woman in her home with air purifier

How to Purify Home Air

April 11, 2024

Air. It’s all around us, everywhere we go, outside and in. We know we need it, but are we paying enough attention to the air in our homes?

“It is very important that we are aware of the air we breathe,” says Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, chief of pediatric pulmonology at Columbia. “Air pollution can be, and often is, much worse inside than out.”

Dr. Lovinsky-Desir has treated many children who were sick from bad indoor air. Recently, she treated a child with asthma. The child was frequently in the hospital’s emergency department, unable to breathe. After a physical exam, Dr. Lovinsky-Desir discovered what was triggering the asthma attacks: mold and rodent exposure in the child’s basement apartment. It was no easy task, but the family was able to move. The child's health improved quickly in the new apartment—free from indoor air pollutants—and trips to the emergency department ended.

“Improving the air quality in your home, office, and everyone indoors is essential for health and wellbeing,” says Lovinsky-Desir.

She spoke to us to explain.

What happens when indoor air quality impacts health?

Our lungs are usually in direct contact with our environments: home, school, office, car.

The air we breathe enters through our nose, and anything that doesn’t get filtered out ends up directly in our lungs. So, the air we breathe indoors and outdoors plays an important role in our health.

  • A person who has asthma can inhale allergens that can trigger them to have an asthma attack.
  • Anyone exposed to dust from nearby construction (the apartment next door; the building across the street) can have respiratory symptoms, triggered asthma, and a variety of long-term health consequences.
  • Chronic exposure to pollutants can lead to long-term damage to the heart and lungs.

What kind of problems does that cause?

Bad indoor air quality is associated with:

  • Headaches
  • Migraine
  • Asthma
  • Dry, itchy skin and rashes
  • Swollen, itchy, dry eyes
  • Swollen, inflamed nose (sinusitis)
  • Sore, inflamed throat
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Emphysema
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Problems with the reproductive system

What can someone do to improve their in-home air quality?

This is a big question for people who rent and have little or no control over repairs, other occupants, or neighbors, but there are a few things you can do.

  • When you are cooking, painting, or doing construction, open windows and doors, or run a window air conditioner with the vent control open to get better airflow.
  • Be aware of poor air quality days in your neighborhood. Close windows when air quality is bad.
  • Air purifiers can be a great way to reduce exposure to indoor pollutants. Make sure that the one you choose does not emit ozone.
  • Do not smoke inside.
  • Do not use pesticides in the home when anyone is inside; open all windows.

If you’re having trouble getting your landlord or superintendent to help with mold or pest exposure, consider calling 311 for assistance.


Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, is the chief of pediatric pulmonology at Columbia.