As the temperature soars in the summer months, there comes a time when you need to turn on the air conditioning. But as the air cools, you and your family start to sneeze. You ask yourself if it could be an allergic reaction to your air conditioning, but that seems unlikely. So, the only other explanation must be a seasonal allergy. Hay fever, a sinus condition; something triggered by pollen in the air, perhaps?
While it may seem implausible that your air conditioning is the only reason for the bout of sneezing, the air within the system is the root cause, meaning that the system, while not directly to blame, is helping to circulate contaminated air.
It’s time to look at the usual suspects when it comes to the air blowing your way.
How Does Air Conditioning Spread Allergies?
Think about the environment that you live in and what triggers there are that might contribute to your increased allergies. Your air conditioning may be disturbing those airborne pollutants and delivering them throughout your home.
So which contaminants could be to blame?
- Pollen - Pollen comes from plants and can enter homes through open doors and windows. It is a trigger for hay fever and other sinus-related allergies.
- Mold and mildew - A damp humidifier, condensate pan, or cooling coil can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew.
- Pet dander - Keeping your pets well-groomed can prevent pet dander from becoming airborne through your air conditioning system.
- Bacteria and viruses - Airborne bacteria and viruses can include influenza, chickenpox, measles, and legionella.
- Dust mites - Dust mites breed inside air conditioners and feed on particles of human skin.
- Pollution - Air pollution is not just something found outdoors. Often, through open windows and doors, it finds a way inside your home.
Airborne pollutants, like those listed above, cause sixty percent of asthma cases. One simple way of determining whether these contaminants are circulating around your air conditioner is to check your filters. Dirty filters are one of the most common causes of particles being present in the system.
According to Energy Star, you should change your A/C filters at least once a month in the peak allergy season. This depends on where you live, because your environment determines the type and how many airborne pollutants there are in the atmosphere.
If you live in New York, you are more likely to suffer from lower air quality and pollution, than if you live in the countryside. However, on the flip-side, pollen then becomes a problem during the seasonal allergies period.
So, a well maintained and clean filter will drastically reduce your chances of coming into contact with contaminants and other airborne allergies. A clean filter traps spores as air is circulated through the conditioning system, but a dirty filter does the opposite; spreading dust, pollen, mold and mildew, and pollution, blowing them throughout your home.
Also, dirty filters reduce the efficiency of your air conditioning by reducing the free flow of air.
But maintenance doesn't start and stop at filters. It is also crucial that you maintain the entire system, reducing the chances of microbes resting in the air ducts and getting disturbed when the air conditioner gets switched on. This could trigger symptoms, irritating your ears, nose, and throat.
Air Conditioner Allergy Symptoms
Some common features of a reaction to air contaminants can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Watery eyes
- Digestive issues
While all of these symptoms are a sure sign that your air conditioning may be contaminated, there are some negative health consequences that you need to be aware of:
- Breathing problems - When air conditioners don't get thoroughly cleaned regularly, they can become a breeding ground for nasty bacteria and fungi.
- Fatigue, headaches, and generally feeling ill - After a day at work, you may find that your energy levels take longer to recover. You might also feel headachy and listless.
- Becoming contaminated - The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) warns that people are more at risk of contact with pollutants and bacteria inside the home. Air conditioners don't draw fresh air, they only serve to recirculate stale air.
- Dry skin - Cold, dry air causes a lack of moisture in our skin as it dries. The longer you are exposed to these conditions, the more your skin deteriorates.
- Increased trips to see the doctor - Research has found that long-term exposure to air conditioners can increase your dependence on health care services. The most common ailments are ear, nose, and throat conditions.
How to Prevent Allergic Reaction to Air Conditioners
Treating the Causes of Indoor Air Pollutants
Installing the proper filters and replacing them on a timely basis are crucial elements for combatting air conditioner allergy problems. If, like most people, you are convinced that the air filter in your system is adequate to ward off contaminants, don't be fooled. Your air filter serves as a tool to stop dust and other debris from entering your air conditioning equipment to maintain a healthy and efficient system.
Here are some precautions you can take to help prevent allergic reactions:
- Keep doors and windows closed
It’s an effective way to help purify the air on the inside without letting contaminants in from the outside. This only works if the filters are clean.
- Change the air conditioner filters regularly
This stops the recycled air becoming dirty, as the air conditioner circulates polluted air.
- Get a high-quality pre and secondary filter
Investing in a pre-filter and secondary filter prolongs the life of your air filter and increases the number of pollutants that get trapped.
Here are a few HVAC maintenance tips that can reduce seasonal allergy reactions:
- Don’t skimp on your filter - Get the best filter that you can afford. HEPA filters are the most effective, trapping 99.97 percent of contaminants up to a size of 0.3 microns. Also, invest in pre and secondary filters.
- Clear away dust and debris - Keep on top of the housework to reduce the dust and debris in the atmosphere. Be on the lookout for mold - Mold grows in damp conditions, so keep the humidity levels to around 50 percent. Also, remove any wet clothes from the room and keep plants to a minimum.
- Dust registers and vents first - Make sure you clear out the ducts, as well as the vents on the air conditioning unit outside.
- Sign up to an annual maintenance plan - This ensures that your system will be professionally cleaned and maintained at least once a year. This is good for the air in your home, and your air conditioner.
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