The Potential Health Risks of Air Ionizers: What You Need to Know

Air ionizers are a type of air purifier that use electrical charges to attract particles in the air, such as dust, pollen, and other allergens. While they may be marketed as an effective way to clean the air, there is growing evidence that they may pose a risk to health. Critics believe that air ionizers emit dangerous levels of ozone, which is not only harmful to the environment, but can also be equally hazardous to health.

When inhaled in high enough doses, ozone can have harmful effects

, such as lung damage, chest pain, cough, or shortness of breath.

Inhaling ozone, even in small amounts, can irritate the lungs. Specific effects may include throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath, as well as an increased risk of respiratory infections. People who buy ozone generators may not know that ozone can damage cells in the lungs and respiratory tract.

Exposure to ozone irritates and inflames the lining of the respiratory system


This causes symptoms such as coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Ozone can worsen asthma symptoms and may contribute to the development of asthma. High exposures to ozone can cause permanent lung damage, and repeated exposure can even increase the risk of death among people who are already in poor health. Among those who are especially vulnerable to health problems resulting from ozone inhalation are children and people who already have asthma or other respiratory diseases, including the elderly.

There are many experimental animal studies, including dogs, cats, hamsters, and guinea pigs, showing the respiratory effects of ozone exposure. Birds are especially sensitive to the effects of air pollutants, including ozone. The health impacts of air ionizers are largely unknown, although a small number of recent studies are cause for concern. Air filters that remove small particles, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, are effective in removing allergens from the air, without posing any ozone problem.

Ionizers can be touted as an effective air purifier for your home; however, evidence shows otherwise. Because air ionizers emit ozone, harmful VOCs and fine particles as a by-product, you could introduce more toxins into your environment instead of eliminating them. Before purchasing an air filter, consumers are encouraged to eliminate or reduce sources of indoor pollution and to ventilate areas with outdoor air. That means that, in the long run, today's ionizers do almost nothing for the health of your home's air.

Another recent study on air ionizers in school classrooms reduced particle concentrations and led to some improvements in the respiratory health of children aged 11 to 14. Ionizers had an adverse effect on heart rate variability (a measure of cardiovascular health), meaning that any benefit to the lungs came at a cost to the heart. Unlike air filtration (in which air passes through a filter to remove contaminants from the air), very little research has been done on the effectiveness and side effects of additive methods of cleaning the air, such as ionizing devices. Air filters that use ionizers and electrostatic precipitators are other types of devices that emit ozone, but they do so as a by-product of their design and function. Laboratory tests were carried out with particulate air and gas samples in a large semi-furnished chamber and in a field test with an ionizing device installed in an air treatment unit that serviced an occupied office building.

Some ionic air filters also have metal plates inside the device to collect contaminants that have fallen from the air. One of the most popular types of air purifiers on the market right now are ion generating systems, including “bipolar ionization” devices that electrically charge particles to settle in the air faster, and are generally marketed to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The following information provides the list of CARB-certified air cleaning devices and additional information on how to choose a safe and effective air filter.

Not only are air ionizers ineffective at removing most fine particles from the environment

, as well as common viruses and allergens, they are also potentially dangerous.

It's also important to note that while ionizers are a form of air purifier, they're not the same thing. The market for air purifiers is booming right now due to COVID-19 concerns; however a new study has found that some air cleaning technologies marketed for this purpose may be ineffective and have unintended health consequences.

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