Air conditioners (ACs) help to cool down our hot homes during scorching summers. They are our reliable companions to endure heat and humidity. The comfort that AC gives after a long day working outside or following heavy exercise is truly priceless.
However, AC units are not all good; they can negatively affect our health if used unremittingly or imprudently. So, whether you’re a regular user of AC or just use it on selected occasions, it’s worth knowing how your air conditioner may be affecting your health.
Some people call it “air conditioning sickness”—that cold, stuffy, weak feeling caused by remaining indoors under the influence of AC for a long period of time. In such scenarios, you often get the urge to go outside, take a walk, and breathe fresh air to recover from the uneasiness caused by prolonged cold. This feeling is not uncommon. Although air conditioning is a boon for those who suffer from asthma and allergies, the incessant use of AC can wither our health and well-being.
Technically, AC does not cause disease, but it can interact with our environment in ways that make us sick. Let’s learn a bit more about how AC tacitly affects our health and then explore some good practices we can adopt to minimize the ill effects.
Sore Throat and Uneasy Breathing
The cold air produced by ACs are not inherently harmful. In fact, ACs are highly beneficial to individuals suffering from respiratory problems. Air conditioning sickness starts when the AC fails to restrain the bacteria, mold, fungi, dander, etc. that is thriving in the air-conditioned room.
If your home or workplace is already brimming with nasty bacteria and mold, your AC will only circulate this infected air. Although some ACs are good at removing particulate matter, they cannot obviate the inhabitancy of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms dwelling on the walls, floors or ceiling of a room. As these allergens are often airborne, they will lead to stuffy noses, sore throats and in some case, difficulty breathing.
The worst is that air conditioners themselves become an abode for fungi and bacteria if they are not properly maintained. Pulling air over the coils in an AC leads to condensation. This moisture can create an optimal environment for bacteria and fungi to prosper if it is not cleaned at regular intervals.
Therefore, it is highly recommended to regularly service your air conditioning systems and change the filter every few months to make sure those disease-causing microorganisms don’t thrive in your air-conditioned rooms.
Common Cold and Skin Dryness
Running an AC at very low temperatures can also lead to air conditioning sickness. A few different phenomena occur when you create such a cold environment. First, the viruses that spread the common cold grows faster. Many studies have confirmed that these viruses multiply best in the cold environment and low humidity created by an AC set on a very low temperature. Second, the super-cold temperatures can cause the arteries in the skin to constrict. This constriction is part of our defense mechanism to protect the body from losing heat in cold climes. However, this decreases the flow of white blood cells that protect the body against viruses, making our body more vulnerable to illness.
The dry environments caused by AC evaporate the moisture found in the nose lining, making it susceptible to infection. Furthermore, long exposure to AC often causes the skin to lose moisture and become unpleasantly dry.
It’s advised not to run your AC at low temperatures, especially if the AC is intended to run for many hours. The colder the environment gets, the more favorable it becomes for cold- and cough-causing bacteria to multiply. To control dryness, keep yourself hydrated by drinking lot of water. Also, use moisturizer if your skin is sensitive to losing moisture in an air-conditioned environment.
Increased Visits to the Doctor
Studies have found that people who spend more time in air-conditioned environments display an increased use of healthcare services. The regular and continuous use of AC is found to be connected with rising number of complaints related to ENT (ears nose and throat) and respiratory problems.
Researchers have also attempted to find the correlation between AC and blood pressure. Some studies have found that the temperature at which AC runs can affect our blood pressure. In those studies, it was discovered that small arteries in the skin constricted under the cold environment of an AC in an attempt to prevent heat loss from the body. The smooth flow of blood was affected due to this constriction, which heightened the blood pressure.
Thus, people with hypertension should avoid sitting too close to the AC where a direct draft of cold air would be flowing through their body or they should simply set the temperature of the AC on the higher side. It is also essential to take regular breaks and go outdoors to breathe some fresh air!
- Environmental Protection Agency
- NCBI NLM
- International Journal of Epidemiology
- Indian Journal of Public Health