Air conditioning is a summer staple, and in the hottest parts of the country, it can also be a necessity, helping people to avoid heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. But unfortunately, although we rely on air conditioning for our comfort, in some cases using an air conditioner can actually exacerbate or cause health problems, leading to a catch-22.
The best way to gain the benefits of your air conditioner without suffering its potential harms, then, is to carefully clean and inspect your system before use and maintain it throughout the summer months. But even if everything seems to be in working order, watch out for these 3 symptoms – they could be a sign that something is amiss with your unit.
Increased Asthma Symptoms
One group of individuals who are especially vulnerable to health problems when using air conditioning are those with asthma. This is because air conditioners frequently harbor dust and mold that can irritate vulnerable asthmatic airways. You may see mold in many different colors, or you may notice that the air coming from your system smells musty. If you notice any of these indicators, it’s important to clean your system with bleach and water to kill the mold.
Interesting, a well-maintained HVAC system can actually reduce asthma symptoms, so those with the condition shouldn’t necessarily avoid air conditioning altogether. Rather, asthmatic individuals just need to be extra vigilant about the cleanliness of their system.
We typically think of fall and winter as cold season, but most of us suffer from at least one “summer cold.” The fact that we differentiate these colds, however, should tell us something – the root cause here may be a little different from the colds we get during the winter months. Of course all colds are ultimately caused by viruses, but air conditioning may have an impact on our ability to fight off the colds.
When we enter an air conditioned space in the summer, our warm bodies respond to the chill by making the blood vessels contract, particularly in the airways of the nose and throat. Constricted blood vessels mean that there are fewer white blood cells available in this area to fight viruses and germs where they enter. This can allow them to gain a foothold before your body brings together the forces to fight invaders off.
Headaches, Rashes, And More
In some cases, individuals may suffer a nebulous set of symptoms during the summer that include headaches, skin rashes, and fatigue, along with the common respiratory problems we see in connection to air conditioning. These issues are linked to a poorly understood condition known as “sick building syndrome.” Most common in office buildings, HVAC systems seem to play a role in sick building syndrome, but we don’t know much more. For those impacted by the condition, however, taking time away from such spaces can be necessary for recovery.
Although the above symptoms can all be serious, ultimately most people with respiratory conditions and those living in especially hot regions benefit more from using air conditioning than forgoing it, so don’t be afraid to cool down your home or office this summer. A well maintained system is more likely to improve your health than harm it, but in the event of new and troublesome symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and to look to your air conditioner for possible answers.