Can Using A/C Be Harmful?

During the summer months, little compares to that sweet sweep of cool air blowing through the room, buffering against the heat. The right amount of air conditioning might even have some health benefits, but not in all cases. There are times when turning on an air conditioning unit could actually make us sick.

Air conditioning offers several health benefits. A/C can reduce ozone and other particles in the air, which can lessen asthma symptoms and improve cardiovascular health. An air-conditioned room may also be easier to sleep in. However, there are also some potential risks of using air conditioning in the home.

Possible Benefits of A/C

When we close the windows and use a filtered air conditioner, we can reduce the ozone levels inside by up to 90%. This can be especially important for people with asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases. For these people, higher levels of ozone can cause asthma symptoms to worsen, leading to reduced lung function and an increase in medical challenges.

An A/C unit’s filter may catch more than just ozone, too, which could have long-term effects on cardiovascular health. One study showed central A/C units can reduce levels of particulate matter in the air, improving lung function and reducing the risk of cardiovascular events.

Air conditioning could also affect how well you sleep. A research team at the University of Technology, Toyohashi found people generally sleep better in an air-conditioned room. There is one caveat: Any noticeable air movement can reduce sleep quality, even if the person feels more comfortable overall. People who are more sensitive to the cold may be more profoundly affected by this as well.

Possible Risks of A/C

So it all seems great, but what are the downsides? Some homes can see increases in indoor particulate matter when they close all windows and doors, even with the A/C running. This usually happens in houses that have new furnishings or carpeting and other building materials that emit airborne chemicals leftover from manufacturing. If the indoor pollution is great enough, not even an A/C filter will be able to keep the air quality in check.

An A/C unit itself can also pose a health hazard if we don’t keep it maintained. One study linked poorly maintained A/C units with increased respiratory symptoms, eye and skin problems, higher rates of fatigue and difficulty concentrating. This condition, known as “sick building syndrome,” as reported by Time, may be due to the microbes that can colonize moist areas inside the cooling units. So it's very important to keep units clean and free of excess moisture.

On top of maintenance and cleaning, there is the use of ultraviolet (UV) light, which can irradiate potential threats before they have a chance to take hold. This can be especially helpful for people who are sensitive to bacteria and molds. Not all A/C units can be fitted with a UV filter, but it may be worth looking into.

Should you A/C? In most cases, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks. But we should all make sure to keep the air conditioner well-maintained — and get a professional involved if there are any questions about indoor air quality. Comfort is important, but so is health.

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9/17/2019 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
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