Can you get sick from air conditioning?

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Shutterstock.com/ Andriy Popov

During a heatwave, many people like to go to the supermarket or another space that has air conditioning in order to escape the heat, but this may not be good for your health. 

Summers seem to be getting warmer, and it’s become common to have air conditioning installed in your home. This is especially common in southern countries and in most hotels. But after a night sleeping with the air conditioning turned on, sometimes you wake up with a cold. Is this true or false? Can you really get sick from air conditioning?

To answer the question, it’s useful to first understand how air conditioning works. An air conditioner sucks in warm air from the environment to blow it back into the room after it goes through a cold evaporator. The evaporator ensures that the air condenses and dehumidifies and comes out cool.

During this process, the air in the air conditioning system also passes through filters, which gather contaminants in the air. That means you shouldn’t get sick from the air conditioner. After all, the filters stop pollen and other contaminants, right?

A properly functioning air conditioning system thus provides good air quality that you cannot get sick from. But what if the air conditioning is not properly maintained and the filters are not cleaned? In that case, the filters will eventually become clogged.

The result is not only that contaminants will no longer be properly restrained but also that fungi and bacteria will grow in the moist environment. The air that is subsequently blown into the room is of poor quality and can cause respiratory complaints such as a cold, flu, or sore throat.

The temperature difference in a room with air conditioning produces can also cause problems. Such a change in temperature requires a great deal of energy from your body. If you are already carrying a virus or bacterium, you can get sick more quickly due to your body overworking itself to maintain proper temperature.

The temperature difference itself does not make you sick, but it does speed up the process of becoming sick if you already have a bacterium or virus.