Can Air Conditioning Really Make You Sick?

We place a large amount of trust in our air conditioning. It is something that keeps us comfortable when the weather is too hot or too cold. But what if there was something wrong and air conditioning could make us sick?

Air conditioning is all around us: at home, at work, in the car, etc. The list goes on. Normally there is nothing to worry about. A well maintained heating or cooling system is perfectly good for your health and can even provide health benefits with fresh, filtered air.

However, if that unit has not been maintained, then you are breathing dirty, low quality air. It is a recycled mess that could cause you and your family to feel sick.

This could lead to allergy flare ups, breathing problems, skin irritation and more. Many of these issues fall under the umbrella of air conditioning sickness. If you are unfamiliar with the term, this is all you need to know about how an air conditioner can make you sick, the symptoms, and how to avoid it.

The Signs of Air Conditioning Sickness

Perhaps you are already feeling a little unwell and just have not been able to put your finger on the cause. Maybe it is a seasonal bug or something you caught from the kids. Alternatively, it could be air conditioning sickness.

Common air conditioning sickness symptoms basically mimic the traditional flu, or perhaps even hayfever. For example, you could experience symptoms like a sore throat from air conditioning, plus:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • headaches
  • fevers and chills
  • fatigue
  • watery eyes or dry eyes

These minor symptoms are all fairly harmless, albeit annoying. But they do pass quickly once you are no longer breathing in low quality air conditioning air. Prolonged exposure to a dirty system is a different matter. And if you are allergic to air conditioning then you must address the risk of more serious side effects.

Is your air conditioning making you sick?

Long Term Health Problems

Although it is highly unlikely that long term health problems would be caused by poor quality heating and cooling, there is always a risk. Severe allergic reactions are possible, as are conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis or allergic rhinitis, plus asthma episodes

Pneumonitis is a potential health hazard if not addressed early on. It is an allergic reaction triggered by mould or bacteria irritating air sacs within the lungs. Symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle/joint pain or headaches can appear within a few hours.

Typically the symptoms will disappear with no long term exposure. However, continued breathing of harmful air can lead to permanent scarring and lung damage. Chronic pneumonitis is a risk for about 5 per cent of those exposed long term. Permanent side effects include a dry cough, tiredness, loss of appetite and chest tightness.

Asthma sufferers would also understand the risks posed by poor quality air and exposure to triggers like dust, mould spores and dust mites. An asthma attack can quickly evolve into a serious trip to the hospital under the wrong circumstances.

That is why a well-maintained air conditioner can actually help remove airborne allergens and triggers. It is especially beneficial for pet owners and anyone with a specific focus on maintaining a healthy home.

How to Tell if Air Conditioning is Making You Sick

If your home, workplace or favourite cafe is causing you to feel sick, symptoms typically develop within 4-6 hours of exposure to the trigger. That means you could easily be somewhere else by the time you feel unwell. Some people may feel unwell more quickly, though.

This could make it difficult to accurately find the problematic air conditioner. Therefore, keep track of any flare ups. Look at things like days you cough and sneeze more or you might suffer from unexplained skin irritation. The cause could be the air vent at work or the split system in your lounge. Also take into consideration any health changes linked to a new job, house move or even a new relationship; anything that led to spending more time in a new location.

If you can spot patterns in the days where air conditioning sickness symptoms develop, then you will also get to focus on uncovering a solution.

Can Air Conditioning Really Make You Sick?

How to Avoid Getting Sick From Your Air Conditioning

The good news is there are no difficult solutions here. The key to not getting sick due to air conditioning is regularly and thoroughly cleaning the unit. Deep cleaning ensures no mould growth, while clean filters capture much of the circulating bacteria, dust particles and allergens in the home.

Air conditioner filters should be cleaned at least every 3 months, especially around the change of seasons. Ducted heating and cooling registers and return vents should also be cleaned. 

Filters can be removed and rinsed off with cold water, and placed back in a unit once dry. A vacuum cleaner also helps to remove any other stubborn particles, fur or dust.

Another important task is looking out for mould, especially if you’re in a humid environment. Mould can easily be cleaned with a store-bought cleaner, or even white vinegar, and plenty of elbow grease. Be sure to wear gloves for additional protection.

Also, keep any outdoor units clean and make sure there is no standing water outside that could promote bacterial growth or insect reproduction. 

Finally, a professional duct cleaning service is another great step to make sure there are no hidden dangers within your home.


Published: 10 Aug, 2021

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