(Photo: Kingfisher Productions/Getty. Graphic: Petra Zeiler.)

This Air Purifier Is the Only Thing That Gets Me Through Pollen Season

After a particularly rough spring, an Outside editor invested in a Coway Mighty air purifier to help with her asthma. She’s breathing better already—and the rest of her family is, too.


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As someone who suffers from asthma, I’ve been told by various physicians to get an air purifier. But when spring and its overabundance of pollen arrived each year, I always reasoned that I had plenty of tissues, over-the-counter drugs, and my inhaler as backup if things became dire.

But this spring, things did become dire. For ten consecutive nights, I could barely breathe from all the juniper pollen, which was visibly caked on the branches outside my bedroom windows. Twice I nearly worried myself into the ER—I’d never been so scared my inhaler might fail me. Then one morning, I woke up with my eyes stuck together. In Santa Fe, where a low-to-moderate pollen-index number is five (on a scale of zero to twelve), the index rose above ten and hovered there for two solid weeks. My daughter and our cat went outside for a few hours in the windy, yellow-hazed world that day and returned wheezing. Trips to urgent care and the vet resulted in a general consensus: both had suffered asthma attacks.

That was all the news I needed. I got online, did some quick research, and bought the Coway Mighty air purifier ($230). This lightweight model completely turned around the respiratory situation in our household. When I plugged it in the first time, the intuitive air-quality light turned red—the most alarming of the three possible colors, indicating unhealthy levels of allergens. It stayed that way for several hours while the machine vigilantly worked its purifying magic, ridding the air of 97.97 percent of irritants (including dust, fur, tobacco and wildfire smoke, mold, and particles as small as 0.3 microns). I couldn’t believe how quickly it made a difference. But because one lone purifier can’t effectively clean the air of an entire home—Coway suggests a maximum space of 361 square feet—arguments broke out over whose room the Mighty could remain in for the night. The cat took to sleeping in that room.

It’s another sad sign of our times that so many of us need machines like this one to breathe normally in our homes and offices. My cousin, who lives in the Bay Area, runs two or more air purifiers in her apartment 24/7 just to make it through the California fire season. And according to recent research by a team of Columbia University environmental-health scientists, pollen season in North America now lasts three weeks longer than it did 30 years ago. Texas and the Midwest are being especially hard-hit.

Fortunately, the Coway Mighty is an effective filter powerhouse. There are three speeds, the lowest of which makes next to no noise (24.4 decibels, the equivalent of a whisper). But I tend to keep it programmed on the energy-saving eco setting, which kicks on automatically when the particle count increases to a moderately high level and turns off when the surrounding air is once again clean. It’s a cinch to pop open the unit and change the four air filters (one of which can be rinsed under the faucet and left to dry before reinserting), and it resembles a smooth, sleek guitar amp. I place it next to my side of the bed or adjacent to my work chair and it blows cool (but not cold) ionized air up toward my face.

The only real downsides to owning the Mighty have been a nominal increase in my electricity bill (about $10 a month), the expense of replacement filters (which range from $25 for the pre-filter to $57.50 for a set of two odor filters, to be changed every six months, and a HEPA filter, to be changed once a year), and, my biggest complaint, the brightness of the color-coded air-quality indicator at night. I tend to cover that up with a small notebook. And although Coway does pitch the Mighty as effective at reducing odors, I’ve often wondered why it can’t do a better job diffusing my husband’s gas or stinky socks. But, really, if I can smell both of those next spring during the peak of the juniper bloom, I guess I’ll count it as a blessing.

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Lead Photo: Kingfisher Productions/Getty. Graphic: Petra Zeiler.