AUG 03, 2018 5:26 AM PDT

Is Your Air Conditioning Making You Sick?

There have been record high temperatures across the country this summer, and while a day at the beach is an excellent way to cool off, many people are spending as much time as possible in air-conditioned spaces.

Central air conditioning is in the norm in office buildings, public offices and health care facilities, but having central air in your home depends on where you live. Homes in the south, southwest and some parts of the west coast usually have central AC because their weather is hot for most of the year. In the Northeast, it’s not as common, because the weather there is several months of snow and cold, with a couple of months of bad skiing.

Naturally, it’s important to take precautions in hot weather. Drinking enough water is the first way to make sure you stay healthy during a heat wave. Children and the elderly are especially at risk for heatstroke and should drink more water than the average person. If you think you’ve had enough water on a hot day? You probably still need more. While air conditioning can be a lifesaver for vulnerable populations, there are still dangers to be aware of when spending a lot of time inside a lovely cool home.

Adam Perlman, MD. MPH, FACP is an Integrative Health and Wellbeing expert at Duke University. He told Bustle.com, “Spending time in air conditioning, even prolonged time, shouldn’t necessarily lead to health problems in healthy individuals, as long as the air conditioner is properly designed, maintained and functioning. However, if an air conditioner is contaminated with germs there is a risk of infection and the higher the fan is blowing as well as the longer one is exposed, increases the risk."

Probably the most well-known case of illness caused by air conditioning is the July 1976 outbreak of a particularly virulent form of pneumonia at a convention of American Legion members in Philadelphia. While it was not immediately clear what caused some of the infections and deaths of convention attendees, public health officials were quick to check the hotel where some of the first victims had stayed. Within a couple of months, bacteria was found in the hotel’s air conditioning system. CDC officials initially believed the illness might be viral, but in January of 1977, the bacteria was identified by a CDC biologist and named Legionella pneumophila.

While that outbreak was an extreme example of the dangers of air conditioning, it’s still a good idea to make sure the filters in an air conditioning system are cleaned regularly. Mold spores and other pathogens can be present in screens and then spread when air blows through them. Other precautions include watching for signs similar to a cold or upper respiratory infection. The cold, dry air that is produced by air conditioning can dry out mucous membranes and cause sniffling, a sore throat and dry eyes. Those who have allergies or asthma can also wind up with symptoms because air conditioning merely cools and circulates indoor air. While that keeps outdoor allergens like pollen, grass, and flowers outside, not having windows open on a regular basis keeps dust, pet dander, and other pollutants from being blown out of the indoors and replaced with fresh air.

While it’s important to take precautions in these lazy, hazy days of summer, a little bit of maintenance and care of your AC systems is a good idea. Check out the video to learn more.

Sources: Bustle Mayo Clinic Legionella.com

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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