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Air conditioning and your health

Air conditioning can be an oasis in a burning desert. It can also be a miniature arctic circle in the Costa del Sol ...   2011-08-14
 

An oasis in the desert ...

For many of us, especially those of us who live or spend time in a hot climate, the thought of existence without an air conditioning unit (AC) is out of the question. Most of us just enjoy the oasis of coolness in the midst of the unbearable heat, but is there something more to air conditioning than providing relief in hot weather? Obviously the answer to this question is affirmative; heat has a negative influence on intellectual and physical productivity. This is evidenced by the well known Spanish siesta. Since it is very difficult to work under conditions of extreme heat, people just went to sleep during the hot hours, extending the working day into the early hours of the cooler evenings. Since this model is not appropriate to our hectic lifestyles, AC counters the fatiguing effects of the summer heat. By reducing heat levels it has a positive effect on job performance; by increasing comfort levels it aids physical and intellectual activity.

but...

Like many other inventions that have transformed our lives beyond recognition, air conditioning is not without its risks. Some people complain that air conditioning 'makes them ill'. It appears that there is scientific basis to this claim. Studies have revealed that people who work in office buildings with a central air conditioning system report, on average, more illness than do their counterparts in buildings with natural ventilation. The symptoms in these studies have included mucous membrane irritation, breathing difficulties, irritated skin, and constitutional/neurological symptoms such as headache and fatigue. Experts have tried to identify the connection between the symptoms and air conditioning, but the results are inconclusive. Some try to explain that AC systems spread contaminants into the indoor air and others say that the moisture and mould in many kinds of buildings is associated with increased risk of respiratory illnesses. AC has a drying effect on skin and mucous membranes; it is seen to contribute to chronic rhinitis and pharyngitis, throat irritation and hoarseness.

a freezing cold oasis?

AC adds background noise, contributing to noise pollution and if the space is not properly ventilated, infectious respiratory diseases can be transmitted. Air conditioning is said to exacerbate eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, as well as causing problems for contact lens wearers. Added to all of this, exaggeratingly low temperatures affect personal comfort levels and job performance. It has been shown that the body undergoes a certain amount of stress when it is forced to go from a very hot environment into an artificially cold one and over time this can affect our overall health.

Cold Cars

AC in cars must also be used with care. Micro-organisms have been found within the units that may cause breathing problems. Research has identified eight different types of mould living inside of 22 of 25 cars tested. AC units can also circulate air-borne diseases, such as Legionnaire's Disease. If the unit is not properly maintained it will recirculate pollutants.

Like with other modern conveniences, air conditioning is here to stay so the point is to use it wisely and healthily.

  • Make sure that the AC in your home, car and office building is properly maintained.

  • Ensure that you ventilate your home or office by opening all windows. If it is very hot, this can be done whilst you are out.

  • Don't set the temperature at an exaggeratingly low level; you'll be just wasting energy.

  • Look into greener ways of cooling your homes? What about sleeping with an open window aided by a ceiling fan? You'll be breathing circulated air and save energy at the same time.