MERV rating you can afford. Also purchase a unit scaled to a bigger room than you intend to use it in, which will allow you to run the unit at lower and quieter speeds. Keep in mind that air cleaners are not generally as effective if run periodically.
The first step in cleaning the air in your home starts with your home heating and air unit. Replacing the filters with a higher MERV rated filter will immediately improve your air quality. Typical furnace filters have a MERV rating of about 2. Filters with a MERV rating of 7-13 are almost as effective as a HEPA system. Also, in order to improve the effectiveness of the system, it is recommended that you have your ductwork cleaned to eliminate dirt and extend the life of your filters.
The first air cleaner you should consider is one for the bedroom as it will, in most cases, improve your sleep and allow you to breathe better at night. Next you should consider the rooms you spend the most time in.
There is no getting around the fact that clean air requires a continuing investment on your part, but one your entire family will benefit from. The lesson to be taken away from all this is that cheap, poorly rated units will not provide you with the benefits you need. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but purchasing the best units you can afford will allow you to live more comfortably in your home.
Hope this helps,
The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.