Do air conditioners aggravate your allergies?

The below articles talk about air conditioners and the effects they could have on one’s allergies, factors that play into the above, along with some frequently asked questions about air conditioning units and indoor air quality. 

Do air conditioners aggravate your allergies?

In short, the answer could be yes or no. The functioning of an air conditioner is to pump out warm air from your room and push in cool air, this activity essentially also removes the allergens or contaminants in your room or house that may be causing your allergies to flare up. While a properly maintained air conditioning unit could relieve allergy symptoms, an old unit, one without proper AC filters, a unit that is not maintained properly, etc. may release back into the air the pollutants that were previously absorbed through the air conditioner’s activities, thus causing for your allergy symptoms to rise up. 

How does an Air Conditioner work?

Air conditioning has been used globally to relieve rooms of extreme temperatures that make lives everywhere more comfortable and optimal. Air conditioners essentially would remove the warm air from an enclosed space, and releases it outdoors; while cool air is simultaneously pumped back into the room, thus reducing the room’s temperature. The basic functioning of an air conditioning unit would be to remove heat and humidity from indoors, while a refrigerant or a coolant is used to cool air and pump it into the enclosed space. 

Air-borne allergens and air quality 

An allergy attack can commence regardless of whether the individual spends time at home or outside in heavily congested areas. Many people tend to stay indoors to avoid the allergens that are highly prevalent outdoors, it is however rarely that people take the measure to protect themselves from poor indoor air quality. With the presence of dust, mold spores, pollens, dust mites, pet dander, etc. indoor air quality can be a challenge to address, especially in highly industrialized countries. 

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts pollutants in 5 categories, namely:

  • Ground-Level Ozone
  • Particulate Matter 
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

These are the most common pollutants that have significant impacts on allergies. However, they cannot be solely blamed for allergies as pollen counts, mold spores, pet dander, vehicular emissions, wildfires, etc. can also cause inflammation and irritation to lung tissue that could trigger allergies. 

What are you breathing in?

Mold: 

Mold thrives and grows in damp environments leading to infestations that could have dire effects on health. 80% of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is contributed to mold infestations, the most common form being the black mold (RTK, n.d.). 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): 

Various old buildings have been found to use unsafe paint and asbestos, while this is being rectified in the larger common areas; they are usually ignored in the lesser-visited spaces like a basement. Therefore, particles like lead dust, radon, other carcinogens, etc. would be present along with other particles originating from old upholstery, adhesives, paints, carpeting, varnishes, old furniture, pesticides, cleaning products, gym machines, gardening equipment, etc. 

Fiberglass particles:

Fiberglass insulation is commonly used and is one of the major contributors to poor indoor air quality. Since fiberglass is present all across ceilings and walls, there is very little effort made to reduce the impact caused by breathing in small glass particles. It is also used in the manufacture of piping, sports equipment, fire protection equipment, drum sets, etc. So, breathing in fiberglass doesn’t necessarily originate from insulation, it could be a breakdown of particles from items stored in a basement. 

Common Allergens:

The dust, mites, pollen, vermin and its droppings, mold spores, bacteria build-ups, mildew particles, etc. are some particles that can trigger allergic reactions. If there is equipment like washing machines and dryers, chances are lint is being inhaled as well. Not cleaning equipment could trigger infestations that spread rapidly across stored items in a basement, leading to increased breakdowns of toxic particles. 

Vehicular Emissions:

Studies have repeatedly found out that vehicular exhaust fumes have caused varying degrees of respiratory difficulties amongst kids and adults. A study conducted in Taiwan amongst 32,134 schoolchildren found that their increased exposure to air pollutants during traffic hours has increased their risk of developing allergic rhinitis (UoB, 2006). The study observed that these children were exposed to multiple pollutants in the city’s center including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, etc. 

The study showed that the official diagnosis of allergic rhinitis increased by 10% for every 10 ppb (parts per billion) increase in levels of nitrogen oxides (UoB, 2006). The chances of respiratory difficulties amongst children increased if they had a familial history of the same issues. 

Chemical fumes: 

Fumes from paints, pesticides, cleaning products, bleach, varnishes, gas, solvents, etc. emanate strong chemical fumes. These fumes could cause inflammation to the outer skin as well as to lung tissue and can contribute to poisoning or cancer due to long-term exposure. A radioactive chemical that is often present in basements is radon. Radon has been found to be the 2nd largest contributor to lung cancer in the US, with an average of 21,000 deaths every year (EPA, n.d.). Since radon is odorless and colorless, poisoning from radon is usually identified quite late. 

Pet Dander: 

Allergic reactions to pets can be due to the body’s response to the protein that is found in an animals’ skin cells, saliva, feces, urine, etc. Most usually, the allergic reaction is triggered by inhalation of the pet’s dead skin (dander) and has been mostly associated with exposure to cats and dogs (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Pet allergies can appear as symptoms of asthma, wheezing, breathlessness, etc. The most common way to avoid pet allergies would be to avoid pets, however, in situations that are not possible, various other solutions such as the below ones can be implemented. 

Benefits of air conditioning 

  • Air conditioners usually have unique filters that help them remove dangerous allergens such as pollen, dust, mold spores, etc. from circulating in the air, thus drastically reducing the incidence of allergies in different individuals.
  • Air conditioners are capable of removing excess moisture from your room, therefore reducing the occurrence of mold or mildew. 
  • It stabilizes indoor room temperatures, keeping heat strokes, and other heat-related illnesses far away. 
  • They help reduce dehydration by keeping your body cool, which keeps you from sweating and losing water from your body. 
  • Optimally set air conditioner units could drastically improve ones’ sleep and keep one comfortable, reducing sleep disturbances. 
  • Cleaner air from well-maintained air conditioners has been found to reduce asthma attacks in different individuals.
  • There are fewer insects, bugs, fleas, etc. in your room as the air conditioner filter theoretically would be capable of filtering out these elements. 
  • The closed windows and doors required for optimal functioning of an air conditioner unit, ensure to keep poor outdoor air quality and noise pollution at bay. 

Increased allergies with AC, explained

Air filters in air conditioning units stop harmful particles such as dust, pollen, mold spores, VOCs, etc. by capturing them through these specialized filters and ensuring that they are not released back indoors. This drastically improves indoor air quality. Air conditioners can also reduce allergies with their capabilities to reduce humidity within enclosed spaces, thus reducing the chances of bacteria thriving indoors, mildew, mold, etc. 

As mentioned above, AC filters are a crucial step to reducing allergens within an enclosed space. Therefore, filters must be maintained and cleaned periodically so that they are not clogged with dust and debris which may impede their functioning. A clogged filter could reduce the efficiency of a filter to capture airborne contaminants, and led to the increased circulation of these pollutants within a room, thus causing allergy flare-ups. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does my air conditioner cause increased allergy attacks?

What steps need to be taken to reduce allergies that are triggered by the inefficient functioning of air conditioning units? 

  • Schedule regular maintenance check-ups to ensure optimal functioning of air conditioners.
  • Clean or lightly vacuum the AC filters periodically to remove the dust and debris from the filters. 
  • Ensure windows and doors are closed to avoid an inflow of contaminants into the room. 
  • Replace your old air conditioning units with ones that have improved functions and filter technology. 

Can air conditioners filter out smoke from a room?

The truth about filtering smoke from a room is that air conditioners are not capable of doing so. AC filters can remove dust, soot, and other finer particles from an enclosed space, however, most AC filters do not have the capability to filter out heavy smoke from a room in hopes to improve indoor air quality. Heavy smoke compromises a large concentration of fine particles, which could easily travel through an AC’s filter, thus, essentially it would move through the filters and be pumped back into the room. 

References

Airclaws. (2019, May 07). Does my AC help with allergy symptoms? Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://airclaws.com/does-my-ac-help-with-allergy-symptoms/ 

BoxT. (2022). How does air conditioning work? Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.boxt.co.uk/air-conditioning/guides/how-air-conditioning-works#:~:text=Air%20conditioning%20units%20work%20by,this%20is%20how%20they%20function.  

Craig D. (2017, August 11). Why your air conditioner may be flaring up your allergies. Philly Voice. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.phillyvoice.com/why-your-air-conditioner-may-be-flaring-your-allergies/ 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Health Risk of Radon. United States EPA. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon    

Home Upward. (2020, November 18). Do Air conditioners filter out smoke? Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://homeupward.com/do-air-conditioners-filter-smoke/#:~:text=Air%20conditioners%20work%20by%20sucking,conditioners%20cannot%20filter%20out%20smoke

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Pet allergy. Overview. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192  

RTK Environmental Group (RTK). (n.d.). Beware of Basement Air. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://rtkenvironmental.com/healthy-home/beware-of-basement-air/   

University of Birmingham (UoB). (2006, February 22). Traffic Fumes Linked to Childhood Allergies. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2006/02/22feb-allergies.aspx  

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