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Staying in AC for long hours in the summer? Know its likely side effects

Air conditioners surely are great way to escape the scorching heat outside. However, there are side effects of air conditioning on health. Get to know about them.
Persistent use of air conditioners has side effects on skin or respiratory health.
Purvi Kalra Published: 9 Jun 2024, 11:35 pm IST
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Air conditioning (AC) units are widely used for comfort in severely hot and humid places. People turn to ACs to guard themselves from high-heat exposure, and stay cool in the heatwave. However, its prolonged use, especially in the office space or overnight at home, may affect different aspects of one’s health. The side effects of air conditioning may include skin and respiratory problems.

Side effects of air conditioning on health

Using air conditioners can provide much-needed escape from the heat outside. But it may also come with its share of downsides. According to physician Dr Kiran R Dhake, here’s how too much AC can affect health.

Staying indoors in air conditioned areas persistently can lead to respiratory issues. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

1. Respiratory health

Continuous exposure to an air-conditioned environment can worsen the clinical discomfort of those who suffer from chronic respiratory illness.

Dryness: AC units eliminate the moisture component from the air, which can lead to dryness of the lining aka mucous membranes of the airway apparatus, potentially causing irritation and increasing susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Allergic phenomenon: If the temperature-controlling system of AC units is not properly maintained, the cold air may induce allergic symptoms—runny nose, sneezing, recurrent headache, and may also trigger the narrowing of airways. Due to extremely cold air, AC units may become breeding grounds for Mold, mildew, and other allergens, aggravating symptoms in individuals with allergies or asthma, tells the expert.

Air bone disease transmission: Due to poor maintenance of AC units, marked changes more than 5 degree Celsius, there is a possible negative consequence exerted on the respiratory system. This leads to the circulation of various viruses and bacteria resulting in swelling of the small airways and exaggeration of the airborne disease.

Development and worsening of respiratory disorder: In healthy individuals, exposure to air conditioners with cold air gush can cause alterations in the respiratory airway lining, that, in the context of pre-existing conditions such as COPD/ bronchial asthma, can increase the risk of developing a respiratory illness, tells the expert.

2. Skin disorders

Excess usage of air conditioners can have a negative impact on the skin as well. Here are some side effects of air conditioners on skin:

Skin dehydration: Air condition units tend to remove moisturizer from the indoor environment indiscriminately leading to a dehumidifying effect, pulling the moisturizer off the skin due to cellular dehydration. This makes skin dry, stretchy, and itchy.

Depleted oil production: The natural skin oil that is beneficial to maintain skin health and texture, reduces causing toxins to remain over the skin surface. Sweat production is also reduced leading to dull and unhealthy skin.

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Worsening of skin disorders: Continued dryness due to an extremely air-conditioned environment can aggravate skin disorders, such as eczema, dermatitis, rosacea, and psoriasis.

Premature ageing of the skin: Sustained exposure to air-conditioned climate can lead to premature ageing of the skin. Due to cellular dehydration, there is a reduction in the tissue elasticity leading to creasing and wrinkling.

3. Eye disorders

Due to long hours spent in the air-conditioned climate, the sensitive part of the body—the eye is the most affected.

Dryness of eyes: Due to cold temperatures, the oil-producing eye gland’s function decreases, resulting in tear evaporation. This leads to redness, itchiness, irritation, eye strain and blurring of the vision.

Eye inflammation: AC ducts are a site for moulds, viruses, and bacterial inhabitation that leads to eye swelling.

4. Dehydration

As a result of depleted moisture levels in the air due to the air-conditioned environment, it tends to have an impact on the hydration levels.

Headache: As dehydration sets in and persists for relatively long hours, it can trigger severe episodes of headache.

Migraine: Repeated temperature alternation due to frequent transitions between the cool indoor environment and hot outdoor temperatures can cause blood vessels to constrict and expand rapidly triggering migraine type of headache in certain individuals.

5. Sick building syndrome

Due to prolonged poor air quality exposure within enclosed space and various other external environmental and non-environmental factors can induce certain sets of symptoms. This phenomenon is termed Sick building syndrome, shares Dr Kiran R Dhake.

It comprises non-specific symptoms such as sore throat, difficulty in breathing, chest tightness, runny nose, fatigue, difficulty in concentration, forgetfulness, body aches and nausea. The intensity of the symptoms appears to be linked with the time spent in the enclosed space.

Prolonged use of air conditioning can lead sick building syndrome. Image courtesy: Freepik

6. Joint and muscle aches

The colder environment for log time makes soft tissue around joints to expand and it tends to restrict the joint functions. This phenomenon causes pain that migrates into the muscles, leading to more tightening and spasms. This shall generate more joint pain, says the expert. Cold climate is known to exacerbate preexisting joint diseases – chronic arthritis.

7. Effect on cognition

Persistent air quality degradation in terms of prolonged exposure to a cold environment may impact cognitive function, affecting concentration level and the ability to focus on tasks.

8. Hearing impairment

Due to lack of moisture in the air in an air-conditioned environment, the lining layer of the nose and middle ear tends to lose moisture, thereby allowing bacteria and viruses to harbour and enter the nose. As the middle portion of the nose is connected to the ear via the small tube-like structure – known as the Eustachian tube, the bacteria from the nose may enter the ear and may lead to proliferation in the deeper areas of the ear, thus blocking the Eustachian tube, tells the expert. This shall lead to decreased hearing or in certain individuals’ vertigo or ringing sensation in the ears, also known as tinnitus.

9. Immune system suppression

Chronic exposure to the uncontrolled temperature environment can affect the immune system function over the period, and heighten the vulnerability of an individual to develop an infection repetitively.

Conclusion

While air conditioning offers plenty of benefits from hot and humid weather, it is crucial to recognise the potential adversities to physical and mental health.
To diminish these effects, it is recommended to conduct periodic maintenance of air conditioning units, periodic monitoring of the air quality, installation of air filters, ensuring proper ventilation of the space, staying well hydrated, and frequent breaks from the air-conditioned environment.

Purvi Kalra

After testing her skill-set in the field of management and marketing, Purvi Kalra is exploring the world of turning thoughts to words. Her penchant for writing stems for being an avid reader all her life. Her work drives her to be better every day. ...Read More

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