You might be on the verge of buying an air conditioner or thinking about getting rid of one. Yet, you wonder, "Is air conditioning good for your health or can it damage it?"
Read on to know the real score on the health benefits and hazards of AC.
|Health BENEFITS of AC:||Health HAZARDS of AC:|
|The use of AC reduces the risk of heat-related deaths by 80%||Overuse of AC may result to dry skin and nasal passageways, which leads to colds|
|Chilled air from air conditioning lowers the chances of heat rash, heat exhaustion, and potentially fatal heatstroke||The extreme difference between outside and inside temperature poses a health risk for newborns and older people|
|Air conditioners filter out airborne allergens, relieving persons suffering from allergies||Dirty and unmaintained AC filters could have an allergen buildup that circulates them back into the indoor air|
|Air conditioning improves indoor air quality by controlling humidity|
|Cold temperature prevents the fast growth of molds and other bacteria and spoilage of stored foods|
For you to make an informed decision, we will break down each of these health benefits and hazards with facts and figures from the science and medicine world. Sounds exciting...riiiiiiiight!?
How is Air Conditioning Good for You?
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 in 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.
1. After 1960, there was a noticeable drop in mortality due to extremely hot weather temperatures 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.
2. 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 makes the thermoregulation, or balanced core internal temperature of recovering patients, trouble-free.
3. 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 that people find AC to be very helpful and almost a necessity in their daily lives.
Other recognized published studies support the fact of diminishing effect of AC use on mortality due to extreme heat.
AC is Good for the Heart
The Harvard Medical School posted on its Harvard Health Publishing site an article about how heatwaves are very damaging to one's heart. It also explained the process of how the heart works harder and could be exhausted during tremendously hot seasons.
Heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke could happen to a person when his body temperature upsurges too high. If this occurs, the proteins that support our body's functions and operate its chemical processes will stop running.
The negative effects of extreme heat could affect anyone, even a healthy young person. However, the blistering hot weather is critically more dangerous for people with weakened hearts and the elderly. Why is that?
During a particularly hot and humid day, your heart works extra hard as it tries to evacuate the heat from your body to the immediate environment. The problem begins when the surrounding temperature becomes warmer than your own body.
There are two bodily processes involved in releasing heat from your system: radiation and evaporation. Radiation routes the blood flow to the skin so heat escapes quickly. However, doing so requires the heart to circulate blood twice or quadruple times when it is hot as it does in cold weather.
The evaporation process also puts extra stress on our cardiovascular system. When it is hot, we perspire to cool ourselves down. However, sweating is not just extracting heat from our body but also minerals such as sodium and potassium. These minerals are required for contractions of the muscles, communication between nerves, and balanced water level of the body.
All in all, your heart beats harder and faster as it pumps blood to your body to accommodate the radiation and evaporation processes when exposed to too much heat.
Harvard Health Publishing provided a list of practical suggestions to cope with the unbearable heat and its harmful health risks. Among these tips, turning the air conditioner on to chill your surrounding air even for at least an hour or two is said to be the “best way to beat the heat.”
Although fans may help at some level, it has its limitations. Since a fan can only circulate the existing air in your environment, turning the fan on you on a very hot and humid day would even aggravate the heat which is even more dangerous to you.
AC Prevent Allergy Attacks
Allergies come in many forms, but when they attack you, it is always irritating and inconvenient. They make even simple daily activities difficult to accomplish.
Mild symptoms of allergy include sneezing, coughing, itching of the nose, eyes, and roof of the mouth, runny nose, and watery eyes. The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, where your airways become constricted which can cause wheezing and difficulty in breathing.
Pollen allergy is unavoidable during the allergy seasons. In the spring, summer, and fall, the high pollen count is typical and those pesky powdery substances get mixed in the air. They could easily invade your living space through your open windows and doors and disrupt your life even when you are inside your own home.
Not to mention the year-round sources of allergies like dust mites, cockroaches, mold and mildew, and furs and dander from your precious pets.
Medical experts, such as those in Mayo Clinic, strongly recommend fully depending on your AC during these allergy seasons while you close all your doors and windows.
Why is this particularly helpful?
1. Closing any air passageways like doors and windows and relying on your air conditioner will limit the entry of pollen into your house. Thus, also limiting the allergens you will be exposed to.
2. The AC filter removes harmful impurities in the air such as dust, pollen, small insects, animal fur, and dead skin flakes from your home.
3. The growth of mold and mildew, which is another common allergy trigger, will be minimized because AC controls the humidity in the entire living space and rooms.
You may ask: why is indoor air quality crucial to be kept safe?
The US Department of Agriculture supported the publishing of the material entitled Indoor Air Quality: Reducing Health Risks and Improving the Air You Breathe. It mentions that the general public spends 60% to 90% indoors.
These statistics might look good if we are thinking that people are being wise not to expose themselves too much to the sun and outside heat. On the other hand, The College of Agriculture, University of Kentucky revealed that the “indoor air is 5 to 10 times WORSE than outdoor air.”
The state of Florida took this indoor air quality problem seriously as it launched an “Indoor Air Program”. Its goal is to improve the health of its people by lessening their exposure to indoor contaminants. This government effort aims to improve indoor air quality in residences, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.
One of the factors why some homes have poor air quality is biological contaminants. These are the living and some dead organisms that accumulated because of high humidity such as animals’ fur, hair, or dead skin flakes, saliva, feces, molds, dust mites, insect scums, and other diminutive organisms.
The publication released by the Department of Agriculture admits that these contaminants could not be avoided, but they can be controlled. How? These organisms thrive in damp humid areas. So by keeping our abodes clean and the humidity low, we will lessen the chance for these pollutants to prosper.
Among the many useful suggestions to reduce moisture in your home, offices, and schools, the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers is the most practical and accessible.
AC Keeps our Food Safe
The magazine Awake!, deemed to be the second most widely distributed magazine in the world has a say in the matter of air conditioning and its effect on health. This Bible-based publication which also often talks about health and science advancements in its articles, states that air conditioning is considered a vital “asset” to the food industry.
With the innovation of the air conditioners and their companion refrigeration, the growth of bacteria that causes food to be ruined has been prevented. One common example is how air conditioning inhibits molds to develop in the flour in bakeries where they have the air conditioning on.
Assistant Professor, Akshay Pathania of Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences released a PowerPoint course about the topic of food preservation by refrigeration and air conditioning.
He discussed that the usual causes of food spoilage are microorganisms such as molds and bacteria. With the refrigeration and air conditioning duo, the shelf life of food can be increased and waste of food will be reduced.
Now that we have discussed the many benefits of air conditioning to our health, we will now move on to the negative impact of the use and overuse of AC to our well-being.
How are Air Conditioners Bad for Your Health?
Overuse of AC Leads to Dry Skin and Colds
The air conditioning system has become an integral part of the house, especially when the unbearably hot summer arrives. Depending on where one lives, the prevalent outside temperature, and the size of the residence, some homeowners use their AC units longer than others, some in a shorter period during the day. How should we define “overuse of AC”, then?
Here are some guidelines to know whether you are using your much-needed AC a little too much:
1. AC is turned on 24/7. The air conditioning unit is designed to cool the inside of your home up to a degree that you set in the thermostat. Once that level is reached, it is no longer advisable to keep bringing that level down so your AC will not automatically stop. Continuous usage of the air conditioner will result in costly repairs due to overheating and not to mention, high electricity bills.
Alternative: Let your AC unit and your pockets take a break. A properly maintained AC just needs an hour or so to cool the entirety of your home. Allow it to temporarily switch off on its own. Don’t worry. When the surrounding temperature gets warm again, your AC will come to your rescue and turn itself on again to keep you comfortable.
2. AC is kept on even when no one is at home. Some families are mostly away during the day and just come together at nighttime when school and work are done. Among these families, however, are those who keep their AC inside the house running despite being away in the major part of the mornings and afternoons. Why? Simply because they want to go home to a chilled abode.
If this sounds familiar, consider the danger of stepping from an extremely hot temperature outside to a contrastingly cooler space inside.
Alternative: Consider turning it off when no one is around. In the case that you and your family will be gone several days to weeks for a vacation, then you can ask a trusted neighbor or friend to open the AC for a short while just to release some cooped-up warm air inside and also to check if there dust particles obstructing its mechanisms.
3. AC is running even if the outside air is cool enough. Let's say everyone wants to have a cool and comfortable environment from the moment they wake up until it is time to shut their eyes again. But admittedly, there are certain parts of the day that are cooler and more comfortable like a breezy evening until the break of dawn. Your AC deserves a rest during these periods.
Alternative: If you live in a place where the early parts of the evening until the sunrise are relatively cooler, you may choose to go for whole-house fans. They draw cold air from outside and bring it into your living space, while the warm air inside your house is pushed through the air ducts. Using fans alternatively with your AC could save you a sizeable amount.
What will be the result if one insists on using the air conditioner excessively?
Since one of the main functions of an air conditioning system is to maintain low humidity in your house, too much use of it may tend to leave no amount of humidity in the air at all!
This is dangerous because your skin and more importantly your nasal pathways need some levels of moisture. If a person in the household suffers from skin issues like eczema or psoriasis, the lack of humidity in the air may aggravate their problems.
The same is true with your nasal passageways. A research entitled Humidity, A Problem in Air Conditioning, mentions that the mucosa or mucous membrane has a certain moisture requirement. If this is not met due to very low humidity caused by the overuse of AC, it will interfere with the inner workings of the nose. This would eventually lead to colds and other upper respiratory concerns.
Risky to Newborn and Elderly
As mentioned above, you might be exposing yourself to health risks if the temperature inside your home is so much lower than that of the outside. This is especially unsafe for newborns and the elderly.
According to an article from The Journal of Perinatology, preterm newborns are susceptible to hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature. If the AC is being overused inside the residence, a newborn baby may lose the body heat that it can generate.
The Awake magazine in a different article converses about how old age can factor in the benefits and hazards one might gain from using air conditioning. A 70-year-old male burns 30% percent fewer calories than he was 35 years of age. That is why an adult male is more comfortable in a room where an older man is cold.
Dirty Air Filters Can Cause Allergy
If your AC filters are neglected and not maintained regularly, they can trigger your allergies rather than help you manage them.
The filter of an air conditioner is sifting solid particles like pollen, dust, and pet dander from the air. However, if it is not cleaned properly, all the harmful particles stuck in the filter could buildup and recirculate the allergens back into your breathing air inside the house. If you start sneezing and coughing as soon as you turn on your AC, your filter likely needs replacing.