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We all know the link between indoor air quality and our health. But does it make a difference if the air circulates through an air conditioner? Is air conditioning bad for you?

Before you switch on the A/C this summer, learn the essential facts about the health effects of air conditioning.

Health Effects of Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is in many ways beneficial to your health, especially in a smog-heavy city like Toronto. Researchers have found that central air conditioning causes fewer outdoor pollution particles to enter the home than an open window, thus lowering the health risks of air pollution.

But there’s a catch: if the unit is not properly maintained, an air conditioner can contribute to health problems from other sources.

Below, we’ll look at some of the indirect health effects of air conditioning and how you can avoid them.

Mould Growth

The process of cooling hot air creates moisture. Central air conditioners expel this excess moisture through an exhaust vent. So there is no concern this is being circulated indoors. However, portable window air conditioners may either vent the moisture through a window attachment or collect it in a pan.

If the ventilation system is not working properly, or the homeowner neglects to empty the water pan, this moisture can become a magnet for mould growth. Mould in a portable air conditioner can be a health hazard because the unit causes the spores to circulate in the air.

In the case of central air conditioning, it is also important to have the air ducts cleaned every few years, since mould feeds  on the organic matter found in dust.

Low Humidity

Air conditioners pull moisture from the air to cool it, reducing the humidity inside your home. For some, this comes as a welcome relief, especially in muggy depths of summer.

However, low humidity can also contribute to some less-than-desirable health effects. Dry air can irritate your nasal passages, increasing the chance of sinus congestion and inflammation.

You can counteract this effect with a humidifier.

Temperature fluctuation

The human body is great at adapting to changes in temperature. Think of how single-digit temperatures can feel warm in the spring, and downright chilly come fall!

For the most part, moving from hot air outdoors to a cool, air-conditioned building does not pose any risk to your health. However, some health conditions, like diabetes, can make temperature fluctuations more difficult to manage. People with those conditions may prefer to minimize the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures so their bodies can adjust more easily.

Airborne Illness

In certain high-rise apartments and office buildings, the central air conditioning system uses water to cool the air.

With proper maintenance, this system poses no greater risk than any other air conditioner. But if the water becomes stagnant, it can harbour harmful bacteria. In rare cases, this can lead to the spread of airborne illnesses.

Fortunately, this is not a risk in home air conditioning systems.

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