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Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?

Published on: March 25, 2013

There is some controversy regarding whether being exposed to cold air can make us sick. This sometimes raises the question, “Can air conditioners make you sick?” As children, we were often told by our mothers to bundle up to protect ourselves from becoming sick from the cold. As adults, we may tell our children the same, but for the sake of dressing warmly for their comfort. We now are aware that the cold alone does not make us sick.

How Can Air Conditioners Make You Sick?

While feeling cold, whether it is from being outdoors or from our air conditioners making us uncomfortable, it does not actually make us sick. However, if your cooling system is not properly maintained, you run the risk of circulating bacteria, mold, allergens, dust, and other irritants throughout your home. What makes us sick are these germs and irritants that we are exposed to because we keep our doors and windows closed so often.

Improperly maintained air conditioning systems can cause a wide variety of illnesses ranging from allergy symptoms to dangerous conditions such as bacterial infections. Those who have sensitivity to allergens and mold, or have compromised immune systems are especially at risk. This group is largely made up of young children and the elderly.

Professional Maintenance

You can reduce this risk to your family by having your air conditioning system professionally maintained on a regular basis. Your service technician will be able to identify if there are any issues with your air conditioner that may be causing mold or bacteria to breed in your unit. If the equipment is not properly draining and has become clogged, mold could be accumulating and spores can be introduced into your living environment.

The same holds true for bacteria. If you have stagnant water sitting in the bottom of your condenser, it makes an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. This can come from bird feces that may have dropped into the unit or other debris that may be rotting inside.

If these conditions are present, the technician will identify the source of the problem and make the needed repairs. The unit will need to be cleaned to remove the contaminants. Regular removal of debris that has accumulated within the unit is also essential to efficient operation of your system. If not removed, it will impede proper air circulation, which can also lead to mold accumulation from areas that are not drying properly.

Best Defenses against Illnesses Related to Air Quality

The most important defense against preventing many allergy symptoms in your home has to do with your air filters. Investing in better quality or electrostatic air filters will help remove dust, pollen, and other irritants from your air and prevent them from being recirculated through your air conditioning system. You need to make sure that your filters do not get clogged up, which impedes airflow. Checking your filters monthly is imperative in order to keep your system running efficiently. Improper airflow will cause your system to work harder and use more energy, which results in higher electric bills for you!

An inspection of your ductwork is another important step to take to protect your indoor air quality. Torn or loose sections will allow dust, pollen and other irritants to accumulate and be circulated throughout your home. You should also have air quality testing performed in your home to establish a baseline of your indoor air quality. This will help identify unknown issues that may be lurking about such as mold or VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that may be in your home.

If your home has a moisture problem, because of where you live or previous problems with neglected heating and cooling systems, you may have mold under carpets or in other areas. VOCs are dangerous substances that are emitted in the air such as formaldehyde. These gases are released over time from seemingly innocent sources such as carpeting or the adhesives used to install your carpeting.

If you are aware that you have an air quality issue, your next line of defense is to have an air cleaner and/or dehumidifier installed. Air cleaners and dehumidifiers can both be added to existing heating and cooling systems to improve air quality. Many of the best air cleaners use ultraviolet light to clean the air as it passes through, thus eliminating bacteria and viruses that have become airborne. While air conditioning does offer some dehumidification, it may not be enough to prevent mold or mildew from growing in homes. Dehumidifiers add an additional level of protection to fight the growth of these contaminants by drawing more humidity out of the air.

For the health and safety of your family, it is always your best bet to begin with one of your local heating and cooling professionals. Our group of prescreened heating and cooling experts can determine if you have an indoor air quality problem from your air conditioner and advise you about the best way to fix it.