DURHAM, N.C. — There are few experiences as terrifying as feeling like you can’t breathe. Unfortunately, for many people with asthma, that’s a common occurrence. Luckily, a recent study is offering a new avenue of relief, especially for asthmatic children living in areas with high levels of air pollution.
A bedroom air filter that catches fine dust particles and other pollutants 2.5 micrometers or smaller can make all the difference when it comes to relieving childhood asthma, according to a new study conducted by American and Chinese scientists.
These findings are quite significant; they’re the first ever to scientifically suggest that air filters result in physiological improvements in children’s airways. Moreover, prolonged and consistent use of an air filter while sleeping appears to be capable of not only alleviating an asthmatic flare-up but totally avoiding such an event.
Studied children used the air filters for two weeks. During the experiment they enjoyed less airway resistance, decreased lung inflammation, and more airway elasticity. In simpler terms, they breathed easier.
“Pharmaceutical companies have spent large amounts to develop drugs that can work on lower airways, but they are very expensive. Our results show that using an air purifier to reduce the exposure of lower airways to pollutants could help asthmatic children breathe easier without those costly drugs,” says Junfeng Zhang, professor of global and environmental health at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, in a release.
“This warrants a clinical trial to confirm findings,” he adds.
Fine particulate matter is a common air pollutant found all over the world, usually originating from fossil fuel emissions, wildfires, or other industrial sources. These tiny specs of dust are super tiny but still very capable of penetrating deep into our airways and wreaking havoc. PM 2.5 is harmful to anyone, but it’s especially detrimental for asthma sufferers, usually triggering asthma attacks. Air filters clean nearby air and remove PM 2.5.
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This study was conducted in a Shanghai suburb during a particularly smoggy period in 2017. A total of 43 kids were given two air filters for each of their bedrooms. All of the children had either mild or moderate asthma.
Here’s the catch: one of the filters was real and of a high quality, while the other was effectively a placebo. Each child was told to use one filter at a time for a period of two weeks, with a two week intermediary period in between filter sessions. So, the entire experiment lasted for six weeks (two weeks with one filter, two weeks with no filter, another two weeks with the second filter). Participating families had no idea which filter was real and which was fake.
The ensuing results showed that PM 2.5 levels in the children’s bedrooms were a third to two-thirds lower while using the real filters.
As the PM 2.5 readings dropped, the children’s ability to breathe greatly improved as well. On average, their total airway resistance dropped by 24%, their small airway resistance decreased by 43.5%, their airway elasticity increased by 73.1%, and their exhaled nitric oxide amounts, an indicator of lung inflammation, decreased by 27.6%.
The benefits only lasted as long as the filters were running, but these results are very promising nonetheless.
“It’s probable that if children use the filters on an ongoing daily basis they will see continued benefits,” Zhang comments.
If additional clinical trials validate these findings, it’s likely that air filters will become standard fare when it comes to asthma management in areas experiencing air pollution all over the world.
“Look at the high PM2.5 pollution levels that occurred in San Francisco last year as a result of smoke from the California wildfires, and at the air-quality problems happening this year from the bushfires in Australia,” Zhang concludes. “People should really consider using one of these devices during wildfires.”
The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.