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It’s been a hot, muggy month so far. Even here in coastal Maine, where we enjoy sea breezes and temperatures are generally lower, I’ve been wishing for an air conditioner lately.
Then again, maybe not. Air conditioning is a mixed blessing.
In climates that are consistently hot, it can be a lifesaver.
But it does have its tradeoffs. You should be aware that living in a consistently air-conditioned environment can do both good and not-so-good things to your body.
1 Air conditioning boosts metabolism. Spending time in cold air or cold weather can cause your body to develop healthy, energy-burning brown fat. This can happen if you spend enough time in an air-conditioned environment.
2 Air conditioning helps you think. Have you ever felt like your brain was “fried” after spending too much time in extreme heat? I know I have.
There may be something to it. A 2018 Harvard study showed that students who lived in dorms without air conditioning during hot summer months did worse on cognitive tests than those who had cool central air.
For seniors, not the college kind, but the kind over 65, heat may actually contribute to neurodegeneration, so they need to keep cool too.
3 Air conditioning helps you sleep. As part of your natural sleep cycle, your body needs to cool down, and a cool room can help this happen. We all know how awful a hot, sweaty, restless night can feel.
Experts say that a temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees is ideal for rest. Air conditioning is sometimes the tool you need to get there.
4 Air conditioning saves lives during heat waves. Once your body temperature exceeds 102 degrees, you’re at risk of heat exhaustion. If your temperature rises even further, you could end up with heatstroke.
Air conditioning may come with some negative effects, but there’s no doubt that it saves lives during periods of extremely high temperatures.
5 Air conditioning affects indoor air quality. Working in an air-conditioned building with poor ventilation can raise your risk of ‘sick building syndrome.’
You may notice recurring symptoms that seem to appear whenever you’re in a particular building. This happened to me years ago, every time I’d return to the school I taught in after a week of school vacation.
Symptoms may include headaches, dry cough, dizziness and nausea, runny nose, and brain fog.
6 Air conditioning dehydrates you. Air conditioning works by sucking moisture out of a room to bring down the humidity and cool things off. The trouble is, it can also pull water from your skin, dry it out, and dehydrate you.
7 Air conditioning dries out your eyes. The lack of humidity caused by air conditioning can dry your eyes, make them irritated or itchy, or even cause blurry vision.
8 Air conditioning irritates airways. Studies show that people who work in air-conditioned buildings have more respiratory problems than those who work where there is natural ventilation. These problems include irritated nasal passages and trouble breathing.
9 Air conditioning can make your head ache. Dirty or poorly maintained HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) systems are more likely to have headaches or even migraines.
In one study, eight percent of people who worked in environments with unhealthy indoor air had a headache anywhere between one and three days per month, and another eight percent had headaches every single day.
10 Air conditioning lowers your heat tolerance. Since your body’s ideal temperature depends largely on whatever temperature you’ve recently been exposed to, the more time you spend in air-conditioned rooms, the more uncomfortable heat and humidity will feel. Scientists call this the “adaptive comfort model.”
11 Air conditioning pollutes the outside air. In the 1990s, the U.S. Clean Air Act began phasing out older A/C units that released chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a refrigerant that harms the ozone layer.
This is one “downside” to air conditioning you can do something about. If you still own one of these older units, replace it with a newer model.
12 Air conditioning can worsen allergy symptoms. Again, here’s one you have some control over.
A clean air conditioner can actually help tame allergies, but an HVAC system can quickly and easily become a home for microbial allergens. Be sure to have your air conditioner or system inspected and cleaned regularly.
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Sick Building Syndrome — Healthline