Air Purifiers & Respiratory/Dust Mite Allergy

- Allergens can be scrubbed from air -

Summary: Air-borne allergens are a significant cause of respiratory allergic reaction (sneezing, itchy eyes, and so forth) and can even cause itchy skin lesions that are sometimes mistaken for bug bites. Air purifiers with HEPA filtration can remove most of this material from the air on a room by room basis.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Dust mite allergy symptoms

An allergy is an over reaction by our immune system to any substance that our body detects as an invader such as a bacterium or a virus. Our immune system normally protects us from these invaders by killing these disease-causing organisms. Things that trigger an allergy are called allergens.

The allergy, or immune response, is triggered by foreign proteins in allergens like pollen, mites, wasp venom, and so forth. When a foreign protein is detected our body mobilizes a whole series of defenses to neutralize the invader including release of a substance called histamine. Histamine is what causes the symptoms we call an allergy.

Dust mites, for example, excrete a protein in their droppings that when inhaled is detected by our immune system as a foreign protein. Just like some people react to the protein in plant pollen or wasp venom others react to the foreign protein of dust mites with an allergic reaction and release of histamine. Some reactions are relatively mild while in others the reaction can be extreme or even life threatening.

HEPA-filter air purifiers work best

People with moderate to severe respiratory allergy should consider adding a portable indoor air purifier to their bedrooms in addition to our other suggestions. The most effective air purifiers use special HEPA filters that remove even the smallest air-borne particles, including particles of dust mite allergen, pollen and pet dander. This may significantly reduce the air-borne allergen pool.

Different types of filters remove different types of air contaminants. Adsorption filters such as activated charcoal remove gaseous pollutants from the air but do not trap particulates like dust mite allergen. HEPA filters, on the other hand, typically remove greater than 99% of even sub-micron-sized particulates. Units with HEPA filtration usually also have a pre-filter to remove larger particulates in order to extend the life of the relatively expensive HEPA filter.

Air purifiers with HEPA filters can be very effective on a room-by-room basis. Be sure to size the air purifier correctly. The better units will effectively scrub the air in a large room (500-1000 square feet). Also, be sure to select a purifier that has active air movement, typically a fan system that pulls air from the room and forces it through a pre-filter and a HEPA filter.

Air purifiers are one item where you'll probably get what you pay for so shop carefully and carefully compare features. Inexpensive units tend to be noisy with small, easily clogged filters and insufficient air flow. When budgeting for air purifiers also remember that they require a fair amount of regular filter maintenance. Pre-filters and filters need to be replaced at stated intervals or will stop working properly.

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