An occasional cough is not alarming because it is a natural reflex when we want to clear something from our throat, like dust or germs. But if a cough does not go away or presents with other symptoms, it is a sign of a more serious medical issue.
There have been concerns that air conditioning can cause cough and other respiratory problems. Some refer to these suspected air-conditioner-related illnesses as air conditioning lung or air conditioning cough. So, can air conditioning make you cough?
In this article, we will explore such concerns whether the use of AC may somehow lead to coughing, and what preemptive steps you can take to stop your cooling system from making you cough.
Can Air Conditioning Cause Coughing?
Yes. The use of an air conditioner may make you cough if it is NOT regularly maintained or is being used improperly.
Your AC can be causing your cough if:
- Overuse of AC or setting it too low can deplete the moisture in the air so much that it irritates the throat which leads to cough.
- A faulty cooling unit can also prompt mold growth in problematic areas of your home triggering cough and inflammation of sinuses and airways.
- A dirty filter can have dust and dirt buildup which can trigger allergies and other respiratory problems.
However, a clean and well-maintained air conditioner can contribute to good indoor air quality and should not give you coughs or other respiratory problems.
How May the Use of AC Lead to Coughs?
The air conditioner is a staple in any American home. Why of course since it helps regulate the heat in your home, improve air quality, and create a comfortable living environment.
But some people speculate, seemingly from collaborative reports from those who experienced it, that the use of air conditioning made them cough.
How could something that is designed to make you comfortable indoors do the opposite and make you sick from coughing?
Before we answer that, let’s tackle first how a typical air conditioner operates and how might it impact your body, specifically your respiratory system.
How Does Air Conditioning Work?
Although the air conditioning system may look fancy and overly complex, the way it works is pretty simple. It takes the warm air from a room and removes its heat and excess moisture by running it through a series of coils with the refrigerant inside them. The heat is exhausted outdoors and the cool air is blown back indoors.
With this simplification of the process, we can understand that the AC does not put new or fresh air into the room but it draws in the existing air in your home, processes it to lower the temperature, and return the same air into your living areas, only cooler.
Other key players are also in the mix such as the thermostat, which reads how warm the room is and signals the air conditioner to start the cooling process based on the preferred setting. The other essential part of an air conditioner is the filter which traps the small particles and prevents them from getting inside the AC and damaging its internal parts.
If these HVAC components are working efficiently, the result is a comfortably dry and cool environment, ideal for staying indoors during the warmer seasons.
On the other hand, if one or more of these parts have been misused, neglected, and later on damaged, it will lead to unfavorable consequences to your family’s health.
Dry Air and Extremely Cold Temperature
Excess humidity indoors is the enemy of home comfort. You feel icky and irritable because the abundant moisture in the air prevents your sweat from evaporating from your skin adding to your misery.
This is where air conditioners can come to the rescue as they remove the surplus of water in the air leaving your skin cool and dry. But sometimes, it’s too dry.
Prolonged exposure to air conditioning or setting it to full blast will eliminate almost all of the moisture from the air leaving your skin, lips, eyes, and throat dry. This is quite a problem for your throat which needs sufficient moisture to keep its good state.
An adequate amount of saliva is needed so your mouth and throat will not feel uncomfortably scratchy and they are lubricated when you chew and swallow food. A throat with enough moisture can also counteract unhealthy acids, kill germs, and can even fend off bad breath and tooth decay.
On the contrary, a dry throat due to too much or too cold air conditioning can lead to irritation of the throat and a dry cough.
Faulty AC and Mold Growth
Air conditioners commonly cause coughing when they lack proper and regular maintenance leading to mold growth in your home. What’s the connection?
People tend to panic only when their air conditioner breaks down right at the peak of summer heat. Ironically, however, most would just ignore minor repair issues and some even abandon having an annual HVAC service and maintenance entirely!
The sad reality is some AC units only get to be handled by a professional technician (if at all) upon installation and then left on their own until it encounters a major issue that prompts them for early replacement.
Meanwhile, the faulty air conditioner fails to maintain the right level of humidity in certain areas of the house such as the bathroom, kitchen, and basement, then falls short of keeping the indoor air quality in an acceptable condition.
This is the exact opportunity mold is waiting for. Mold loves damp places as it encourages its propagation. Spores from this mold will trigger mold allergy in some people with symptoms like itchy eyes, nose, and throat, stuffy nose, asthma, and what else? Cough.
Mold spores can also enter the lungs of those with a weaker immune system or take immuno-suppressants which lead to more serious respiratory problems.
Dirty Filter and Allergen Buildup
The majority of commercial brands of air conditioners have built-in filters in them whose main purpose is to protect the cooling device from unwanted particles invading the machine and damaging its parts. As a byproduct, the filter traps harmful debris that may pollute your family’s breathing air like pollen, dust, dirt, dander, and small insects.
This function of the filter is good in itself until homeowners forget that HVAC filters are not supposed to last forever. Dust and pollen can build up in the unit causing allergens to be blown back into the air setting off year-round allergies, asthma, or a rare condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
So, air conditioning can give you a cough if they are cycling debris back into your air or growing mold and bacteria in their filter.
How Can You Prevent Coughing from Air Conditioners?
Now that we have discussed how air conditioners cause cough and other health issues, we are more than interested in how to avoid these threats to our well-being.
Here are the tips that will make your air conditioner work for you and not against you in creating a cough-free home.
Use Humidifiers and Keep the AC at a Comfortable Level
To efficiently deal with dry air, a simple installation of humidifiers will solve the problem. A humidifier adds the needed moisture to the air by spraying mist into the room. For better results, you can also go for a whole-house humidifier to easier manage the moisture levels in all the rooms in your home instead of having to handle many separate ones.
While it may seem like an okay idea to turn your AC on high all day to fight the summer heat, it is best to keep the thermostat level in a comfortable setting as the intense cold can make you cough.
Regularly Maintain Your HVAC
Don’t leave the working order of your air conditioner up to chance. Make plans to schedule a visit by your trusted HVAC technician to check your AC for minor repair issues. They can detect the problems early on and implement fixes to help your unit last longer and more efficiently.
Replace Air Conditioner Filters
Filters can come in a washable variety or replaceable ones. Wash and clean those washable types thoroughly and regularly every month or two. But if you live in a dusty locale or have fur-bearing pets living with you at home, you may have to clean and replace your filters a bit more often.