You absolutely cannot live without your air conditioner, especially at the height of the summer season. But you also cannot take another minute of chest-wrenching coughing. True, air conditioners are a common feature in modern homes and buildings, but they can sometimes make you cough and cause other respiratory problems.
It’s not uncommon to wonder how to get rid of a cough from air conditioning. Or how can you prevent a cough from air conditioning in a natural way? At what point should you see a doctor and take medication?
Let’s examine these practical ways to do away with AC-related coughs and what can you do to enjoy the benefits of an air conditioner without experiencing cough or other respiratory issues.
What are the Natural Ways to Get Rid of Air Conditioner Cough?
While it is important to seek medication if a cough persists for more than a few weeks, there are some non-medicinal ways you can do to prevent and get rid of a cough.
If you suspect that your air conditioner is causing your coughs, do the following steps:
- Replace your AC filter. Your constant coughing may be a symptom of an allergy attack. The filters of a cooling system collect air pollutants and eventually get clogged with dust, pollen, dirt, and other harmful allergens. Not replacing them on time may lead to coughs year-round as the irritants keep circulating in your breathing air. Always check your filter if they need cleaning or changing.
- Increase the humidity. Using air conditioning for too long at a very low setting can plummet the moisture level in your home. Exceedingly low humidity will lead to dehydrated sinuses, throat, and air passages which are easily inflamed. An irritated sinus will cause congestion and increased mucus production. The post-nasal drip from the congestion combined with a very parched throat and airways results in a dry cough. Use a humidifier to increase the water vapor in the air.
- Regularly maintain your air conditioner. An air conditioner needs regular annual maintenance to last longer and to keep operating smoothly. Without it, the AC will work twice as hard and later on fail to maintain the level of comfort you expect and keep the humidity in check. Mold will start to develop in problematic areas of the house and trigger mold allergy, acute coughs, and even asthma in those with weaker respiratory. Keep a strict schedule of annual maintenance and service of your unit.
Go see your doctor if your cough or a cough in any member of your family–especially children and elderly—lasts for more than 3 weeks, coughs with thick, greenish-yellow phlegm, cough with wheezing or difficulty in breathing, or is accompanied by high fever, night sweats, and sudden weight loss.
Your physician may prescribe over-the-counter cough medicine, advise you to increase your water intake, or drink honey and lemon for a more potent effect, or write you an order for prescription medication for more serious cases of cough.
Why Is My Air Conditioning Making Me Cough?
The esteemed health agency of the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has high regard for air conditioning systems in combating heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
“Air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness,” the CDC firmly advocated.
One research published by American researchers from various prestigious universities and institutions even stated that air conditioning has reduced premature deaths in the US by 80%, and has been doing so for many decades since the 1960s.
This discovery, however, does not skip the fact that air conditioners, or any other HVAC system for that matter, can pose a health risk to homeowners if they are misused.
Some people claim, for example, that they are getting coughs from staying in rooms with air conditioners or acquiring what some people refer to as “air conditioner lung”. Why not explore the possible reasons why your AC is making you cough?
Exposure to Allergens
You would imagine you are already safe from allergies just by being indoors. And if your AC filter is clean and in good working condition, that may be essentially true.
The filter serves as a frontline in keeping harmful particles at bay. Although its main purpose is to protect the interior components of an HVAC, the great aftermath of its function is to prevent dangerous particles from circulating back to your breathing air.
But as weeks, months, and years fly by, the filter gets blocked with the accumulation of dust, dirt, animal hair, pollen, small insects, and other potential irritants.
If you inhale these toxic substances, your body’s natural reflex is to cough up any impurities that enter your airways. And if your air conditioner continues to blow back these allergens into the air, your cough may be non-stop.
An ideal indoor environment is cold yet dry. That is the specialty of the air conditioner as it expertly lowers the temperature and removes the excess moisture from the air.
However, misuse of an AC unit can sometimes lead to overly dry air. Setting your thermostat in a ridiculously low setting for many hours can make you feel really cold but it can wipe out the moisture in your home.
Certain parts of the human body need an adequate amount of water or moisture for us to stay healthy. They are called mucous membranes and their role is to protect the inside parts of your body that are exposed to the air such as the eyes, lips, mouth, nasal passages, and the lining of the respiratory tract.
If these membranes get dried out because of AC overuse, the result is irritation, inflammation, and in some cases, infection. Your throat, nasal passages, and respiratory tract can easily be inflamed if dehydrated leading to cough and uneasy breathing.
Poor AC Maintenance
Upon installation, your cooling unit must have been installed and looked after by an HVAC professional (we hope so). But as years went on, you might have paid less and less attention to its maintenance, and its annual checkup and service are long forgotten.
Small, insignificant repair issues have slowly turned into major repair dilemmas that cost you a lot of money. What’s more, is that you suddenly notice mold in problematic sections of your home like the toilet, kitchen, and basement.
Mold is a common source of cough and respiratory problems, especially for those with mold allergy and pre-existing asthma. Along with cough, they may experience shortness of breath and wheezing.
Symptoms Your Cough is AC Related
The most obvious clue if your air conditioner is causing you to get coughs is you start to have tightness in the chest and shortness of breath making you cough as soon as the AC is turned on.
Your symptoms can also be likened to a cold where you feel congested, scratchy in the throat, nose, and eyes similar to an allergy attack, or generally uncomfortable in an indoor space with air conditioners running.
The final hint that your AC is the culprit of your incessant cough is if you immediately feel better as soon as you leave the air-conditioned space.
However, if your cough is accompanied by the following, please contact your physician as the source of your cough is more serious and may not be related to air conditioning:
- Thick, greenish-yellow phlegm
- Wheezing or difficulty in breathing
- High fever
- Night sweats
- Sudden weight loss
- Cough lasts for more than 3 weeks
Depending on the severity, the doctor may give you over-the-counter cough medicine such as dextromethorphan and expectorant. Or if it is not too severe and can be remedied at home, he may recommend drinking more water with lemon, hot tea, honey, or chicken soup.
For more serious cases, your physician may prescribe benzonatate, a form of cough suppressant.
How to Treat Cough Caused by Air Conditioners
Cough from the use of an air conditioner can be a real problem, but there are many ways to prevent and treat it. Follow the steps below to shield yourself and your family from air conditioning cough.
- Clean and replace your filters every 90 days or less.
- Use an air purifier to improve the air quality of your home.
- Use a room humidifier or install a whole-house humidifier.
- Keep the thermostat set at a comfortable level.
- Avoid AC overuse.
- Make plans for annual AC services by a qualified HVAC technician.
By following the tips outlined in this article, individuals can take pleasure in having a fully functional air conditioner without suffering from a cough or other respiratory illnesses.
While it is important to pay attention to indoor air quality, it is also critical to seek medical attention if your cough persists or is accompanied by other symptoms.