It is called the “common” cold for a reason. Millions of Americans each year get sick with a cold with an average of 2 to 3 recurrences of colds in adults and 6 to 10 colds in children. Despite being a relatively ordinary illness, a cold can still feel terrible and agonizing.
But what if you suspect that your air conditioner is the cause of your cold. Can you get a cold from air conditioning? Can air conditioning spread colds? If so, how do you eliminate being sick with a cold from air conditioning fast? More importantly, how can you prevent getting sick from AC?
We all want to be healthy so let’s investigate this hot topic of whether you can catch a cold or get sick from air conditioning.
Is Your AC Giving You a Cold?
Air conditioning DOES NOT inherently cause a cold and other diseases if it is well-maintained and in good working condition. A cold is typically caused by rhinovirus, a resistant virus that spreads from an infected person to others through the air they breathe, close contact with the person, or a surface the ailing person touches.
However, you may be MORE susceptible to catching a cold with air conditioning if the following conditions are met:
- The indoor humidity level is too low.
- The air is stagnant.
- The thermostat setting is too cold.
- The filters are dirty.
- Your air conditioner is not regularly maintained.
- You have poor personal hygiene.
There is still no known vaccine or cure for the common cold, but there are effective ways you can prevent them even with the air conditioning on:
- Keep the moisture level between 30% to 50%.
- Use fans to increase airflow.
- Set your thermostat at a comfortable level.
- Check your filters regularly and replace them with fresh ones.
- Have annual maintenance of your AC by a qualified expert.
- Maintain good personal hygiene and self-care.
Can Cold Air Make You Sick?
It is so easy to make the connection between cold air and catching a cold. After all, they sound identical. Many people also report being sick with the colds and flu during colder months or winter time.
Due to this, air conditioning gets a bad rap for producing cold air indoors in the summer. But is there any truth to it? Could you really get sick or catch a cold just by being exposed to air conditioning?
Here’s the cold truth (sorry for the pun): Cold air in itself does not make you sick.
A reputable medical institution, Johns Hopkins Medicine, offers this simple explanation for why more people seem to get sick when the climate turns cold: “People are indoors more often, allowing viruses to pass more easily from one person to another. And the cold, dry air may weaken resistance.”
The common cold can be contracted from 200 types of viruses. But the most notorious of them all is the rhinovirus. You can be infected if you touch a person carrying the virus or touch a contaminated item or surface. Colds can spread if the person who has a cold coughs and sneezes, and the droplets they produce get inhaled by people in an enclosed room.
How does it feel when the cold finally catches up to you? These are the classic symptoms of a cold:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Post-nasal drip
- Fever, in some cases
These symptoms can develop between 1 to 3 days and may last up to 10 days. While there is still no cure or vaccine to fight against ever having a cold, there are over-the-counter medicines you can take to manage its symptoms.
The question remains, though, if air conditioning can give you a cold. The short answer is no as cold is a virus-induced illness.
But can using the air conditioner make you more vulnerable to cold and other health issues? Can the AC spread the rhinovirus in any way? If so, how can you get rid of the risks?
How Do You Stop Getting Colds from Air Conditioning?
Although a cold typically goes away on its own in a few days, it is still a great inconvenience if you have to miss school, work, or any appointment you have if you catch a cold.
So how do you minimize the chance of catching a cold through air conditioning?
Keep the Humidity in Check
It is widely known that air conditioners remove the excess humidity in a room. The decreased moisture from the air results in a more pleasant and comfortable feeling indoors.
What is less known is the fact that too much use of an air conditioner can sap out almost all of the moisture from the air, exposing you to more viruses. How so?
Firstly, many viruses survive and thrive in places with low humidity. Secondly, the droplets of saliva that we produce every time we speak and breathe stay longer in the air when the air is too dry. So if a person infected with the cold virus talks or even breathes, their saliva droplets stay afloat long enough that you may inhale it and get infected as well.
To prevent these possibilities from happening, it is wise to use a humidifier to increase the level of humidity in your home. Also, the additional moisture would make the droplets in the air heavier so they fall to the ground quicker. This would lessen the chance of your family breathing in the cold virus.
Manage the Heat with Proper Airflow
As covered earlier, the virus causing colds to people can be transmitted if you had close contact with a person carrying the virus. Since air-conditioned spaces are usually airtight, it is too easy for an ill person to leave the virus, have it contained there, and spread it to others present in a home.
Increasing the ventilation is your best bet in letting the stagnant air out along with the viruses that could have made their way into your home. When the summer heat is not too punishing, you may have natural ventilation by opening some windows and doors and turning a fan on to circulate the fresh air.
You can also set your AC fan to “ON” even when the air conditioner or heating system is not running. The CDC advises ventilating your home for at least an hour or so after having house guests, especially if you suspect a visitor is sick with a cold or flu.
It is also helpful if you ask your trusted technician to check on your ventilation system for efficiency.
Stay on the Right Temperature
At the peak of summer heat, some find it irresistible to turn on their AC at a full blast. Unfortunately, being exposed to the nonstop air-conditioned breeze can cause you to have a cold.
Prolonged exposure to cool air can dry out the mucous membranes of your body. These membranes are the nostrils, eyes, mouth, throat, and airways to name a few. Their role is to protect the internal parts of the body that are exposed to the outside air.
Mucous membranes produce a thick liquid called the mucosa which helps the organs to perform their functions. However, if they become dried out because of intense and continuous cold air, these organs fail and the body is left unprotected from bacteria and viruses that trigger some diseases, and what else? Colds.
If you want to keep a cold at bay, make sure to set the thermostat at a pleasant level. Some use smart thermostats so they can easily manage the temperature in their home through their smartphones.
Maintain a Good Indoor Air Quality
Air conditioners, like other HVAC systems, commonly have built-in filters to trap common air pollutants like dust, dirt, mold, animal hair, pollen, and small insects. But CDC suggests the pleated type of filters with a higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or MERV Rating. It is found that filters with MERV 13 or higher capture more minuscule mold spores, bacteria, and virus-containing particles than ordinary ones.
It is also essential that filters get replaced every three months or less. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions in the users’ guide when you install new filters to keep your indoor air quality free from cold-causing toxins.
Some families decide to invest in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner or air purifier on top of their HVAC filters to further decrease the risk of air conditioning sickness.
Preserve Your Air Conditioner’s Health
The air quality of your indoor environment is not only dependent on the absence of viruses but on the health of your air conditioning units, too. Even if you change the filters often but neglect to have annual regular maintenance and service of your AC, you will still be susceptible to colds and other respiratory illnesses.
A qualified HVAC professional will be able to do a thorough checkup of your air conditioning system. They can also detect if your unit has fungal contamination inside and do a proper cleaning.
More importantly, your trusted technician can discern early on if your cooling device has minor repair issues and fix them before they lead to major problems making your AC inoperable or up for early retirement.
Take Good Care of Your Body
Finally, you may have your air conditioner in tip-top shape, your filters clean, and your house well-ventilated. But if you don’t have good and proper body hygiene, you can still catch a common cold.
CDC strongly recommends washing your hands often, especially before and after eating, after using the toilet, and after sneezing or coughing. This reputable medical organization revealed that constant hand-washing reduces the likelihood of catching a cold in the general population by 16 to 21%.
It is also vital to limit close contact with sick people and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.