There are times when I am extremely thankful for air conditioning — usually after I have had a long workout on a hot summer’s day and am still sweating after a cold shower. The cold, dry air is invigorating and refreshing. But usually, after about 30 minutes, I find myself shivering and needing to go back outside. Indeed, I have found that the majority of homes I have visited and more so, public offices and stores, the air conditioning temperature is set so low that I find myself feeling sick so that I have to step outside. I also find that I am more tired and my muscles more sore from shivering all day. So I decided to look into why this is and what we should all know about air conditioning.
To begin, I do contest to the positive side of air conditioners, as they are beneficial to those individuals who suffer from asthma and allergies, as pollen and dust are filtered through the system. The air conditioners also dry out the humidity and usually clean out the air, enabling us to breathe cleaner air and not be over-run by heat stroke.
The problem is, however, that these systems need to be extremely well-maintained, checked and cleaned, or all these benefits are trumped by breathing problems and infections. More so, keeping the room temperature so cold has other negative consequences. These are the top five negative health consequences that you want to be aware of:
1. Breathing problems. When air conditioners are not cleaned thoroughly and filters changed, a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and fungi is created. These systems especially can be home to black mold, as moisture can build up in the coils and ducts from condensation that forms when the cool air passes through. When these microorganisms go air-borne, they can lead to a multitude of breathing problems, including a potentially fatal infectious pneumonia, Legionnaire’s disease, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.
Remedy: Make sure your air conditioning systems are cleaned regularly and the filter changed every few months.
2. Fatigue, headaches and generally feeling ill. Many individuals find that after a day of work, they often feel more tired than usual, headachy and a general sense of malaise. They also find that once they leave the building, the symptoms often resolve. Sometimes termed “sick building syndrome,” it may be that air conditioning may be the cause. In a study published in the Aug. 19, 2004 International Journal of Epidemiology, people working in office buildings with central air conditioning had more symptoms of illness than those who did not work in buildings with central air.
Remedy: Raise the temperature slightly so that you are not shivering and take regular breaks to step outside for fresh air and for your body temperature to equilibrate.
2. Getting contaminated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning us that we may be more exposed to pollutants inside than outside, especially because central air conditioning does not bring in fresh air but circulates old air. This means that if there is mold, dust, animal dander or other people in the building have viruses or air-borne infections, individuals are more prone to be exposed and get sick.
Remedy: Some systems are built to a low in a “leak” from the outside. You can create your own leak by cracking open a window even slightly.
4. Dry skin. The more time you spend in an air-conditioned environment, the dryer your skin may become, as the cold, dry air can cause your skin to lose its moisture. Your hair may suffer such ill effects as well.
Remedy: Get a great moisturizer!
5. Visiting the doctor more often. Studies have shown that that individuals who spend more time in air-conditioned environments have an increased use of health care services. An analysis found more visits for complaints related to ears-nose-and throat problems, respiratory and dermatological problems. There were also an increased number of sickness absences.
Remedy: Do all of the above and ensure that other aspects of the room or car are thoroughly cleaned, like carpets, curtains and the like.