5 Health Problems Your Air-con Can Cause

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In Singapore’s urban environment of hot and humid weather (coupled with the occasional annual haze from our neighbor), turning on the air conditioner is a convenient and effective way of cooling and purifying the air indoors. On top of keeping our home environment cool and comfortable, a clean and well-maintained air conditioning system can filter out harmful allergens and micro-organisms like bacteria mould and dust mites.

However, these health benefits of air conditioning only hold true if the system is well-designed and the filters are changed regularly. Using a poorly maintained air conditioning system may backfire and cause the health problems it was meant to prevent, and more. Here are some common health issues related to air conditioning, particularly in homes with over-used and neglected A/C units:

1) Asthma and allergies

One major benefit of air conditioning is its air filtering and purifying qualities, which can help relieve asthma and other respiratory problems. However, if you do not change the filters and arrange professional maintenance on a regular basis, excess moisture from condensation can accumulate in the coils and ducts.

This moist environment can turn your air conditioner into the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and fungi, sending these allergens right back into your airways. In particular, mould and dust mites are common asthma triggers that thrive in moist damp air.

If you have children at home, pay special attention to their physical symptoms, especially when they cough or sneeze without actually having a cold or flu. Asthmatic or not, children are more sensitive than adults to allergens in the air as their immune systems are still developing. So you may have not realised it, but an air con maintenance session could been long overdue!

2) Dry irritated skin

If you have skin conditions like eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, air conditioning may aggravate them by upsetting your skin’s natural moisture balance. Even if you don’t suffer from these conditions, it is common for your skin to feel drier or more easily irritated if you are in air-conditioned environments for prolonged periods.

Living in Singapore (where it is tropical summer all year round!), it is totally understandable if you like sleeping in a cozy (read, cold) bedroom despite complaining of dry skin. To mitigate this, you can try sleeping with a cool mist humidifier near your bed to keep the humidity level in the air well-balanced.
dry irritated skin
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3) Sinus congestion

Have you ever walked into an extremely cold office or lecture theatre and felt your nose run or clog up? You are not alone and there is a scientific explanation for that. Even in winter countries, walking outside on a cold winter day gets people reaching for their tissues.

According to Dr. John Ohman, chief of allergy division at Tufts Medical Center in Boston in an interview with The New York Times, cold air triggers the nervous system reflexes in the nose to produce mucus, and this problem may be particularly common in those with allergies.

In an air-conditioned nation like Singapore, public spaces, from offices to shopping malls are outfitted with central air conditioning often turned down to very low temperatures to combat the heat outdoors. However, the sudden change in temperature causes sinus congestion, as many of us often come in from the scorching outdoors and soon after are out again, thus experiencing these changes frequently.

Sudden temperature and humidity changes should trigger only brief nasal congestion. So if you find that your sinus congestion is prolonged in air-conditioned spaces like your home, it is most likely due to the A/C filters trapping allergens like mould and dust mites. The best solution then is to call for an inspection and schedule maintenance immediately.

4) Lower immunity

Another problem with sudden changes in temperature when escaping the heat outdoors in an air-conditioned space is that our immunity can be compromised. As warm-blooded creatures, stepping into a cold environment activates our skin to send an alert to the brain. A response is sent back to the skin to constrict the blood vessels, reducing the flow of warm blood near the skin surface, which reduces heat loss.

Blood vessels in our nose and throat also constrict, reducing the numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells, making us more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses in the air. Therefore, with our lowered immunity we may be more susceptible to air-borne infections, especially if the air conditioning units are poorly maintained. Instead of bringing in fresh air, the A/C in your home may be circulating polluted or infected air, which is why sometimes it is so easy for colds and flus to spread within the family.
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5) General fatigue

Lastly, many people have found that after a day of working in an air-conditioned office, they may feel more tired than usual, with frequent headaches and a general sense of feeling ill. They also find that once they leave the building, these symptoms often resolve immediately. Sometimes termed “sick building syndrome,” it may be that the air conditioning is the cause.

In an interview with TIME, Dr. Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist who did a study on the health effects of air conditioning systems, shared: “The most likely explanation is that there may be some microorganisms growing in the system that may have some subtle effect on certain people. But it’s not clear how many people are sensitive to this or how big of a problem it is.”

No matter what, if you cannot do without air conditioning, then the best way to maximise the health benefits it can provide and minimise the related health problems is to schedule regular air-con maintenance by a professional service provider.
iimafix is a team of caring professionals who keep your air-conditioners healthy and effective, with total transparency and no hidden costs. Find out more at www.iimafix.com
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