Suffering from Fall Allergies? So are 32 Million Americans

As much as 30% of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis – that’s the medical terms for hay fever. Yet, while we associate hay fever with spring blossoms, in fact, ragweed, a late summer and fall pollinator, affects around 32 million Americans yearly!

According to Dr. Jay Portnoy, who works as an allergist-immunologist in Kansas City, “The most common fall allergy is ragweed, which pollinates from August 15 to early October through most of the United States and parts of Europe.”

The increased number of warm days and warm nights over the last few decades have been causing ragweed to release its pollen well into November, making millions of allergy sufferers sneeze, itch, and cough until the winter. Because ragweed pollen can travel for hundreds of miles, it affects even people who don’t live in places where it grows, and the allergy symptoms it causes may also be triggered by certain fruits and vegetables.

Besides ragweed, mold is another common fall allergy trigger. Mold spores love the relatively hot, damp environment created by piles of leaves on the ground, and even the gentlest breeze can carry them across vast distances. High mold counts in the air make life difficult for those with asthma, and it’s not easy to hide from them.

Last but not least, dust mites enjoy the lack of ventilation and the hot air from central heating systems in the fall. It doesn’t take long for their population numbers to get out of control, which is when sneezes, wheezes, and runny noses start to happen.

Can we prevent allergies from happening in the first place?

Possibly. There’s a lot of research around this, and there’s a concept called the “hygiene hypothesis,” which argues children should be brought up around some degree of dirt and germs. It’s thought that being exposed to a lot of other children, as well as farm animals, and not washing too often, can strengthen a child’s immune system because it works outward, fighting off viruses and getting a “healthy workout,” as Ronald Saff, M.D., Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology puts it.

The easier alternatives

  • Avoid wooded areas.
  •  Think about buying a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. These filter systems are very good at removing allergens from the air indoors.
  • Antihistamines are an effective short-term allergy prevention strategy, while decongestants can be used to relieve nasal congestion in the upper respiratory tract. However, neither antihistamines nor decongestants are suitable for long-term allergy relief as they may cause your blood pressure to rise and your heartbeat to accelerate, just to name two common side effects.

Christmas season provides nearly the entire U.S. with another blessing: there are very few outdoor allergens in the environment. However, as soon as the calendar flips to a new year, the cycle starts all over again.

The Many Wonders of a True HEPA Filter

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of indoor air quality. Studies have shown that indoor air quality can be two to five times worse than outdoor air quality due to the large number of pollutants found in modern homes. Jonathan Levy, an environmental health professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, went as far as to call indoor air pollution one of the unrecognized environmental justice issues of our time.

To improve indoor air quality, and to reduce allergies, many families have invested in various mechanical purifying systems. The manufacturers of mechanical air purifiers often advertise that their products feature something called a True HEPA filter, but consumers seldom understand what the term “True HEPA” means and how the filters described by it differ from traditional HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters.

What is a True HEPA Filter?

HEPA filters were developed by the Atomic Energy Commission to protect workers on the Manhattan Project from radioactive contamination. All HEPA filters consist of a finely pleated fabric-paper sheet made of highly compressed fiberglass of a very fine diameter. The fabric-paper sheet is typically housed in a metal or plastic frame with a seal around it to prevent air particles from escaping.

Initially, the manufacturers of HEPA filters followed their own internal standards, but the United States Department of Energy eventually standardized HEPA filters, requiring them to remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter. Ironically, the term “True HEPA” wasn’t conceived by the United States Department of Energy, but by marketing professionals who simply wanted to emphasize that the HEPA filters contained in the products they were advertising meet the American standard.

Can 0.3 Microns Reduce Allergens?

Considering that bacteria are anywhere from 0.3 to 60 microns in size, you might be wondering whether 0.3 microns are enough to protect you against indoor air pollutants, allergens and dust. The reason why HEPA specifications are concerned with 0.3 microns and not, for example, with 0.1 microns or 1 micron (one-thousandth of a millimeter) has everything to do with something scientists call MPPS.
MPPS, short for Most Penetrating Particle Size, is the size at which particles evade air filters more than larger or smaller particles. As you might have already guessed, MPPS is exactly 0.3 microns. In other words, a HEPA filter that can capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter should be able to capture just as many particles that are slightly smaller or larger.

What Kind of Air Pollutants Can True HEPA Filters Trap?

The following micron comparison chart should help you understand what kind of air pollutants can True HEPA filters trap:

  • Pure oxygen: 0.0005 microns
  • Bacteria: 0.3 – 60 microns
  • Car emissions: 1 – 150 microns
  • Spiderweb silk: 3 – 8 microns
  • Mold: 3 – 12 microns
  • Spores: 3 – 40 microns

The ability of True HEPA filters to remove pollen, hair, dust, mold spores, and other air pollutants makes them great for allergy relief, asthma support, and healthier living in general. True HEPA filters have already established their place in hospitals, food manufacturing facilities, or the microelectronics industry, and they can be tremendously useful at home.

What Can’t a True HEPA Filter Do?

That said, even True HEPA filters do not filter out gasses and odor molecules, which is why they are often combined with activated carbon filters to provide filtration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemical vapors, cigarette smoke, and household odors.

Conclusion

When you purchase an air purifier with a True HEPA filter, you get a guarantee that the filter can remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter.

5 Air Filters and Why You Need Them

Like the mythical bogeymen, the irritants in our air are mostly unseen, but their damaging effect starts from our nasal passageways, seeps into our lungs and permeates right into our most crucial bodily functioning. Unlike nameless goblins, however, these irritants have names– dust mites, pollen, airborne bacteria, tobacco smoke and formaldehyde, to name a few. In this article, we will understand the physical composition of these allergen and toxic particles, and explain which types of air filters are most equipped to trap or eliminate them.

Know Your Airborne Irritant

The biggest factor in trapping airborne irritants is knowing their size. Certain filters are only equipped to trap bigger particles, while specialized filters can trap microscopic particles. However, there are still many toxic substances that aren’t solid particles at all, but are gases. For example, aerosol pesticides. These need an entirely alternate method of filtration to prevent them from invading your living spaces. That’s why a comprehensive air purifier needs an arsenal of filtration systems.

Pre-Filters: The First Line of Defense

Pre-filters trap larger particles, and their purpose is to increase the lifespan of finer filters like the HEPA. They are perfect for capturing pet hair, large dust particles, and even pieces of dead skin. Because pre-filters act as the first line of defense against air pollutants, they typically need to be replaced more often than HPEA or carbon filters.

HEPA Filters: The Power Trapper

High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are composed of a mat of randomly arranged fibers. The classification of a True HEPA filter is one that can remove 99.97 percent of particles that are at least 0.3 micrometers large from the air. To give you a concrete understanding of what these figures imply, consider that a human hair has a diameter of 30 microns while a pollen particle is as small as 10 microns!

The ability of True HEPA filters to remove pollen, hair, dust, mold spores, and other air pollutants makes them great for allergy relief, asthma support, and all-around healthier living. True HEPA filters have already established their place in hospitals, food manufacturing facilities, or the microelectronics industry, and they can be tremendously useful at home.

That said, even True HEPA filters do not filter out gasses and odor molecules, which is why they are often combined with activated carbon filters to provide filtration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemical vapors, cigarette smoke, and household odors.

Activated Carbon Filters: The Odor Destroyer

Carbon (or charcoal) filters excel at odor and chemical removal – much more so than many other filter including the HEPA. Charcoal is an extremely porous element – it has a large surface area with many nooks and crannies. Activated carbon has been chemically treated to increase the surface area and to cause a bonding reaction with the pollutants that pass through it. The pollutants stick inside the nooks and crannies and are, quite literally, captured. Carbon filters adsorb chemicals and gases from the air, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, paint fumes, tobacco smoke, or simply unpleasant odors such as burnt food.

Cold Catalyst Filters: The Atom Attacker

The newest breakthrough in air filters are those that target impurities on the Nano level. As its name implies, a cold catalyst filter causes a catalyst – or a chain reaction – within the atomic composition of these harmful gasses or microscopic particles. Using an ultra violet light, the cold catalyst filter causes the electrons in the atoms to break apart their chemical bonds—essentially decomposing them. This process completely transforms the behavior and composition of these polluting particles and renders them harmless.

Ionic Filters

A basic law of physics is that opposites attract. Ionizers emit a negative charge to particles, making them electrically-static. These negatively charged particles stick to the positively-charged filter plate, collecting them in one convenient location rather than floating in your atmosphere. Ionic filters are effective against dust, smoke particles, tiny contaminants as small as 0.1 microns, and are generally effective at deodorizing your air.

 

Which Air Filters do I Need?
Large Particles Small Particles Chemicals & Odors Microorganisms
Pre-Filter X
HEPA Filter X X X
Active Carbon Filter X
UV Filter X
Ionic Filter X X X

 

A quality home air purifier should be equipped with a range of filters to trap the spectrum of contaminants in your air, from dust mites to diisodecyl phthalate (an odorless compound found in plastics). Check out our Bluemyst air purifier. Its detailed five stage filtration gives you deeply cleansed and breathable air.