How Does AC Work?
Can air conditioning make you sick? I’ve wondered this a lot actually, whenever I go to turn it on I always pause and reflect on whether or not I really need it.
Other than the obvious electrical cost of air conditioning, should you pause before using it? Can it actually have any detrimental effects on your health? Can you get a cold from air conditioning?
Before we dive into this cool subject, let’s take a look at how AC actually works.
A lot of people think that air conditioning works by “creating” cold air. This, however, is not the case. Your air conditioner works by removing the heat inside your house and shifting it outdoors.
Essentially, the air conditioner sucks hot air into the ducts through a vent. As the heat is removed from the air, it passes over a cold evaporator coil, and becomes cool. The ducts then blow the air back into your house, and this process continues until the inside air of your place reaches your desired temperature.
Can Air Conditioning Make You Sick?
It makes sense that too much cold air isn’t good for you, right? Especially cold air that’s been exposed to a refrigerant.
Funny enough, it’s not the AC itself that usually makes people sick… it’s the allergens or other elements that the system brings into the air.
However, there is a thing called “air conditioning sickness” which is essentially a cold, stuffy, weak feeling that comes from staying indoors with air conditioning for too long.
Air Conditioning Sickness Symptoms
While air conditioning can be great for people with allergies, and to relieve heat-related conditions like overheating in the summer, it has its drawbacks.
In addition to bringing in foreign objects like pet dander in an apartment building, it can also create symptoms such as breathing or respiratory issues, cold or allergy symptoms, dry, flaking, or itchy skin, dry eyes, dehydration, headaches, and even elevated blood pressure!
But before you go and turn off your AC too quick, read on.
Chilly Air Can be Cool (If You Keep It Clean)
According to research, the majority of issues that come from using air conditioning are not from the AC itself, so much as neglected AC systems. Can air conditioning make you sick? Yes it can, but the symptoms are far more likely to be caused by mold, dust, allergens, and bacteria.
You can avoid most of the causes of air conditioning sickness just by keeping up with regular maintenance on your air conditioner. Further, because an AC unit is also used to filter air, it makes sense that these filters can get dirty and hence not be able to do their job properly.
Takeaway? If you want to minimize the harm your AC unit can have on your health, have it regularly maintained.
Air Conditioned Air & The Environment
The problem with air conditioning and the environment comes with hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs. These compounds are what keep you cool, but they are also what make air conditioning a contributor to global warming.
Here’s where the environmental problem with AC is similar to the health issues: if your air conditioner is working properly, it won’t release HFCs into the environment. The NY Times wrote a thorough article on this, so if you’d like to check out all the details, you can read that here.
Long story short: Schedule air conditioner maintenance into your calendar and make sure it happens. That way, you’ll avoid both the health and the environmental damage.