Can An Air Purifier Make You Sick or Cause Sinus Problems?

Do you ever feel like the air inside your home makes you feel a bit under the weather? Perhaps you deal with stuffy sinuses, headaches, or the occasional cough after spending time indoors. Well, you might be surprised to learn that using an air purifier – a device designed to improve air quality – could actually be contributing to your symptoms.

Fortunately, in most cases, air purifiers are safe and don’t directly make you sick. However, there are specific conditions under which they might contribute to health issues. 

Curious about these conditions? Read on to discover the surprising risks associated with certain air purifier models. We’ll provide tips for effective use of air purifiers to ensure your family breathes comfortably. So, let’s get started!

How Different Types of Air Purifiers Work

With all the talk about air purifiers possibly causing health issues, it’s really important to know how these devices operate. Air purifiers rely on various technologies to remove contaminants from the indoor air. Some methods are more effective – and safer from a health perspective – than others.

Mechanical Air Filters: The Safe Bet

One of the most popular and safest choices is mechanical air filters. They use dense layers of woven fibers to physically capture particulates as air flows through the mesh. Below are two different grades of mechanical filters:

Filter TypeDescription
HEPA filtersCapture up to 99.97% of 0.3-micron irritants like pet dander, pollen, and mold spores. Utilizes densely packed fibers for effective indoor air purification.
Activated Carbon FiltersAdsorb odors, smoke, VOCs, and gases. Commonly paired with HEPA filters for comprehensive air cleaning.

Ionizers and Ozone Generators: Caution!

Unlike the mechanical filters that simply trap particles, electronic air purifiers take a different approach. They charge contaminants to zap them out of indoor air. Two types fall into this category:

Purifier TypeDescription
IonizersRelease positively and negatively charged ions into the air. These ions attach to particles, causing them to clump together and fall out of circulation. However, excessive ion production can lead to the formation of lung irritants, posing potential health risks.
Ozone GeneratorsProduce ozone gas with three oxygen atoms, highly reactive for breaking down pollutants. Some ionizers may emit ozone as a byproduct, surpassing health standards. Caution is advised due to potential health concerns associated with elevated ozone levels.

Can An Air Purifier Make You Sick?

Can Air Purifiers cause sinus problems

Now that we understand what’s happening inside these devices. Let’s; address the main concern: Is it possible for air purifiers to make us sick? Air purifiers are generally safe and effective for cleaning indoor air; however, certain models may pose health risks.

Ozone generators are the primary culprit. They intentionally produce concentrations of ozone to react with and neutralize other pollutants. Sounds great in theory, but human exposure to ozone comes with concerning side effects. 

According to studies by the EPA, “when ozone concentrations surpass 70 parts per billion (ppb), it can lead to respiratory irritation”. Prolonged exposure can reduce lung function altogether. 

Furthermore, The EPA warns, “Ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners intentionally produce the gas ozone. Ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation.” 

Ionizers can also generate ozone as a byproduct of their purification methods. People with respiratory conditions like asthma face the greatest impact on health from ozone circulation.

While electronic air purifiers may pose risks, units that use mechanical filtration stand out as a safe and effective way to purify indoor air. They do not inherently generate or emit any harmful gasses. 

Do Air Purifiers Cause Sinus Problems?

Air purification supports better respiratory health. However, ionizers and ozone generators might make sinus issues worse.

As mentioned earlier, ozone, produced in higher concentrations, acts as a lung irritant. When you breathe it in, it triggers inflammation not only in the airways but also in the sinus cavities. This inflammatory response leads to swelling, congestion, postnasal drip, and headaches. 

Here’s a simple breakdown:

Ozone: Reactively damages nasal tissue → swelling, inflammation → congestion

Unlike true HEPA filtration, ionizers and ozone generators adopt a reactive approach. The consequence is the contamination of the air you’re trying to make cleaner. So, when you’re in the market for an air purifier, steer clear of ionic or ozone-emitting models. 

Instead, opt for a unit equipped with a true HEPA filter. A HEPA purifier is highly effective in trapping particles without producing harmful byproducts. This proactive approach contributes to a healthier indoor environment.

Can Air Purifiers Cause Cough?

Much like the sinus irritation we just covered, ionizers and ozone generators are linked to chronic coughing. Due to the inflammatory nature of ions and ozone gas, these air purifiers may provoke coughing rather than protect against it. 

Quoting the EPA, “Depending on the level of exposure, ozone can cause coughing and sore or scratchy throat. Ozone can cause the muscles in the airways to constrict, trapping air in the alveoli. This leads to wheezing and shortness of breath.” 

When ozone concentrations exceed safe thresholds inside the home, people breathe in lung irritants. Coughing serves as your lungs’ defense mechanism, helping to eject unwanted irritants or pathogens. It acts as a crucial process to prevent potential tissue damage or infection.

So, do air purifiers have the potential to cause coughing? Yes, but it’s primarily associated with ozone-emitting units. 

If you have got a HEPA air purifier, you’re likely on the safe side. They don’t come with the concerning ties to chronic coughing. These are proven to be safe and won’t cause any health concerns.  

Beyond Ozone, What Else Can Affect Your Health While Using Purifier

We’ve talked a lot about avoiding ozone-emitting purifiers. But even with a safe model, other mistakes can undo air cleaning benefits or make problems worse. Let’s walk through 3 hidden hazards that may be the cause of your sickness.

1. Filter Inside a Plastic Bag? Not Good!

It’s a common oversight to leave the filter wrapped in its plastic bag. Unfortunately, this can have consequences for both filter’s performance and your health. Think of the filter as the superhero for clean air—it operates at its best when it can freely catch particles. When left in a plastic bag, it hinders its ability to do the job effectively. This not only impacts the filter’s efficiency but can also give rise to health concerns.

When enclosed in plastic, Filters can’t operate at their full potential. Contaminants may not be captured properly, allowing them to linger in the air you breathe. So, if you ever suspect your air purifier is making you sick, don’t forget to inspect the air filter and ensure that it is not in a plastic bag.

2. Wrong Size Air Purifier – A Misfit for Your Space!

Choosing a small air purifier for your space can be a health concern. An undersized purifier might struggle to remove dust, allergens, and pollutants effectively. This incomplete filtration can expose you to contaminants, possibly leading to health issues.

Furthermore, an insufficiently sized purifier might result in reduced air exchange. This allows the accumulation of pollutants in the indoor environment. Stagnant air purification is not ideal for respiratory health. This is especially true for individuals with allergies or pre-existing respiratory conditions.

3. Filter Needs Replacement – Timely Swaps Matter!

Think of your air purifier’s filter as a crucial defender of clean air. Over time, it accumulates various airborne particles, like dust and pollen. When it becomes clogged, its efficiency diminishes, impacting the quality of the air you breathe. This can potentially lead to health issues.

A clogged filter can’t effectively capture particles, letting contaminants linger indoors. It can also foster mold or bacteria growth, posing health risks by releasing them into the air. So, Make sure to change the filter on time to keep things running smoothly.

Tips for Safe and Effective Use of Air Purifiers

Tips for Safe and Effective Use of Air Purifiers

At this point, it’s clear that air purifiers carry potential downsides if not selected and used properly. However, you can largely avoid negative health impacts with responsible choices and practices. Here are tips for maximizing air purification benefits without the unwanted side effects:

  • Avoid Ozone-Emitting Purifiers:
    Steer completely clear of all devices labeled as ozone generators, or ionizers in descriptions. Instead, go for a unit that has a mechanical filtration system. Opting for mechanical filtration ensures effective particle removal without the potential harmful byproducts.

  • Choose Right Size Purifier: 
    You have to get the right purifier sized up for your space. Check out CADR – the Clean Air Delivery Rate. That tells you how many cubic feet of air per minute it filters. Find where manufacturers spell out what square footage a unit can handle. An undersized motor won’t cut through the smoke in a big family room!

  • Timely Replace Filters:
    As mentioned earlier, the importance of regularly replacing filters cannot be overstated. To ensure that your air purifier continues to operate effectively, it’s advisable to replace filters every 6-12 months. This practice ensures that your air purifier consistently captures and eliminates pollutants.

  • Use Adequate Location:
    For the best results, it’s crucial to position your air purifier strategically. Make sure there’s enough space around the unit, keeping it clear from walls or furniture. If you are dealing with high level of pollutants, use air purifier for longer durations. This boosts the purifier’s efficiency, ensuring top-notch indoor air purification.

  • Check Air Purifier Ratings and Standards:
    Before purchasing an air purifier, it’s essential to research and consider its ratings. Look for the certification labels – CARB, AHAM, Energy Star – these are like the gold standards. They mean the purifier aced safety tests and is top-notch in quality.

  • Use an Air Quality Monitor:
    Complement your air purifier with an air quality monitor to track the levels of pollutants in your home. A monitor provides real-time data on indoor air quality, allowing you to assess the effectiveness of your purifier and make informed decisions.

Wrapping Up

While air purifiers are generally safe, it’s possible for certain models to negatively impact health and cause respiratory issues over time. Specifically, ionizers and ozone generators put out harmful byproducts during operation. 

Mechanical filters, like high-quality HEPA filters, are a safer choice. They trap particles effectively without emitting harmful byproducts. Simple mistakes, such as leaving filters in plastic or picking undersized purifiers, can affect their performance. Regularly replacing filters, placing the purifier strategically, and following safety guidelines are essential for a healthier indoor environment.

In closing, educate yourself, choose wisely, use appropriately, and monitor conditions to allow air purifiers to truly clear the air rather than cultivate underlying health issues.


Can air purifiers cause respiratory problems?

Generally, air purifiers aim to enhance air quality and don’t typically cause respiratory problems. But, not all air purifiers are created equal. Some types, like ozone generators or ionizers, might cause respiratory problems.

Are air purifiers safe for the lungs?

Absolutely! Air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters are safe for your lungs. Their efficient filtration system helps reduce the risk of respiratory problems by removing allergens and pollutants. By incorporating HEPA filters into your air purifier, you can breathe easily and enjoy a healthier indoor environment.

What should you avoid in an air purifier?

Avoid air purifiers that emit ozone, such as ozone generators and ionizers. Opt for models with mechanical filters like HEPA filters, which effectively trap particles. These types of filters don’t produce harmful byproducts.

Do air purifiers affect oxygen?

No, air purifiers do not significantly affect oxygen levels. They primarily target and remove airborne particles, pollutants, and contaminants, leaving oxygen levels in the air largely unaffected. Air purifiers with proper specifications and usage do not consume or deplete oxygen.

Do air purifiers take germs out of the air?

Yes, air purifiers, equipped with HEPA and activated carbon filters, effectively remove germs from the air. HEPA filters capture tiny particles, including bacteria and viruses, while activated carbon filters adsorb odors and chemicals. Together, these filters provide comprehensive purification, making the air cleaner and healthier.

Photo of author

Benjamin Kirk

Benjamin is an esteemed member of our content team, bringing a fresh perspective and creativity to our articles. With a natural talent for expressive writing and a passion for thorough research, he is ready to elevate your reading experience. His profound expertise in the realm of air purifiers enables him to delve into complex topics and present them in an understandable manner, enriching our knowledge base.