Having COPD can make it hard to breathe as it taxes both the lungs and the heart, but a new study offers a possible solution: Using an air purifier helped patients' hearts work better.
Researchers found that when people with COPD, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, consistently used air purifiers, their hearts were better able to adapt their heart rates in response to daily demands, something known as heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a key measure of overall heart health. In fact, the participants who used air purifiers daily saw a 25% increase in their HRV.
Study author Dr. Sarath Raju, an assistant professor of medicine who specializes in lung diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, explained that an increase in HRV is important.
“People with poor HRVs are at risk for a number of cardiac problems, such as heart attacks or a worsening of COPD symptoms," he said. "All of these things increase the odds of someone with COPD being hospitalized, which is of course something we want to avoid."
The study also looked at the role of what scientists call ultrafine particles, tiny pieces of irritants in the air that people breathe. Raju and his colleagues found there was an association between the presence of these particles in a person's home environment and a negative impact on lung health.
“This indicates that the indoor air environment plays an especially important role for people with COPD, and both doctors and patients should be aware of this information,” Raju said.
The findings were published online recently in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Dr. MeiLan Han, a professor of pulmonary diseases, critical care medicine and internal medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said the study findings are potentially important because “we know that air pollution has a lot of bad effects on our cardiovascular health. So anything to improve this for people will be helpful.”
Moreover, Han, who is also a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association, pointed out that this was an intervention study, meaning the researchers actually took action (using air purifiers), rather than merely looking at the effects of poor indoor air quality.
The study was only conducted during a six-month time frame, and Raju hopes that future studies can track people for a year or more to see how sustainable the results are.
And, Han noted, the data is “a bit difficult to interpret because the air quality in each individual household of the study was likely very different, and this variability makes it harder to draw specific conclusions about the impact of the air purifiers.”
Still, Raju is optimistic that “using air purifiers might provide a positive, affordable and sustainable method that can improve the home air environment, and improve both heart and lung health of people with COPD.”
For those interested in purchasing an air purifier to improve your lung or heart health, there are many options. Prices can range from just under $150 to close to $250, according to a recent article from The New York Times.
Even though more research needs to be done to test the overall effectiveness of air purifiers in improving heart conditions of people with COPD, it seems reasonable this might be a good and fairly inexpensive way for at least some people suffering from COPD to improve their overall lung health, the experts noted.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COPD.
SOURCES: Sarath Raju, MD, assistant professor, medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; MeiLan Han, professor, medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Oct. 26, 2022, online