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COULD YOUR AIR CONDITIONER MAKE YOU SICK?

    Air conditioners, like many things in life, have their benefits and their drawbacks, especially if overused and under-maintained.  For many people an air-conditioned home, car or workplace is a must, and the idea of going without that air conditioning is out of the question.  Although air conditioning provides both health and comfort benefits, there is evidence pointing to some potentially serious health risks including overexposure to cold air and exposure to toxic pollutants such as mold, which is caused by the moisture contained in many air conditioning systems.
 
Potential Health Risks of Using Air Conditioners:
 
1)   Exposure to cold temperature
 
Too much air conditioning is believed to cause cold and flu-like symptoms, sinus problems, bloody nose, body aches, sore joints, arthritis and other problems affected by prolonged cold air exposure.  The body may also develop an intolerance to warmer temperatures and heat, no longer able to adjust properly to temperature changes, especially dramatic and rapid fluctuations.
 
If any of these symptoms appear, adjust your a/c temperature a bit higher.  If this isn’t possible, wear some extra clothing and keep a cozy comforter handy.  Avoid sitting or sleeping near drafty cold vents.
 
2)   Exposure to mold and other pollutants
 
Mold, a microscopic fungus, is a toxic pollutant that poses a multitude of health risks.  Mold spreads through airborne mold spores that circulate in the a/c system and around the home or office.  Mold isn’t as easy to recognize or control as cold temperatures are, especially if the mold isn’t visible but is hidden inside the ducts or other parts of the system.
 
Mold related illnesses can be especially threatening for the very young, the elderly, women who are pregnant, people with pre-existing health issues, compromised immune systems and respiratory illnesses.
 
3)  Sick Building Syndrome
 
Buildings that use air conditioning systems and are also tightly constructed with little to no ventilation, no open windows, have been recognized as potentially causing many health problems.  Mold and other pollutants accumulate in the a/c system, then start to circulate, and are believed to cause symptoms such as skin irritations, head, sinus and respiratory problems, asthma, mucous membrane irritation and fatigue.
 
4)   Legionnaires’ Disease
 
This disease, caused by the bacterium “legionella pneumophilia”, thrives in warm water such as that  found in many air conditioning systems.  This disease first made headlines back in the summer of 1976 when war veterans, members of the American Legion, gathered at a hotel in Philadelphia for a convention.  Many became sick and several died.  Once the cause of the disease was determined, it was named “Legionnaires’ Disease” in respect to the unfortunate veterans.  Symptoms are similar to pneumonia including a high fever, chills, cough and body aches.  Immediate treatment with antibiotics is needed as the mortality rate is substantial, as high as 30%.
 
5)  Weight gain
 
According to a study conducted by biostatisticians at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) published a few years ago in the International Journal of Obesity, air conditioning and central air systems are being considered as one of the several contributors to weight gain.  According to this study, when people control their home temperature with air conditioning and central air systems (often year-round), they expend considerably less energy, as the body’s need to adjust to fluctuating hot and cold temperatures is significantly reduced.
 
What to do?
 
1)   If you have air conditioners, be sure to clean the filters regularly and remove any visible mold.  If you have an a/c system with hidden ducts and other inaccessible areas, hire a professional to thoroughly clean your system and remove any accumulated pollutants.
 
2)   Rather than investing in an extensive and expensive air conditioning system, consider installing portable air conditioners instead.  They are less expensive and easier to clean and maintain.
 
There are pros and cons when considering air conditioning for your home or office.  An air conditioning system that is properly maintained, cleaned and well-filtered, can offer many health and comfort benefits.  Improperly maintained systems can cause some serious health issues, especially for the elderly, people with respiratory issues and allergies, and those with compromised immune systems.