As the AC ramps up the coolness factor inside your home or office, health problems can become more likely — but not for the reasons people think. Before you blame your air conditioner, here are science-backed answers to some of the most common questions people have about air conditioning and their health.
Can Air Conditioning Trigger asthma?
Anyone with asthma knows that triggers for an attack can be encountered almost anywhere. The CDC lists seven common triggers ranging from smoke from burning wood to dust mites. In addition to those well-known triggers, they offer a long list of ‘secret’ causes of flare-ups that lots of people don’t know about, such as thunderstorms and high humidity(1).
It’s that last trigger, humidity, that’s relevant here. Humidity actually carries a one-two punch for asthmatic people. There’s the direct danger of high humidity causing an asthma attack. Then there’s a problem that can arise when people use air conditioning. If that sounds contradictory to you, here’s why.
Modern air conditioning was invented not, as most people assume, to make rooms cooler. It was developed to keep the edges of magazines from curling up in a Brooklyn publishing company that had a humidity problem(2).
So, how can something that controls humidity be bad for your asthma? It’s not. Both the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the CDC recommend using an air conditioner to maintain a low, asthma-friendly level of humidity in your home or office(2,3).
People with asthma also use their air conditioning units to keep out pollen and outdoor air pollution that may drift in through windows or doors. Exhaust from cars, factory fumes, and pollen are all known triggers for attacks. It’s also recommended to use AC to control mold growth in the home or office.
The problem arises when an AC unit goes unserviced and mold begins to grow.
Of course, there’s a real irony there because breathing in mold is a top reason many people suffer asthma attacks. Mold is mentioned in three separate areas of a CDC flyer meant to educate the public about asthma attacks in the United States(4). It’s up there with tobacco smoke and pet dander, as far as triggers go — something almost any asthmatic person could tell you.
The key takeaway here for asthmatics: take care of your air conditioner and it will take care of you.
Can Air Conditioning Cause Headaches?
There are a lot of people who come home after a day at work feeling exhausted and headachy. Assuming it’s not their job (or their boss) that’s causing these symptoms, one area they may want to investigate is the air conditioning in their building where they work. That’s because their building may be suffering from what’s called ‘sick building syndrome’.
Sick building syndrome made a big splash back in the 1980’s. That’s when it was first discovered that the sealed-up office buildings where people spent their days were trapping harmful pollutants. Without any outdoor air ventilation, and without windows that actually opened, people were breathing stale, toxic air that was making them sick.
Headaches are one symptom of breathing unventilated air.
At first, everyone thought it was the air conditioning that was causing their headaches. But all these years later, there is no evidence that AC systems cause sick building syndrome(5).
Rather, it’s the lack of maintenance in AC systems that causes irritants to develop.
In other words, it’s the moisture and the mold that build up in neglected AC units that cause headaches, along with an assortment of other health issues. Leaks, floods, condensation, and other structural problems are the source of mold and it’s the HVAC system that simply circulates those contaminants throughout the building.
So, again, don’t blame the AC. Blame the guy who’s not making sure the air conditioning system is being properly maintained. The drip pans and the cooling coils are major sources of moisture. If nobody’s maintaining those moist environments where micro-organisms can grow, it’s going to be one giant headache for everyone… literally and figuratively.
Can Air Conditioning Cause Sinus Problems?
Sick building syndrome and the problems that can arise from neglecting maintenance on the AC system can cause more than headaches. People report sinus infections, too, in such buildings. As you may have guessed, damp, moldy buildings are breeding grounds for the type of germs that cause sinus issues.
The remedy? Changing the filters more often, getting your AC system checked regularly by a professional, and setting up a cleaning and maintenance service. This will enable you to breathe cleaner air that’s less likely to cause sinus problems.
Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?
Spending too much time sitting in an air-conditioned environment can indeed make you sick but it’s not the AC itself that’s causing you harm. Filters that go unchanged month after month can become moist breeding grounds for a terrible array of micro-organisms that cause potentially fatal breathing problems like Legionella pneumophila.
Conclusion: It’s Not the AC, It’s Lack of Maintenance
For all the good that air conditioning does the world — making offices and homes livable, stripping the air of allergens and pollutants — it does suffer a bad rap. The blame attributed to modern air conditioning systems is, however, completely unfair and unjustified.
When they’re cleaned thoroughly and on a regular schedule, and when filters are changed when they’re supposed to be changed, AC systems will not make you sick. They will not give you headaches, trigger asthma, or bother your sinuses. It’s the mold that’s allowed to grow and thrive in moist areas of unattended air conditioning systems that cause all the health problems people suffer.
A simple maintenance program can alleviate all of that.
If you’d like to know more, or if you’d like to set up a maintenance plan for your home or office cooling system, please call. We have the tools, the knowledge, and the experience to help you stay healthy and allergy-free throughout the year while you enjoy the refreshing, cooling benefits of your AC system.