The Weather Channel -- It's difficult to imagine living in your home or working in a building without one in summer -- especially if you live in a warm climate -- but could your air conditioner be making you sick?
It's a question that seems to get asked every year, especially during summer and winter, when people use their air conditioning and heating systems the most. And the debate over whether air-conditioned or "fresh" air from outdoors is better for you has raged since air conditioning first became widespread in the years after World War II, Slate.com notes.
Claims that air conditioning is bad for you tend to focus on the potential for breathing problems, because the system recirculates the air in a building. But when an air conditioner's filter is kept clean and well-maintained, the air it puts out actually is better for many people, especially those with allergies and asthma, as it filters out pollen, dust and other pollutants.
"So much of that is folklore," Andrew Blitzer, an otolaryngologist and director of the New York Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, said about air conditioners in an interview with New York Magazine.
That's because a good A/C system "isn't just air cooling — it's conditioning the air so you don't inhale the crap you don't want to inhale," while also removing humidity that can cause discomfort. Studies comparing buildings with A/C and those without show that no increase in sickness has occurred in buildings with A/C, Blitzer added.
Nevertheless, keeping them maintained is key.
"When air conditioners are not cleaned thoroughly and filters changed, a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and fungi is created," writes Dr. Eva M. Selhub at Alternet.org. "These systems especially can be home to black mold, as moisture can build up in the coils and ducts from condensation that forms when the cool air passes through."
Taking breaks out in fresh air when you work in a building with A/C is important, Dr. Selhub adds, especially during months when people stay indoors and can bring viruses or airborne infections inside.