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Can Air Purifiers Cause Headaches? If You’re Wondering, Here’s What You Need To Know

Air purifiers are one of the most common and popular home, office, and manufacturing facility devices available. Can air purifiers cause headaches? In order to answer this question, I’ll dig deeper into some critically important details that will help you understand why it is important to distinguish a “real” air purifier vs. those that claim to be but are not, and in turn are actually potentially harmful to your health and possible sources of headache triggers.


Distinguishing what a “real” and safe air purifier is versus an ozone generator

Today’s air purifiers are based on proven a basic principle: the air around us is always contaminated to at least some degree with pollutants, allergens, microbes, dust, dust mite particles, pet dander, and more. Quite a few products are regularly sold and I’ve purchased a few myself and learned some important lessons along the way.

Here’s an infographic image that summarizes quickly the basic issues:

Infographic illustrating air purifiers and headache information(Click to enlarge)

Ozone generators vs a true air purifier

Ozone generators, 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 concept behind these products is that as they produce ozone it results in a pure, fresh, and cleansed air environment. In some cases, the ozone generator are sold with the idea presented that the ability of ozone molecules to 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.

They truth is, ozone generators do not really purify the air as a legitimate air purifier does. Air purifiers actually simple process the air in a room, and do not produce anything. I’ll explain more important details here.

Car ionizer image

A small plug-in ionizer (ozone generator) for cars

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 purifer 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 that allow the ozone it generates with some of the tiny particles in the air is that it also provides the potential to react with organic material in your body as well. If you breathe in ozone it can damage your lungs.

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 safe levels that humans in the workplace are allowed to be exposed to & along with noting 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 providedA room filled with a high level of ozone can easily cause coughing and a strange feeling of unnatural air exposure in my experience.

How a true air purifier is different and why they are safe

A legitimate air purifier works not by producing any other form of air, but simply but processing the already already present and removing contaminates and germs.

High-quality and well-rated 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 carbon filter which attracts chemical substances in order to trap and hold those odor-causing and potentially harmful chemical substances in the air you breath.

HEPA filter illustrated image
A HEPA filter works by filtering out and removing almost all particles in the air that is pulled through it

In summary – can an air purifier cause headaches?

To summary everything here, the most important things to understand are:

  • Legitimate and quality air purifiers cannot cause headaches.
  • Ozone generators are often not “real” air purifiers, but are misleadingly sold as such, and can definitely cause headaches as well as respiratory and health problems. Also, they do not work as advertised because they do not address the central problem: removing existing impurities from the air you breathe unlike a real product with a true HEPA filter.

Essentially, as long as you avoid ozone generating air purifiers you should have no problems with headaches. 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. Those would be caused by other factors in your home, work space, or whatever might be contaminating the air around you.

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