How Do Air Particles Affect Us and What Can We Do About Them?

Posted by Air Health on Apr 17, 2023

Our homes and businesses, even with our best efforts to keep clean, can still have air particles floating around. Have you ever seen a ray of light shine down on a table only to see dust (particles) and become frustrated since you just cleaned that table? Particles are part of life, from the ones you can see on the table, to the ones you can’t see. Particle sizes and their impact on respiratory health have long been a topic of concern, particularly for individuals with allergies and other respiratory conditions. The particles we can see cause us issues such as allergies, but the ones we can’t see are the ones that can make us sick. Understanding the different types and sizes of particles is essential to mitigating their effects on health.

Common Air Particle Sizes

Particles are categorized by their size, typically measured in microns (one micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter). Here are some common particles and their sizes:

Particle Size Chart

  • Pollen: 10-100 microns
  • Fungal spores: 2-100 microns
  • Pet dander: 0.5-100 microns
  • Dust: 0.5-100 microns
  • Tree and grass pollen: 20-30 microns
  • Ragweed pollen: 10-20 microns
  • Mold spores: 2-20 microns
  • Lead particles: 0.1-10 microns
  • Bacteria: 0.5-5 microns
  • Combustion particles: 0.1-1 microns
  • Smoke: 0.01-1 microns
  • Viruses: 0.02-0.3 microns

As you can see, some air particles are much smaller than others, which makes them more challenging to capture and remove from your air.

Effects of Air Particles on Health

When these particles are inhaled, they can cause a range of respiratory issues, including allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. Allergies, in particular, are often caused by the immune system’s response to these particles. For example, when pollen is inhaled, the body may treat it as a harmful invader and produce histamine, which causes symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. Other particles that can be found in a home or business may include viruses, mold, or fungi and come with a host of symptoms. 

If you inhale viruses, which are particularly concerning, you may experience respiratory infections, including the common cold, flu, and COVID. These infections can cause a range of symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, fever, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, they can lead to hospitalization.

Mold and fungi can also cause respiratory issues, particularly for individuals with allergies or weakened immune systems. Exposure to mold can cause symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose, as well as more severe symptoms like wheezing and difficulty breathing. Prolonged exposure to mold can also lead to the development of asthma or other respiratory conditions.

If you would like to learn more about how air quality can affect your health, visit the air research page on the EPAs website. 

There are steps you can take to remove these particles and breathe freely.

Air Particle Removal Options

Air purifiers are an effective way to remove these harmful particles from the air, particularly in homes or businesses. Filters are commonly used in air purifiers to capture particles. Higher quality air purifiers will have High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which can capture particles as small as 0.3 microns. Some manufacturers will use lower-quality filters and use terms like “HEPA-like”, to make consumers think they are similar to HEPA filters. This is simply not the case. HEPA-like filters do not capture the smaller particles, leaving your family or employees susceptible to continued health issues. Some particles, like viruses, are smaller than 0.3 microns and may not be captured by even HEPA filters.

To capture these smaller particles, some of the best air purifiers use additional technologies like ultraviolet (UV-C) light, carbon filters, and photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) technology. UV light, more specifically UV-C band light, has been proven to neutralize viruses, mold, and bacteria. Activated carbon filters are often added to air purifiers to remove odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Plus, the best of the best air purifiers include PCO technology to remove VOCs. VOCs come from common household items such as chemicals, paint, carpet, nail products, and more. All the above technologies combined can be effective in removing particles, gases, VOCs, and more so you have the best indoor air quality.

Other Allergen Particle Mitigating Options

Along with air purifiers, there are other ways to reduce the number of harmful particles in the air. Keeping your home clean and dust-free can help remove larger air particles like dust and pet dander. Regularly washing bedding, vacuuming carpets, and cleaning surfaces can all help reduce the number of particles in your home.

Additionally, controlling the humidity in your home can help reduce the growth of mold and other allergens. Using a dehumidifier in areas prone to moisture, like basements or bathrooms, can help keep the air dry and reduce the growth of mold and other allergens.

Understanding the different types and sizes of particles is crucial to mitigating their impact on respiratory health. Air purifiers can be an effective tool in removing harmful particles from indoor air, and technologies like UV-C light, activated carbon filters and PCO can help remove smaller particles that HEPA filters may miss. Additionally, keeping your home clean and controlling humidity levels can further reduce the number of harmful particles in the air. By taking these steps, individuals with allergies and other respiratory conditions can improve their indoor air quality and reduce the risk of respiratory issues.

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