Headaches are horrible! Believe me, I’ve suffered enough times in my life, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. For a number of reasons you might be wondering, “Can air purifiers cause headaches?” As I’d love to help you better understand the facts as well as give you some real answers I’ve written this guide to explain it all.
Often times there’s quite a bit of confusion about air purifiers. Even worse is spending money on one you think will help only to later find out it was a mistake! My wish is to help you avoid that frustrating (and costly) situation.
In this comprehensive post I’ll share with you not just the facts about air purifiers but a bit about headache triggers, too.
Video guide – Can air purifiers cause headaches?
Air purifier headaches are uncommon
While there are many causes of headaches, air purifier headaches aren’t common at all. The reason why is that there are in nearly all cases many other triggers for headaches. This includes particles in the air as well as odors and chemicals in gas form.
People who are allergic to things such as tobacco smoke, mold spores, plant pollen, pet dander, and more have mucous membranes in their sinus cavities that become irritated. When this happen the sinuses react and begin to cause pressure in the head near nerves due to swelling.
When swelling in the sinuses occurs, nerves such as the trigeminal nerve and nearby areas respond in a way that is felt as pain in the form of a headache.
The main thing to remember here is that headaches are normally caused by external triggers not related to air purifiers. Air purifiers process the air and remove these triggers.
However there are some exceptions you need to be aware of! I’ll explain more as we go.
Infographic – Air purifiers and headaches
The 2 types of air purifiers
Products sold and labeled as “air purifiers” can be categorized under 2 main types:
- Emitting purifiers
- Non-emitting purifiers (filter-based)
What does this mean? It’s quite simple, actually.
- “Emitting” purifiers are actually those products like ozone generators which emit – or produce – a by-product into the air like ozone or ions.
- Non-emitting (filter-based) purifiers are those that use filters to remove particles & gases from the air. They do not add anything into the air around you.
Ozone generators and ionizers, often marketed as “air cleaners” or “air purifiers” are actually electrical devices that use high voltage to separate air molecules and consequently generate ozone. The misleading marketing idea used to mislead buyers is that as they produce ozone it results in pure air and room air that has been purged of contaminants.
In some cases, ozone generators are sold with the idea that ozone molecules can attract and attach to other substances (like dust, microbes, allergens, and so on) in order to cleanse the air in a room, automobile, or wherever they are used.
Emitting-type purifiers can actually trigger headaches for some people.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is very clear about these types of purifiers. They define ozone as a lung irritant and they also note that ionizers are ineffective in removing large particles like pollen and house dust.
Ionizers and ozone generators are very similar in how they work but generally speaking ionizers produced charged atoms in the air in order to attract airborne particles to a metal plate or similar object like a filter.
They typically don’t introduce a high level of emissions into the air, so they’re generally safe and would not be likely to product headaches.
Additionally, they’re proven to reduce airborne germs and can actually reduce sickness by dramatically reducing the number of airborne sickness-causing microbes!
As a rule, an ionizer is helpful for improve the germ-level cleanliness in a room, but as far as air cleanliness goes, you’re better off buying a filter-based purifier with the ionizer option as an additional feature if you like.
They truth is, ozone generators do not really purify the air the way a filter-based product does. While it’s true that they can trap some elements in the air like dust, pet dander, and similar particulates, they’re not at all efficient at doing so.
The reason why is that when ozone (O3) molecules are produced, they have a short life span before recombining back into oxygen molecules at some point. Also, an ozone generator doesn’t work the same as a filter-based purifier. Those work by continuously cycling the air in a room and removing unwanted elements.
An ozone generator, generally speaking, produces a lot of ozone into a room. The idea is that by doing so allergens and other contaminants will bond with the ozone, causing it to fall to the ground or be trapped in a filter if it is used.
The main problem with these is that is takes a significant amount of ozone to in a room to do so. So much so that these are not recommended to be used in rooms that are occupied by people. That’s because there’s a health risk involved due to the high levels of ozone.
Shown: An ozone generator that produces large amounts of O3 molecules (ozone) by splitting oxygen molecules (O2) from the surrounding air. Some of these recombine to form ozone with a charge whereby they can attach to particles in a room’s air. The side effects humans will feel depend on the ozone levels produced and your exposure.
What is ozone?
Ozone is simply a molecule of thee atoms of oxygen which doesn’t normally occur very often in nature. It is created by the result of a high voltage “aura” (fields around a fine electrical high voltage source) that effect he oxygen molecules normally present in air. Normally oxygen is present with only 2 atoms. When 3-atom ozone is created, the third atom can break away from the ozone molecule (often called ions) and attach/bond with other substances in the air. In some cases this can attract trace amounts of debris and tiny particles like dust, pollen, and others in the air.
More sophisticated ozone generators may include a fan and may make additional claims of their ability to filter and purify the air as a real air purifier would do. However, the 1st problem is that they simply aren’t effective like a well-designed air purifier is, and secondly that they can be potentially harmful to your health.
It’s important to understand that no agency of the federal government has approved any of these devices for normal everyday human use.
The dangers of unsafe ozone levels
The problem with ozone is that the same properties it has means it can also cause issues for you when you breathe it in. It has the potential to react with organic material in your body. If you breathe in ozone it can damage your lungs or at a minimum irritate them.
To quote information from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding ozone and its health risks:
Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.
People vary widely in their susceptibility to ozone. Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone. Exercise during exposure to ozone causes a greater amount of ozone to be inhaled, and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects.
Recovery from the harmful effects can occur following short-term exposure to low levels of ozone, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery less certain at higher levels or from longer exposures (US EPA, 1996a, 1996b)
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates the safe levels that humans in the workplace are allowed to be exposed to. They also note the symptoms that may be felt. Both alone and by combining with other chemicals, ozone can in fact produce irritation and headaches when sufficient exposure is provided. A room filled with a high level of ozone can easily cause coughing and a strange feeling of unnatural air exposure in my experience.
A “real” air purifier works not by emitting by-products into the air like an ionizer or ozone generator, but only by safely removing unwanted substances from the air. A filter-based purifier typically consists of a highly dense HEPA filter (shown in white here) and an activated carbon filter/pre-filter (black). When used together, these remove headache-causing elements like allergens, odors, chemical substances, perfume smell, organic substances, outgassing molecules, and much more.
A non-emitting air purifier works not by producing by-products that enter the air, but by simply but processing air in the room. They permanently trap and remove particulates and many other types of airborne pollution.
Filter type purifiers work by using a fan to draw in air which passes through the filter sections. These remove unwanted substances and particles from the air passing through. The purified air is then blown back into the room. The process continues as in a cycle and after a number of hours the room has been purified.
High-quality models normally use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove particles, substances, and traces of odors down to 0.3 micrometers (less than 1/100,000 of a meter!) and permanently remove this from the air where they’re used, resulting in the circulation of safe, fresh, and truly clean air. HEPA is a standardized level of filtering quality and assures that the 0.3 micrometer particle size and is met and also that 99.97% of the contaminants in the air moving through the filter never escape. It’s why a quality air purifier has such excellent results.
An additional 1st & 2nd stage filter section first removes larger particles and matter in the air (like pet hair, for example) and uses a activated carbon filter which attracts chemical substances in order to trap and hold them. This allows it to permanently remove many odors, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and vapors that can affect you.
Can air purifiers reduce headaches?
Indeed, they can, if you buy the right kind as I mentioned above!
Using medicines which give relief to the symptoms like antihistamines, migraine medication, or aspirin and ibuprofen is only one way to deal with the problem. Ideally you’ll be able to completely remove the source of the problem.
- Remove household sources of chemical or organic odors
- Keep pets outside (for pet allergy problems)
- Remove perfumes or cologne
- Ventilate your living area with fresh air to remove odors & substances in the air
- Minimize dust
- Don’t allow smokers in your home and breathing space
Not everyone can completely eliminate the source of headache triggers in their home. Sometimes it isn’t practical to do so or possible.
In that case, using a non-emitting filter with a good quality filter as well as an activated carbon filter is an excellent idea. A high-quality product can remove headache-causing particles and/or vapors from the air permanently.
You can indeed get relief in these cases if you shop wisely and take measures to reduce the amount of headache-causing sources in your home.
In summary – can an air purifier cause headaches?
To recap what we’ve covered, here are the basics to remember:
- Air purifier headaches are not common.
- Headaches are normally caused by triggers like particulates and odors/chemicals in the air. Your sinuses react and cause headaches due to these.
- A quality, filter based air purifier not only cannot cause headaches, but can actually reduce them by removing substances in the air that trigger them.
- Emitting-type purifiers can potentially cause headaches for some people. They also don’t clean the air of headache-causing particles and gases like filter-based products do. Avoid them.
- Whenever possible, remove sources of allergens or chemicals & odors from your home to minimize problems.
Ionizers that produce safe levels of ozone do have a good use in light-duty freshening of the air but are not recommended for people who are sensitive to headache-causing triggers. Generally speaking, you should avoid products sold as “air purifiers” that are actually 100% ozone generators. Some products may feature a small ionizer or ozone generator as a built-in additional benefit. In that case they’re generally safe because the level produced is very small.
If you’d like to see a great example of a purifier that can not only avoid but can prevent headaches, check out this post about one of the best-selling products available today.
In case you need to open your windows let chemicals or other airborne elements escape in order to relieve your headache, find out if your air purifier can work with windows open here.