Could Your AC Be Making You Sick?

As summer heats up, many of us would argue that we can't live without our AC. After all, staying cool not only keeps us comfortable, but it protects us against heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). While our air conditioning can help keep us safe from heat-related illness, are there cases where it could be harming our health?

If you've ever suspected that your AC may be the reason you're experiencing breathing issues, cough, or dry, itchy eyes, you'd be half right. While it's not exactly the unit itself making you feel sick, it may be the temperature you're setting it at – or the pathogens that may be lurking inside, reports Science ABC.

First, let's take a look at what may be causing some of your milder symptoms. If it's dry skin that's making you feel under the weather, you may need to crank up the temperature. Keeping your house icy cold may be preferable to pouring sweat outside, but cold indoor temperatures zap the air of moisture. When this happens, your skin becomes deprived of moisture too. This leads to itching, dryness, and general discomfort. According to WebMD, the same is true for your eyes.

Circulating allergens and poor air quality

Dry skin and itchy eyes aren't the only downsides of blasting your AC at super cold temperatures, however. The colder we are, the harder the body has to work to keep us warm. To do so, our arteries constrict, which reduces blood flow (via Science ABC). This means our white blood cell circulation also drops. It's our white blood cells that play a major role in immunity and keeping us healthy. And since colder temperatures can enable the growth of certain viruses, you want all the white blood cell flow you can get.

Alternatively, your AC may be contributing to your illness if it hasn't been properly cleaned, making it easy for allergens to thrive. A well-maintained AC unit can work wonders for those with allergies or asthma. A dirty one, however, can kick unpleasant allergy and asthma symptoms up a notch, notes WebMD.

A poorly-maintained AC system may also prompt headaches. Survey data from a 2012 study published in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology revealed that out of 4,326 office workers across 25 states, 38% had experienced headaches anywhere from one to three days of the last four weeks. 8% reported headaches on a daily workday basis. Migraine diagnoses were seen more commonly in participants exposed to out-of-comfort range indoor-environmental parameters (IEP). Such parameters included those related to indoor air quality of artificially-ventilated buildings.

What is sick building syndrome?

In some cases, this may be referred to as sick building syndrome. The condition is characterized by symptoms experienced by people within the same building. These include dizziness, nose and throat irritation, fatigue, hoarse voice, flu-like symptoms, and more (per Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine). In instances of sick building syndrome, symptoms may not be specifically traced to any one condition, but appear to be associated with occupancy in the building. Cases of sick building syndrome have been found to be tied to poor ventilation or air contaminated with fungus, mold, bacteria, and more.

For these reasons, it's important to keep up with routine AC maintenance. This includes regular professional inspections as well as switching out the air filter as directed. Keep an eye out for any signs of mold growth and be sure to reach out to a heating and cooling technician if you have any concerns.