Can Ionizers Damage Your Lungs?

Under certain conditions of use, ion generators and other air purifiers that generate ozone can produce levels of this lung irritant significantly above levels considered harmful to human health. The same properties that allow high concentrations of ozone to react with organic matter outside the body give it the ability to react with similar organic matter that forms the body and can cause harmful health consequences. When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, cough, shortness of breath, and throat irritation.

Ozone can also worsen chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and compromise the body's ability to fight respiratory infections. People vary a lot in their susceptibility to ozone. Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory distress, may experience respiratory problems with exposure to ozone. Exercise during ozone exposure causes more ozone to be inhaled and increases the risk of harmful respiratory effects.

Recovery from harmful effects may occur after short-term exposure to low ozone levels, but health effects may become more damaging and recovery is less safe at higher levels or longer exposures (U. S. EPA, 1996a, 1996b).Ionizers use negative ions to remove small particles from the air. This can help reduce odors and make the air appear fresher.

People who buy ozone generators may not know that ozone can damage cells in the lungs and airways. Exposure to ozone irritates and inflames the lining of the respiratory system. This causes symptoms including coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing. Ozone can worsen asthma symptoms and can contribute to the development of asthma. High ozone exposures can cause permanent lung damage, and repeated exposure can even increase the risk of death among people who are already in poor health.

People who are especially vulnerable to health problems from breathing ozone include children and those who already suffer from asthma or other respiratory diseases, including the elderly. There are many experimental studies in animals, including dogs, cats, hamsters and guinea pigs, that show respiratory effects from exposure to ozone. Birds are especially sensitive to the effects of air pollutants, including ozone. As more information is disseminated and presented to the public about the dangers of air ionizers, the more informed consumers will be before purchasing an air purifier, and they are likely to be aware of and avoid these potentially hazardous ionizing air systems. In their 6-month study, the authors found no statistically significant difference in PEFR between active ionization and placebo or non-ionizer environments. Chamber and field tests found that an ionizing device led to a decrease in some volatile organic compounds (VOC), including xylenes, but an increase in others, oxygenated VOCs more prominently (for example).

Another recent study of air ionizers in school classrooms reduced particle concentrations to some improvements in respiratory health among children 11 to 14 years old. Ionizers had an adverse effect on heart rate variability (a measure of cardiovascular health), meaning that any benefit to the lungs had a cost to the heart. Laboratory tests were conducted with particulate and gas air samples in a large semi-furnished chamber and in a field test with an ionizer device installed in an air handling unit serving an occupied office building. It is important for consumers to be aware of the potential risks associated with using ionizers for air purification purposes.

Inhaling ozone even in small amounts can irritate the lungs and cause throat irritation, coughs, chest pain and shortness of breath as well as an increased risk of respiratory infections. Ozone can worsen asthma symptoms and contribute to its development as well as cause permanent lung damage if exposed for long periods or at high levels. People who are especially vulnerable include children and those who already suffer from asthma or other respiratory diseases such as the elderly. Animals such as dogs, cats, hamsters and guinea pigs have also been found to suffer from respiratory effects due to exposure to ozone while birds are particularly sensitive.

It is important for consumers to be aware of these potential risks before purchasing an air purifier so they can make an informed decision about what type of device is best for their needs.

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