Can You Be Allergic to Air Conditioning?

Achoo! Ever flip on the AC for a refreshing blast of cool air, only to be met with a barrage of sneezes? You might be wondering if you're allergic to your air conditioner itself. Well, that's unlikely. But the culprit behind your sniffles could be hiding within the system.

While your AC isn't directly causing the allergy, it can be the reason those bothersome allergens are suddenly making themselves known. Let's take a closer look at the usual suspects hitchhiking a ride on your cool air.

Key Takeaways

  • Your AC doesn't cause allergies, but it can stir up existing allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold already in your home.
  • Dirty air conditioner filters are a major culprit, allowing allergens to circulate freely.
  • Regularly changing your air filters (especially during peak allergy season) and scheduling professional cleaning for your AC unit can significantly reduce allergy symptoms.
  • MERV filters are the most effective at trapping allergens as small as 0.3 microns.

How Does Your Air Conditioner Spread Allergies?

Ever notice your allergies acting up more when the AC is on? You're not alone!  While your air conditioner isn't creating allergies, it can definitely stir up tiny troublemakers already in your home.

Image shows an AC unit that is capturing dust and pollenSo which contaminants could be to blame?

  • Pollen: Think of all those springtime sniffles. Pollen sneaking in through windows can get redistributed by your AC, making your symptoms worse.
  • Mold and mildew: Damp places inside your AC unit, like the drip pan, can be a breeding ground for mold spores. These spores can then get circulated through the air, triggering allergy attacks.
  • Pet dander: Furry friends are lovable, but their dander can irritate allergies. An air conditioner can pull dander up and blow it around, making things worse. Regular grooming helps!
  • Bacteria and viruses: Airborne bacteria and viruses can include influenza, chickenpox, measles, and legionella.
  • Dust mites: Dust mites love to munch on dead skin cells.  If your air filters get clogged, these tiny dust-dwelling creatures and their allergens can get blown right into your face.
  • Pollution: Even if you live far from factories, outdoor pollution can sneak inside. Your AC can then spread those pollutants around, worsening allergy symptoms.

Dirty AC and Asthma Attacks

Airborne pollutants, like those listed above, cause around 60% 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.

READ MORE: 5 Ways Dirty Air Filters Ruin Your Life

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How Often Should I Replace My Air Conditioning Filter to Help Allergies?

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.

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

Image shows an old dirty filterSome common features of a reaction to air contaminants can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Watery eyes
  • Digestive issues

Air Conditioning Allergies and Health 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 an Allergic Reaction to Air Conditioners

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.

Treating the Causes of Indoor Air Pollutants

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. MERV 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 for 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. More about annual care plans.

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FAQs: Air Conditioning and Allergies

Can I be allergic to air?

No, you cannot be allergic to air itself. Air is a mixture of gases, primarily nitrogen and oxygen, which are generally harmless. Allergies are triggered by the body's immune system overreacting to specific airborne substances like pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. While you might experience discomfort when breathing in dry or cold air, this wouldn't be considered a true allergy.

Can I be allergic to my air conditioner?

No, you likely aren't allergic to the air conditioner itself. However, your AC unit can stir up allergens already present in your home, triggering allergy symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes.

What allergens might my air conditioner be spreading?

Common culprits include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, and even outdoor air pollution. These allergens can sneak in through windows or hide inside your AC unit, then get circulated through the air when the system runs.

How can I tell if my air conditioner filters are contributing to my allergies?

Dirty or clogged air conditioner filters won't trap allergens effectively, allowing them to circulate freely. Check your filters regularly and replace them according to the manufacturer's instructions, especially during peak allergy season. Look for a noticeable increase in allergy symptoms after turning on the AC as a potential sign.

Why is my AC making me sick?

Your AC likely isn't the culprit, but it can worsen allergies. It circulates dust, pollen, and mold already in your home, and dry air can irritate airways.

What are some ways to reduce allergens circulated by my air conditioner?

Here are some key strategies:

  • Change air filters regularly: Invest in high-quality filters, ideally MERV filters, which trap very small particles. Increase the frequency of changes during peak allergy seasons.
  • Schedule professional AC cleaning: A professional cleaning can remove built-up dust, mold, and other allergens from within the AC unit.
  • Minimize outdoor allergens entering your home: Keep doors and windows closed on high pollen days.
  • Maintain a clean home environment: Regularly dust, vacuum, and wash bedding to reduce overall allergens in your living space.
  • Consider additional air purification: Air purifiers can be a helpful addition to capture allergens not trapped by your AC filters.

How often should I have my air conditioner professionally cleaned?

Ideally, have your AC professionally cleaned at least once a year. If you have pets or experience severe allergies, consider twice-yearly cleaning.