Think You May Be Allergic to Air Conditioning?

While people aren’t technically allergic to air conditioning, the system can be the root cause of spreading polluted air. It’s not coincidental that flareups and symptoms increase when the AC unit is turned on and if you haven’t recently serviced your air conditioning unit, it might be spreading allergens.

Both air conditioning and allergies will need to be addressed if you seem to be experiencing symptoms each time your unit starts pushing cool air through your home. Your AC unit is supposed to pull in air, filter it, and deliver it through your home. If you seem to develop allergies when the AC comes on, this could be a strong sign that your unit or air filter are dirty and are actually circulating contaminants instead of providing fresh, filtered air. Contrary to myth, you can’t get sick from air conditioning but if you’re exposed to airborne bacteria and viruses that aren’t being trapped by an air filter, it is possible to catch an illness this way.

AC Allergy Contaminants

There are a multitude of airborne irritants that can get trapped in dirty air ducts including:

  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Outdoor pollutants
  • Bacteria or airborne viruses

While dirty air ducts can harbor these pollutants, having a dirty furnace filter can also affect air circulation and cause unnecessary wear and tear on an AC unit if it’s having to work harder to pull air through a dirty filter.

If you’re finding that people in your household are sensitive to air conditioning and are experiencing breathing problems, throat irritation, congested or runny noses, or sneezing and headaches, it might be a sign that AC allergy pollutants are being spread through your home. Consider taking the following actions to address your indoor air issues:

  1. Check your air filter – is it dirty? When was the last time it was replaced? During high allergy season you can change an air filter between every 4 to 12 weeks depending on the MERV rating. Upgrade to a MERV 13 for ultimate air filtration.
  2. Air ducts - Look at your air intake duct when you change your air filter, or, remove and check floor ducts to see if a layer of dust comes up when you wipe them. If so, it might be a sign that it’s time to have an air duct cleaning service.
  3. AC unit health check – can’t remember last time you had an AC service? Is your unit cooling properly? How old is your system? It might be time for an inspection to make sure your air conditioning isn’t causing issues that could relate to unhealthy indoor air./li>
  4. Consider indoor air quality testing – there are DIY kits and expert service that can assess your indoor air for the microscopic airborne pathogens related to respiratory issues. Just because we can’t see mold or dust mites, doesn’t mean that there isn’t an abundance of these irritants lurking in your home.
  5. Invest in an air scrubber or purifier – these units can often improve air quality in the areas of your home where you spend the most time. By trapping pollutants, they can help decrease symptoms for those who are sensitive to air conditioning or have more sensitive allergic reactions.
  6. Add a humidifier or dehumidifier – humidity levels can play a role in air conditioning and allergy symptoms since they can change the environment required by certain pollutants to thrive. For example, mold needs humidity to prosper, adding a dehumidifier can lower levels that make it hard for mold to grow. Cold air from an AC can create a dry environment which can worsen irritated throats and noses and make a cough seem worse. Adding a humidifier can combat moisture levels to ease those symptoms.
  7. Wash your pets – if your animals are contributing to your allergies, consider upgrading to a higher MERV rating air filter and keep your pets (and their beds) clean. This will keep pet dander and hair at a minimum and prevent it from spreading around your home and within your AC system. If your air ducts haven’t been cleaned in years but you have pets, chances are there is a build up of pet dander in your ductwork

Working through these steps to determine whether you’re allergic to air conditioning pollutants and airborne pathogens should help ease uncomfortable symptoms. It may be impossible to combat all irritants and pollutants, especially when the air quality index is showing high pollution levels in your area, but since AC units work to pull in air from within your home, you should still be able to breathe easier indoors.