Is the air conditioning making us sick?


Nowadays, most of the Europeans are using air conditioning on a daily basis. Almost all the office buildings, private houses and transport vehicles are equipped with AC’s, but the real question is, do we really need it all the time?

A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology is revealing that people who are working in buildings with natural ventilation, are reporting less illness symptoms and feeling much better than those who occupy air-conditioned office environments.

“A large body of research has found that occupants of offices with air conditioning tend to report sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms more often than occupants of naturally ventilated offices,” commented William Fisk, leader of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Indoor Environment Group. “SBS symptoms are self-reported symptoms mostly of eye, nose or throat irritation and respiratory symptoms such as cough.”

Furthermore, he explained that these symptoms are “possibly due to the moisture from AC units, which expose people to additional toxins, allergens or irritants.” That moisture leaves the system open to tiny pollutants.

“AC systems are susceptible to collect infectious organisms and allergens, such as dust mites,” added Dr. Wassim Labaki, a professor of internal medicine and pulmonologist at Michigan Medicine. “Therefore, the proper maintenance of these systems, including regular filter change, is essential to prevent circulation of unhealthy air.”

On the other hand, psychological effects are considered too. Peaks in the workers productivity are measured in comfortable temperatures, which is especially valid for female inhabitants.

“A considerable body of research indicates that human performance in office-like work is maximized when temperatures are maintained at about 21-22 degrees Celsius,” Fisk is also concluding: “AC can help us maintain such temperatures, but other technologies can also help.”

“AC enables windows to be maintained closed and AC systems usually contain filters that remove particles from the circulated air. With AC and closed windows, indoor concentrations of outdoor air pollutants such as particles, ozone and allergens are decreased.”

This is especially valid for people suffering from allergies. Instead of opening the window, turning on the AC might be the better choice in order to reduce the bothersome symptoms. On time scheduled maintenance of the equipment is needed as well, since the comfort and conservation are the 2 most important factors.

Since there are various alternatives for keeping cool during the hot summer days, including cool roofs, energy-efficient windows, proper shade or fans, we can always choose the most suitable ones. On the other hand you can also move to the different sides of the building without direct sunlight during the day. It needs to be always carefully considered before turning on the AC.