Air conditioners are a staple in any American home nowadays. It comes as no surprise then that people think more about how this modern device impacts their family’s health.
This concern is not out of place because many medical experts are looking into the relationship between the increase in blood pressure and the use of air conditioners. Does Air Conditioning Raise Blood Pressure? What are the findings and how does it relate to you and your household? Let’s find out.
What Can Cause High Blood Pressure?
One of the most common health issues in America is hypertension. One in every three Americans is diagnosed to have high blood pressure, with people over 50 years of age being 30% to 50% more susceptible to suffering from it. Hypertension is the gateway to other several heart and brain diseases, including heart attack and stroke.
From the term itself, blood pressure refers to the amount of force your blood pushes against the wall of your arteries. Meanwhile, arteries are responsible for transporting blood from your heart to every part of your body.
The danger begins when there is an increase in the pressure of blood’s movement through the arteries. If too much force is applied to these blood vessels for an extended period, the artery can become elastic reducing its capacity to carry blood throughout the body.
For a health problem that is contributing to more than half a million fatalities in the US, high blood pressure comes with almost no distinct symptoms. Often called a “silent killer,” a person with high blood pressure can walk around without knowing he has it. Constantly measuring your blood pressure levels is the only definitive way to determine if you have hypertension.
Medical experts point to natural causes of high blood pressure such as old age, the patient’s family history, race or ethnic group, long-term conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney illnesses, and hormonal imbalance.
But many lifestyle choices also surge the chances of high blood pressure including tobacco use, obesity, stress, high cholesterol, salty, and fatty diet.
However, the latest scientific findings linked air conditioning and the overall indoor air temperature to potentially impacting blood pressure levels. Is there any truth to it?
How Can Air Conditioning Affect Blood Pressure?
There are always two sides to the story when it comes to the impact of AC on our personal and our family’s health.
On one hand, air conditioners have been found to have immense health benefits, especially against heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and cardiac arrest. Hospitalized patients with respiratory diseases noticeably recover faster if placed in air-conditioned rooms. Several studies have also proven that mortality rates related to excessive heat and extreme levels of humidity have significantly reduced because of the use of AC.
On the other hand, many assign blame to air conditioning for some health problems such as constant fatigue, or what some refer to as “sick building syndrome,” dry skin and nasal passages, and breathing problems.
A recent study by the University College London (UCL), a prime public research university in the United Kingdom, revealed a new AC health risk to add to the list above. According to the said reputable research institution, experiments published in the Journal of Hypertension showed that “lower indoor temperatures were associated with higher blood pressure.”
Can Air Conditioners Really Increase Blood Pressure Levels?
The question remains whether air conditioning can cause high blood pressure.
UCL’s newfound study mentioned earlier discussed that maintaining a warmer indoor air temperature is more beneficial in keeping blood pressure levels normal. This is of course in the company of keeping a good healthy diet and wholesome changes in a person’s lifestyle.
How did the proponents of the research determine how variations in indoor temperature affect blood pressure? After identifying 4,659 participants of the experiment and their overall health and current lifestyle, researchers had nurses visit the participants in their residences and measure their BP and the indoor temperature of their homes.
The scientists and scholars discovered from the figures that those who lived in houses with very low temperatures have an average systolic BP of 126.64 mmHg and average diastolic BP of 74.52 mmHg. When they compared it to participants with warmer homes, they observed an average of 121.12 mmHg (systolic) and 70.51 mmHg (diastolic).
Based on these sets of information, the researchers concluded that “every 1°C decrease in indoor temperature was associated with rises of 0.48 mmHg in systolic blood pressure and 0.45 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure.”
The disparity between these data is significant enough to publish the study and make recommendations about the use of air conditioning in the UK and in American homes as well.
AC Cuts Heat-Related Deaths
Heat-related deaths are a real and serious cause for concern. Medscape.com, a website dedicated to being a "one-stop resource for medical news, clinical reference, and education" reported that there are about 400 deaths every year in the United States attributed to extreme natural heat.
This staggering number of mortality cases because of the punishing heat is surely upsetting. However, more of these instances could be prevented from multiplying.
The Washington Post, in the Science and Health section, published the results of a study entitled, Adapting to Climate Change: The Remarkable Decline in the U.S. Temperature-Mortality Relationship over the 20th Century (2015, May). This research attributed the decline of heat-related deaths in the country to the prevalent use of air conditioners in private homes and offices.
The publication also presented related findings on how the innovation of air conditioning saved the lives of people who could have died in extremely hot weather conditions.
- After 1960, there was a noticeable drop in mortality due to extremely hot weather temperature that exceeds 80° F by about 75%. There were 20,000 fewer deaths per year because Americans found advanced ways through technology to protect themselves in very hot, humid climates.
- Air conditioning is one of the celebrated health-related developments that improved the well-being of US residents. The other two are residential electricity and access to health care.
Enabling electricity to be accessed by homeowners countrywide allowed them to use fans, refrigeration, and ultimately, air conditioners. While better access to health care combined with the installation of AC in hospitals make the thermoregulation, or balanced core internal temperature of recovering patients, trouble-free.
- Since AC has been introduced in the market in 1960, the current value of consumer surplus in the United States ranges from $85 to $188 billion ($2012). Consumer surplus is the difference between the price that buyers of a product pay and the price that they are willing to pay.
As an example, a consumer is willing to pay $700 for an AC unit but got it for only $500. This $200 that he did not have to pay represents the additional satisfaction a buyer gets when they are paying a lower amount than what they were willing to spend.
This substantial amount of consumer surplus for AC means how people find AC to be very helpful and almost a necessity in their daily lives.
Other recognized published studies support the fact of the diminishing effect of AC use to mortality due to extreme heat.
Your Air Conditioner and Your Health
While the UCL research did not propose strict rules about not using AC, it did make a recommendation of keeping indoor air temperature to at least 70°F (or 21°C).
Additionally, the temperature influenced by air conditioning is not the sole factor that leads to hypertension. The study also points to lack of adequate physical exercise and social deprivation as contributing elements to increased blood pressure.
We can all agree that air conditioning does us a lot of good in terms of comfort and healthy living. But as with everything else, moderation is the key.