We asked a doctor to weigh in on why you’re feeling under the weather when the AC is cranked up.
It happens every year: You think you’ve escaped flu season scot-free, but once the temperature outside increases, you get a stuffy or runny nose and sore throat, among other symptoms. It’s easy to blame the air conditioner blasting freezing air into your bedroom at night—after all, doesn’t cold weather lead to more colds? Well, yes and no. The literal temperature doesn’t actually increase viruses, but the conditions it creates and how it affects people does mean we’re prone to illness when it’s cooler. Following this logic, then that means the air conditioner is making you sick, right? Well, kind of!
Respiratory disease expert and co-founder of Biovanta, Nazlie Latefi, PhD, explains, “Air conditioners dry the air in addition to cooling it, which dries out your mucus membranes as you breathe it in, and this makes you more susceptible to infection. The mucus in your air passages needs to be fluid in order to flow and trap viruses, bacteria, and mold. The fluidity allows cilia which line your respiratory membranes to beat and carry away the mucus and trapped pathogens, thus clearing the airways.” She also notes that it’s possible to get sick from the bacteria, viruses, or mold that can grow or get trapped inside your AC and then get expelled.
Signs your air conditioner is making you sick
Like we mentioned earlier, that cool air is also much dryer! Dehydration can worsen the effects you feel when you turn on the AC.
Thanks to dehydration, you may experience headaches and dizziness.
The mucus membranes of your eyeballs can dry out, leading to itchy, irritated eyes.
Flaky, Itchy Skin
Because of the lack of moisture, your skin might feel extremely dry, leading to itchy, flaking skin.
Cold or Allergy Symptoms
Sore throat, coughing, runny or stuffy noses might be the result of mold growing in your AC.
You might have trouble breathing because of mold growing in your AC or because of dirty air filters.
Increased Blood Pressure
As temperatures drop, your body will fight to regulate its temperature, which results in higher blood pressure.
Visible mold is a surefire way to confirm whether or not your AC is making you ill.
Yes, mold can still lead to cold symptoms, according to Dr. Latefi. They might progress to resemble allergy symptoms, including rashes, watery eyes, a stuffy nose, and cough. If it gets very serious, mold can form masses in the lungs and lead to shortness of breath.
How do you treat air conditioner sickness?
See a doc to rule out anything serious and confirm exactly what’s going on, but in the meantime, hydrate properly, use a humidifier if your skin and mouth are feeling dry, and consider setting the temperature to a slightly warmer level.
How to prevent air conditioner sickness
Dr. Latefi says exercise and a proper diet are important to staying healthy. “They help your body produce repair molecules called resolvins to overcome inflammation and damage from being sick,” she says. Hydration is also crucial to combat the cool, dry environment. “It keeps your respiratory system and more mucosal immunity working well,” Dr. Latefi adds. Maintain your AC units by cleaning and changing the filters regularly and make sure there’s no standing water in or around the units. “Air conditioners are pulling water from the air as they cool the air, so they can accumulate water. This can cause mold, bacteria, and viruses to accumulate and be circulated back to you,” Dr. Latefi says.
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