Is air conditioning dangerous for your health?

Is air conditioning dangerous for your health?

With the heat and heat waves hitting the country, turning on the air conditioning is a reflex for many of us. But be careful, this action has consequences on our health.

A temperature difference that is too high with the outside can be dangerous. "You shouldn't go into a refrigerator, the thermal shock is not good and then you risk getting sick," explains Roger Rua, sports doctor.

Another danger to our health is the cleanliness of the air conditioning system. Mould can form in the air ducts and end up in the air we breathe.

Risks for health but also for the environment. The use of air conditioners significantly increases electricity consumption.

Air conditioning: a threat to health

Thermal shock, cold snap, flu: preconceived ideas about air conditioning are common. What are the real risks associated with air conditioning and how can they be avoided?

Air conditioning, health, that's a strange combination. Who hasn't heard the sentence: "Oh no, no, the air conditioning, I'm going to get sick! "You may have heard the terms "thermal shock" or "cold snap" before. However, there are other risks.

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Thermal shock infections: a range of possible side effects of air conditioning

Air conditioning consumes energy but also has very tangible effects on health. There's no need to panic: a little information and a few precautions will save you a lot of trouble.

First of all, can we do without air conditioning? There are many natural ways to cool your home without air conditioning, but the need is unique to everyone. In the passenger compartment of an overheated car, it may be really tempting to turn on the air conditioning, and too high a temperature also increases the risk of discomfort and alertness problems for anice driver.

If you can't do without it, then you should use your air conditioner wisely and maintain it properly.

Air conditioning: beware of infections!

Infectious agents are a very common risk. A poorly maintained air conditioner can lead to what is known as sick building syndrome. This syndrome actually includes all the side effects associated with unhealthy air conditioning: vision problems, headaches (headaches or even migraines), respiratory tract disorders, skin problems.

It is not a matter of taking these symptoms lightly and if you observe them, specifically without any other external factors that might explain them, it is time to examine the air conditioner.

Beware of water conditioners!

The risks are even greater when using water-based air conditioning. The maintenance of these air conditioners must be rigorous. Stagnant water encourages the proliferation of viruses: we think of colds or flu, of course, but also gastroenteritis.

Another risk is the spread of bacteria such as legionellosis.

The solution is simple: carefully check the maintenance of the air conditioner or report it if it is your workplace or any other shared space.

Air conditioning: beware of allergies

This may seem less serious but it can also cause colds and other ENT problems. The bright air of the air conditioning and the large temperature differences can attack the nasal mucous membranes. The consequences are not dangerous but embarrassing: allergic rhinitis is likely.

The solution is really simple: don't set the air conditioning too high.

Thermal shock, a real danger of air conditioning?

It is perhaps the most common misconception that comes up most often. Thermal shock, or cold snap, would be common. In the same way as for swimming, it is of course necessary to remain cautious, but cases are rare. The consequences of thermal shock, however, are very serious, ranging from a loss of consciousness (the most common) to cardiac arrest.

If you feel unwell, leave the air-conditioned area and consult your doctor.

Be careful of the temperature

The solution is once again the measurement: thermal shock is possible when more than ten degrees separate the outside from the air-conditioned space. Indoors, gradually increase the air conditioning.

In the car, start by ventilating the passenger compartment so that it cools naturally, or even rolling the open windows first. It will still be hot there but it will nevertheless lower the temperature by at least ten degrees and bring it closer to the outside temperature. At this point, it may be useful to put some air conditioning on, this time with the windows closed.

In the same way as for a room, proceed by gradually lowering the temperature.

How to orientate the air conditioning?

It is common practice to direct the air to people in the room or passengers in a vehicle. However, this is precisely what will increase the risks. Instead, direct the air flow towards the ceiling so that the diffusion is softer.

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Maintaining air conditioning, a health issue

Often neglected, air conditioning maintenance is very important.

Poorly adjusted or poorly maintained air conditioning: health consequences

This is when cough and irritation problems appear. The eyes and the ENT sphere are affected and this can quickly turn violent. Bacteria and moulds also grow quickly.

Air conditioning maintenance, points to be monitored

Air conditioning is maintained all year round: the aerators need to be cleaned regularly, i.e. at least once every two months. It will only take you a few minutes.

Once a year, remember to schedule an air conditioning purification: a professional checks the proper functioning of the air conditioner, changes the filter (especially on a car), and cleans the ventilation circuit.

Every two years, it is necessary to carry out a more extensive inspection and change the refrigerant gas.

Are fans dangerous to health?

WHO did not reach a decision on this issue in 2012 due to a lack of sufficient field observations, but the risks are not the same. No thermal shock problem since the fan does not bring cold. It is important to remain cautious about dehydration of people. It is therefore necessary to drink enough water, which is recommended in any case during hot weather.

More benefits than risks

A more recent study has shown that the question is actually about soil moisture. In a dry heat wave, the fan is ineffective. In humid heat, however, it is welcome. At night, when temperatures are lower than during the day, it is therefore not uninteresting to circulate the air, to sleep better but also to avoid pockets of CO2. As with air conditioning, it is important to avoid directing the air flow on people to avoid drying out the mucous membranes.

Heat wave: the harmful effects of air conditioning on health

A new heat wave is about to hit the country, but in these hot weather periods, beware of the use of excessive air conditioning, which could well make you sick.

While France will again be exposed to overwhelming heat as early as Monday with temperatures of up to 42 degrees locally, some may well be tempted to push the button on their air conditioning to the limit.

Just be careful. If the air conditioning is not dangerous, it is above all the strong "hot-cold" contrast that can have an impact on your health. As Dr. Luc Dusquesnel, President of the Generalists-CSMF, explains at 20 minutes, a too big difference between inside and outside can lead to ear infections, white and bacterial angina or bronchopulmonary infections.

Do not exceed 10 degrees of distance between the inside and the outside

And the most vulnerable and vulnerable people to the effects of air conditioning are the same as those who are vulnerable to heat; the elderly and newborns.

People with asthma can also be affected, especially since improper maintenance of air conditioners can allow dust to accumulate in filters and carry allergens.

As Dr. Jacques Battistoni explains to our colleagues, it is recommended not to exceed 10 degrees between the inside and the outside, to avoid thermal shock. As for the air conditioning in offices that are difficult to adjust, he strongly advises to protect yourself by trying not to spend your days underneath, so as not to get sick all summer long.

Air conditioning: what are the health effects?

Air conditioning, which is widely used during hot weather, has an impact on the environment, but also on health. Journalist Anthony Jolly reports on the inconvenience caused by air conditioners.

"The problem with air conditioning is that it cools the air, but it also dries it out. Result: the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat are weakened. We have a runny nose and an irritated throat," Anthony Jolly explains on the 8pm set. Air conditioners filter the air, and if the filters are dusty, the machine can create inconveniences for allergic people. Allergens are permanently recycled in the room. In very rare cases, a bacterium can also be transmitted by air conditioning, legionella, causing disease. A few hundred cases of lung infections, sometimes fatal, have been observed in France over the past 20 years.

Advice on how to use the air conditioning system

To use your air conditioning correctly, you must clean your appliance. Nor should the air conditioning be pushed too hard, no more than 7°C gap between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the journalist recommends.
Heat wave: how to adjust your air conditioning?

Avoid thermal shock

For those who have air conditioning at home, be careful not to adjust it anyhow! Although it is tempting to push the button as far as it goes when it is 40 degrees outside, it is a bad idea. The indoor temperature should be on average five to seven degrees cooler than outside. Beyond that, you risk a serious thermal shock when you move from one to the other... enough to catch angina, colds or headaches in the middle of summer!

During exceptional heat, the temperature can be lowered up to 10 degrees below the values measured outdoors.

Reflexes to be taken

Another risk to pushing the air conditioning to the limit is that the unit may not be designed to handle such heat fluctuations and operate at full capacity at all times. If you ask too much of him, you risk seeing him break down quickly.
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Hence several reflexes to be taken to ensure the proper functioning of its air conditioning:

  •     Maintain your device. Dust off, clean the filter every two weeks or so... This allows a better performance, and avoids the possible consequences on our health related to the deterioration of the air.
  •     Point the air conditioning towards the ceiling. This is the best option to distribute it evenly throughout the room. And, sending cold air directly to the face can go so far as to block the cervical vertebrae!
  •     Protect yourself from the sun's rays. Close the shutters, draw the curtains... all this to keep a bit of freshness inside, avoid cooking behind the windows, and ask less of your air conditioning.
  •     Ventilate in the evening. The arrival of fresh air can allow you to breathe a little, and create some draughts... You just have to make sure you turn off the air conditioning when you open your windows, so you don't consume unnecessary energy. For your information: the use of a wall-mounted air conditioner costs an average of fifteen cents per hour, but it varies according to the energy profile of the unit.

Turn off the air conditioning on the way out or not?

If you have to turn off the appliance when you open the windows, should you do the same when you are away from home? We would tend to say that yes, so that it doesn't turn "into a void"... Except it's better to keep it running! Again to avoid excessive temperature variations and the consequences on health... and the planet: it will prevent you from restarting the air conditioning as much as possible when you come back.

One last piece of advice for the road: according to the MGC Prevention Santé endowment fund, the use of an air conditioner tends to dry out the ambient air. If you are one of the households with this type of installation, don't hesitate to get an air humidifier... and to hydrate yourself, especially in these hot weather periods!

Health risks, ecological impact... Why don't you use too much air conditioning during the heat wave?
Air conditioning can cool rooms, but it is also necessary to know how to operate it correctly so as not to suffer from it

By 2050, 5 billion Earthlings will be equipped with air conditioning, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It seems that human beings will live in self-sufficiency within their homes. They will certainly be cool inside, but it would certainly be more difficult for them to get out. Indeed, air conditioning is the very definition of the ecological vicious circle. Its main function is to cool and dry the ambient air, however its operation causes an increase in external heat.

Air conditioners operate by releasing warm air into the city, which increases the outside temperature. The more the heat increases, the more the need to cool down will be felt. This observation is all the more pronounced when users misuse their tool.

"In summer, users bring their equipment to the minimum set temperature (on average 17-18°C depending on the model). Don't do it! Don't do it! Not only is the device not sized to provide and maintain such a temperature when it can be up to 40°C outside, but it can lead to premature malfunction," warns Quentin Cheillan, employee at Clim + Vitrolles.

Poorly adjusted, it can have an impact on health

Beyond the material and environmental damage, it is the health of users that is at stake. "There may be a thermal shock between the home and the outside world. During this period, patients with headaches are often found, and air conditioner filters must also be monitored. If they are not maintained, bacteria and moulds can be found that can develop," explains Prof. Denis Charpin, head of the pneumo-allergology department at the AP-HM.

In addition to temperature, the orientation of the air conditioning is also important. Placed above the users, an air conditioner that is too cold can cause blockages in the cervical vertebrae. "When the air conditioning is in cold mode, it is better to blow it towards the ceiling for several reasons: first the cold air is heavier than the warm air. As a result, by blowing towards the ceiling, it makes it possible to treat the whole room in a homogeneous way and to have a better mixing rate. Moreover, by blowing upwards, it avoids having the air flow on the person and therefore having a bad feeling, an unpleasant sensation and especially a cold snap", adds the specialist.

The car is also concerned

In terms of the actual use of the unit, it is essential to close the doors and windows while the air conditioning is running. Some may be tempted to turn off the air conditioning once the room is at the right temperature, but this is another action to avoid. Air conditioning units, if properly sized for the user's needs, are designed to maintain a so-called comfort temperature. Once the temperature is reached, the device will switch off in regulation, it will still work, but at low power just to maintain the desired freshness, and thus less noise pollution and therefore a better comfort for the user.

Same thing when you drive. The best way to ventilate the passenger compartment is to cool it naturally, or even roll up the open windows first. It will still be hot there but it will nevertheless lower the temperature by at least ten degrees and bring the outside heat closer.

If this is not enough, it may be useful to put some air conditioning on, this time with windows closed. It is common practice to direct the air to people in the room or passengers in a vehicle. However, this is precisely what will increase the risks. Directing the air flow towards the ceiling so that the diffusion is less violent and better distributed will limit the risk of a cold snap.

Ecological solutions exist

To avoid unpleasant surprises, the maintenance of the equipment is essential. Aerators need to be cleaned regularly, at least once every two months. Once a year, a professional must check the proper functioning of the air conditioner, change the filter (also on a car), and clean the ventilation system.

Ventilation should not be banned at all costs, as without it, vulnerable people can suffer from extreme weather conditions. However, other mechanisms exist to reduce the ecological impact. Some real estate projects promote green energy by planting trees instead of installing air conditioners. According to some studies, a tree would provide as much freshness as five air conditioners without consuming energy. Floor fans are also to be preferred, even if their electricity consumption is not the most ecological.

Air conditioning: from the invention of a "madman" to a public health problem

At 180 years of age, air conditioning was not taken seriously when it was invented by doctor John Gorrie, described as "a lunatic who thinks he can make ice". In the 21st century, air conditioning designed to solve a public health problem is on its way to becoming one in turn.

The air conditioning is 180 years old. It was conceived, to be more precise, in 1842 by a doctor and inventor, John Gorrie, who saw it as a way to fight diseases affecting Florida's residents. This invention is all the more surprising since Thomas Edison's first power plant was only opened in 1882 in New York. However, the first air conditioning system did not meet with the expected success and temporarily fell into oblivion.

Air conditioning against malaria

Before being an inventor, John Gorrie is above all a dedicated doctor. In 1833, he settled in Apalachicola, in northwest Florida.  The inhospitable region is covered with swamps, which are responsible for the many cases of malaria that affect the population. John Gorrie then distinguished several origins of the disease, including impurities in the atmosphere, contagion, and "debauchery", i. e. here eating and drinking too much, to the point of weakening his immune system.

A talented doctor, physicist, he is one of the first doctors to work for the U.S. Marine Hospital System, the forerunner of the current Public Health Service in the United States. Elected mayor in 1837, he supervised the draining of the marshes and recommended the creation of a hospital for the most needy. Malaria, or malaria, is then a major health problem. In 1841, a newspaper reported on the death toll of "swamp fever":

Dr. Gorrie brought with him a list of 27 deaths, 20 of them[having occurred] in the last eight days, and we have heard of six more deaths since his arrival.

For John Gorrie, it is the "vapours" of the fetid waters of the swamps and the heat that are responsible for malaria cases that reach the inhabitants. High temperatures, combined with a humid environment, cause "physical and mental deterioration among the inhabitants". He therefore believes that he could save the lives of his dying patients if he could reduce the temperature in their hospital rooms. As early as 1842, he imagined the world's first air conditioning system, then quite rudimentary: he created a mechanism that allowed air to be ventilated from a block of ice, imported in winter from the ice lakes near Boston.

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Patent n°808080

Two years later, John Gorrie, familiar with Faraday and Cullen's work, set about building an air conditioning machine that would not require importing ice blocks. In an article entitled On the prevention of malaria, he describes "a machine for the ventilation and cooling of tropical air[...] which essentially consists of a system of double-acting pumps - one for condensation, the other for air scarcity - as well as a chamber or receptacle for condensed air". He predicts the advent of refrigeration by describing a future where "fruits, vegetables and meat will be preserved during transit and thus accessible to all".

In 1848, confident of his first attempts, John Gorrie applied for a patent. But the local newspapers attacked him vehemently, with the New York Globe going so far as to describe him as "a madman who thinks he can make ice with his machine, like Almighty God". The smear campaign was so effective that John Gorrie's supporters abandoned the idea of financing his invention.

Three years later, however, he received patent n°8080, for "the first machine used for mechanically created refrigeration and air conditioning". The wooden mechanical device is equipped with a steam engine that condenses and then projects air until ice is created, due to the contrast between the different temperatures of the air masses. But the defamatory press campaign had its effect: when Dr. John Gorrie died in 1855, he was unable to sell any of his machines.

The doctor had also made a mistake, or almost a mistake, about the cause of malaria: it was not the vapours that transmitted swamp fever, but the mosquitoes that were the transmission vector... and that died when the temperature was too cold.

Late recognition

John Gorrie's recognition will be a little late. In 1893, the Journal of the American Medical Association regretted the way it had been treated:

Gorrie is said to be one of the most important doctors in the South, and has made many important contributions to the medical literature... The whole country should ensure that this dedicated doctor, and neglected inventor, receives the recognition he deserves as a scientific student of medical problems, working for the benefit of his patients and creating a huge health invention, thought to be of ever-growing benefit to humanity.

Florida, which has become a tourist mecca since the advent of air conditioning, has finally reconciled itself with John Gorrie's memory, to the point of sending his statue to Washington to represent him on the Capitol: he is now ironically better known for his engineering work than for his medical work, although he too is of public utility.

Air conditioners: a public health problem?

It was finally Willis Carrier, an engineer, who was considered the inventor of air conditioning... in 1902. The air conditioning is then started at the industrial level. In 1925, he succeeded in having the latter installed by Paramount in his new New York cinema, the Rivoli Theater. In the 1920s, air conditioning thus became one of the main selling points for dark rooms. In summer, cinemas place signs depicting a polar bear or snowflakes at the entrance to attract spectators: usually deserted in this season, movie theatres fill up again.

Gradually, air conditioning was installed everywhere. First in large restaurant chains, then in stores, private companies and finally among individuals... to the point of becoming a public health problem.

With each heat wave episode in major cities, room air conditioners break out and end up out of stock. In the program Du Grain à Moudre, in September 2017, Elsa Meskel, head of the "Ville Bas Carbone 2050" project in the city of Paris, recalled the growing importance of urban heat islands in metropolitan areas:

There is a phenomenon that is permanent in large cities called the urban heat island. This is something that we observe all year round and that will really be strengthened during hot weather. There are differences of 7 to 10° between the centre of Paris and slightly more peripheral areas in the Île-de-France region. This phenomenon can be observed all year round, where we have 3 degrees more in the centre of Paris.

The massive development of individual air conditioning is perhaps a false idea: when you air-condition at 25° inside your home it is air at more than 31° that comes out on the outside on the facade, which will generate heat for your neighbour, for the city... If everyone equips themselves in this way, we will increase temperatures, reinforce this urban heat island effect. We are not in favour of this massive development of air conditioning.
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