Allergies & Air Pollution—Is Your Home Polluted?

We’ve all heard about air pollution in our cities, but indoor air pollution is increasingly being seen as a cause or contributor to human illness. A recent landmark report from the Royal College of Physicians estimates that in the U.K. about 40,000 deaths per year are linked to air pollution. Effects are found from infancy to old age, with demonstrated adverse effects on fetal development, miscarriage risk, increase in heart attacks and strokes, diabetes, dementia, obesity and cancer risk. It seems there is no chronic disease that air pollution doesn’t touch.

Asthma is likely the most studied condition associated with air pollution. 24 million Americans suffer from asthma, and almost half are children. Allergy and other environmental exposures are linked in most of these cases. In a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group of 225 children recently diagnosed with asthma and exposed to secondhand smoke was monitored over a 12-month period. One half was assigned Austin Air HEPA filters which contain medical grade HEPA and shown to remove 99.97% of all airborne particulates over 3 microns in size. The other half received identical air filters but were not HEPA, only containing a basic pre-filter cloth. The results showed a significant difference between the two groups. Over a 12-month period, the number of visits to the emergency room for the group using HEPA filtration was significantly reduced by 18.5%.

One of the best ways to manage allergies, asthma and other health conditions associated with environmental exposures is simply to limit your exposure to irritating substances. This can be especially difficult to do effectively with airborne irritants. One of the best solutions we have found is a good quality medical grade air filter, and it’s one of the recommendations I frequently give to my patients who suffer from allergies.

HEPA filters to the rescue

Austin Air Healthmate HEPA filter

HEPA filters work by filtering out minute particles in the air, and better models also use charcoal and carbon Zeolite to capture and bind chemical toxins in indoor air. Sources of indoor air pollution not only include allergenic particles like dust and dust mites, animal dander, molds and mold spores and pollen from outside air, but also secondhand tobacco smoke, outgassing of new furniture and carpeting, and an array of irritating chemical compounds including kitchen products, bug sprays, air fresheners, cleaning materials, heaters, and more.

At SFNM, we use two Austin Air filters to purify our indoor air, and Michele and I have two in our home. We have definitely seen Michele’s allergies improve over time, and they also help filter out unpleasant odors from a variety of sources. Thus, we recommend this brand to many of our patients and are able to order these direct from Austin Air. While there are many good brands on the market, we like the Austin Air filters because the filter only needs to be changed every five years. Other units on the market need replacement after a few months to a year.

After five years of drought, El Niño delivered much needed rains to the Bay Area. It also brought an abundance of flowers and plants, creating higher levels of pollen in the air. It’s no wonder more and more people are showing up at SFNM complaining of allergies, asthma and even eczema (Yes, environmental exposures can also aggravate skin problems). Besides the usual allergy medications, inhalers, herbs and diet changes, HEPA filters can reduce your exposure to irritating chemicals and pollen in your home or workplace.

I commonly treat people using naturopathic therapies and acupuncture to reduce the severity of their allergic responses, help manage their symptoms, and work to balance the immune system so that over time allergies can become easier to manage. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, sublingual allergy drops, dietary changes—these are some of the therapies that can help you breath better and reduce your risks of chronic diseases due to pollution—both indoors and outdoors.

If you are interested in purchasing an Austin Air HEPA filter, please contact