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Can Air Conditioners Make You Sick?

Many consumers have heard stories about how air conditioners are bad for their health and can even make them sick. From old wives' tales to advice in respected magazines about the impacts of A/C, tales about the woes of treated air abound. While consumers may find these stories compelling, they are often left wondering if there's any truth to the connection between A/C and illness. It's important to separate fact from fiction when talking about whether or not air conditioning can make you sick. 

Connecting Illness to Air Conditioning

Illnesses have been connected to air conditioning units since they were first introduced on the consumer market. While many of the stories about A/C-related illness have been exaggerated or made up altogether, it's important to know that air conditioners can make you sick if you have pre-existing health conditions or if they are not properly maintained. 

Before deciding to turn off the A/C, review the potential impacts of cooling systems on your health. While cutting back on A/C can help you reduce electricity bills, it's important to remember that getting too hot, especially in the summer, can be extremely detrimental to your health. Almost all illness and irritation caused by A/C can be controlled with maintenance and other preventative action. 

Allergens, Dust and Mold

Some individuals notice that seasonal allergy symptoms seem to be exacerbated by air conditioning. This has led to some amateur health enthusiasts blaming A/C for being an allergy trigger. However, research suggests that A/C units don't trigger seasonal allergies. Instead, they create clean, dry air that may make outdoor allergies seem more pronounced when moving from a non-air conditioned area into an air conditioned area. 

However, the fact that A/C units by themselves don't trigger allergies doesn't mean that they can't exacerbate them under some circumstances. If an A/C unit's filters are not properly cleaned on a regular basis, they collect dust, pollen and other airborne allergens. These allergens can then be pumped throughout a home or business when the A/C unit is turned on, leading to allergy problems.

Airborne mold circulated by an A/C unit can also cause serious health issues. In most cases, mold grows in a building or A/C unit because of excess moisture build up. Mold spores can then be circulated while an air conditioning unit is in use. These spores can cause allergy-like symptoms and severe lung problems. Consumers who notice a damp, musty or foul smell in the air when their A/C units are in operation may have an issue with mold. 

Dry Air Irritation

Some individuals complain that they find the dry air created by A/C units irritating. Most of these irritations can be dealt with by using a humidifying system to replace the moisture taken out of the air by the A/C unit. Those individuals who suffer from asthma may actually find that the dry air created by an air conditioning unit helps to alleviate their symptoms. Consumers who notice that their asthma worsens when the A/C unit is in use are likely reacting to allergens, dust and mold in the air. 

Air Conditioners and Common Health Myths

While some bona fide health issues can be tied to air conditioning units, there are also many myths about how A/C affects health. Some of these myths were circulated by medical practitioners during the early 20th century due to a misunderstanding of respiratory and circulatory functions. Other myths were started by consumers who mistakenly blamed their health issues on an A/C unit. Review the following myths to better understand the ways in which A/C units do not impact health. 

  • Myth: Moving from a hot area to an air conditioned area will make you sick.
  • Fact: Medical practitioners once believed that getting cold could cause a cold. Doctors now know that the only thing that causes colds is a virus. Moving from very hot to very cool areas may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it will not lead to any serious health issues. 
  • Myth: Air conditioning can cause arthritis.
  • Fact: Many individuals believe that A/C units can cause arthritis. However, this is simply untrue. While air conditioning may exacerbate symptoms in those individuals who suffer from arthritis, it has never been found to actually cause the disease.
  • Myth: Air conditioning will disrupt your sleep. 
  • Fact: While many people believe that turning on the A/C will disrupt their sleep, it actually does the opposite. Sleeping in a cool, temperature-controlled room promotes deep, restful sleep. Individuals who feel that their sleep is affected by an A/C unit may wish to turn the unit down and put fans on the low setting. 

Preventing Symptoms Exacerbated by Air Conditioners

It's important to remember that air conditioners can make you sick if you already suffer from medical conditions or are bothered by the circulation of unwanted dust, pollen, allergens and mold. However, this doesn't mean that it's necessary to eliminate air conditioners from your life. Taking the following steps will help to ensure that you do not suffer any ill effects from using your A/C unit to make your home or business comfortably cool:

  • Clean air conditioning unit filters on a regular basis when the unit is in use.
  • Replace A/C unit filters on a yearly basis or as recommended by the unit's manufacturer.
  • Immediately investigate any foul or musty smells coming from your A/C unit. If you encounter a serious mold problem, do not attempt to handle it yourself. Some molds are extremely toxic and must be dealt with by abatement professionals.
  • Stick to a regular air conditioning and home heating maintenance schedule to ensure that your A/C unit is functioning properly and is eliminating outside pollutants.

Not only does annual preventative maintenance provide better indoor air quality, it also extends the lifespan of your equipment and improves the energy efficiency.  This can add up to very substantial savings on your energy bills and repair costs.

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