Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?
The magical holiday season is fast approaching. Unfortunately, that also means cold and flu season are tagging along for the ride. You stock up on your arsenal of vitamins and hand sanitizer because you want to limit the colds you and your family suffer through this year. However, have you considered that your air conditioner is the potential culprit for your holiday colds this year? Customers occasionally ask us, can air conditioning make you sick? The short answer is no, but because of certain factors, it can produce a sickness-inducing environment.
Here in humid, sunny, hot Southwest Florida, we don’t want you to think you need to give up your air conditioning unit and suffer in sweaty silence. So, let’s talk about the reasons that raised the question: “Can air conditioning make you sick?” and how you can avoid it!
How AC Impacts You
We will start by discussing how air conditioning impacts your overall health and your environment.
If you regularly find yourself in an air-conditioned building with poor ventilation, your risk of “sick building syndromes” increases. This is because your AC unit is stuck recirculating old, stale, and spit-filled air. You can lower your risk by regularly changing your air conditioning filters, covering your mouth when you need to cough or sneeze, and opening windows to let in the fresh air. There was a study conducted by the International Journal of Epidemiology on this very topic. They discovered that workers in office buildings with an air conditioning system regularly reported more symptoms of being sick compared to occupants of buildings without AC systems.
Air-conditioned spaces often dry out your eyes, making them feel irritated and itchy. In some cases, dry eyes also cause your vision to blur slightly.
A study by Harvard in 2018 revealed that students who live in dormitories without air conditioning during hot summer months did worse on cognitive tests than those who had access to air conditioning. What does this mean? Well, staying cooler might help you think clearer.
Several studies show that people who regularly sit in air-conditioned environments (i.e., work and home) tend to suffer from more respiratory problems, such as trouble breathing or irritated nasal passages.
Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?
As we said, air conditioning itself can’t make you sick. The inviting cold air blasting from your air conditioning unit is not the culprit. In fact, air conditioning is beneficial to some individuals who suffer from respiratory issues. However, when your air conditioning interacts with your environment, it can create a favorable environment for certain health problems.
Let’s break this down a little further. An air conditioner unit will circulate the air in your room. If your home has pollutants, these pollutants are easily dispersed. Unfortunately, the pollutants will trigger health problems, and air conditioning units are the perfect carrier for them. Pollutants include someone coughing or sneezing into the room, pet dander floating in the air, mold in your drywall, or bacteria in your carpet. Your air conditioning unit will pick up these pollutants and circulate them through the air in your space. Once these allergens become airborne, they can cause issues like stuffy noses, a sore throat, and in some cases, difficulty breathing.
In addition, air conditioning units produce water. While it is true that an air conditioning unit will dry out the air in our room, the unit itself also produces condensation. As your air conditioner pulls the air over the coils, the coil produces condensation. The condensation can produce a perfect climate for bacteria and mold to grow without regular cleaning. When your unit is not maintained correctly, the unit can become a source of bacteria and mold growth.
Another factor is the temperature you like to set your air conditioning unit. Frigid temperatures are excellent sources of sickness. The extreme cold leads to the spreading of cold-causing viruses, dryness, and a decreased immune response. Very cold temperatures cause the arteries in the skin to constrict in an effort to protect the body from heat loss. The reduced flow of blood, including white blood cells that safeguard the body against viruses, results in the body being more susceptible to illness. Lastly, ultra-dry environments will dry out the moisture found in the lining of the nose which makes it more vulnerable to infection.
What Air Conditioning Components Can Make You Sick
Freon gas circulates and compresses through the coils once your AC unit comes on. The coils release the heat, dispersing the heat into the outside air. When your condensers are dirty, they can’t release the heat efficiently, causing your AC to work harder than it should. A dirty condenser causes the Freon gas that circulates through the coils to become contaminated with bacteria, mold, and mildew. When the AC releases Freon into the air, you can breathe in the contaminants, which can cause respiratory problems.
AC compressor coils also have the potential to hold mildew and mold.
The evaporator is the component that cools the air. It holds the coil full of refrigerant. When the warm air blows over the coil, the refrigerant absorbs the heat, cooling it down. However, the air becomes more humid when the evaporator coil gets too cold. This can lead to condensation on the coil, resulting in mold and mildew.
The air blower circulates the air inside the room. If the blower is not working properly, it can leak harmful chemicals into the air causing respiratory issues.
Air filters are vital components to keeping the air inside your home clean. You can become sick if you do not change the filter often enough. Old filters can harbor bacteria and mold, which can cause respiratory problems.
The Symptoms of Air Conditioning Sickness
Visible Mold: Leads to variety health issues, including wheezing, throat irritation, and congestion. Take a peek inside your air ducts and vents frequently to check for any signs of mold growth. If you find any, call a mold professional to deal with the problem!
Breathing or Respiratory Issues: Air filters trap pollutants, such as mold, fungi, and bacteria. If not cleaned regularly, the filter will start releasing these contaminants instead of filtering them. It is important to clean thoroughly your air filters after 250 hours of usage and change them every three months.
Cold or Allergy-Like Symptoms: Symptoms that include coughing, wheezing, throat irritation, and sneezing could mean your air conditioner needs a maintenance check. Many times your air filter needs a change.
Dry, Flaky, or Itchy Skin: Your AC will remove moisture from the room, resulting in dry, itchy, or flaky skin. If your AC unit runs too long, the humidity levels can dip very low. Low humidity levels lead to the evaporation of water vapors from your skin, ultimately resulting in dryness. We recommend keeping the fans pointed up so that the air doesn’t spray directly onto your skin. In addition, turn on a humidifier to help keep the humidity at an optimal level in the room. Also, moisturize your skin and prioritize drinking plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.
Irritated or Dry Eyes: As mentioned above, AC reduces humidity levels. The reduced humidity often leads to dry eyes, leaving them feeling irritated.
Increased Blood Pressure: The temperature of our climates impacts our blood pressure and overall health. The small arteries constrict the loss of body heat to maintain the body temperature. This resistance leads to increased blood pressure. Researchers found that every one-degree decrease in the indoor temperature correlated with an increase of 0.48mmHg and 0.45mmHg in participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.
Heat Intolerance: Yes, we use our AC units to escape the heat. However, people who depend too much on air conditioning often become intolerant of the relentless heat. Instead of immediately opting to turn on the AC unit, try using a fan and opening up a window for fresh air.
How Can You Avoid Air Conditioning Sickness?
First, you should go through your home and make sure it is clear of any mold, mildew, or other allergens that are already present. Next, you can prevent the growth of more mold or mildew by dealing with the cause of the moisture in your home.
Another way to avoid any flu or cold-like symptoms when enjoying your air conditioning unit is to stay on top of your air conditioning maintenance. Scheduling regular maintenance checkups will inform you of any leakages or early signs of mold development that you can tackle at your earliest convenience. Also, clean your air filters regularly, as mentioned above. It is also best to look inside your air ducts to see if they’re contaminated.
Next, if you regularly feel tired or experience headaches and sore muscles, turn your AC unit down. Try not to create a drastic contrast between your room’s temperature and the outside temperature. Shoot for cooler and more comfortable, not freezing!
Air conditioning sickness can be frustrating, especially if it is very hot out and you need to escape the heat. If your air conditioning is causing your sickness, please contact McCarthy Air Conditioning in Southwest Florida! We would love to help clean your air with regular maintenance or our UV air sterilization system!