Do you stay in air conditioning for too long? So these are its risks


When it's hot outside, air conditioning can be a good thing – literally and figuratively. But staying in an air-conditioned area for too long can have downsides, especially if it's not clear what it's doing to the air.

You've probably experienced the relief of walking into a room that's hot and humid. It can feel like that glorious revelation in a romantic comedy when two people realize they're made for each other. Thinking, sleeping, moving around, and everything else seems to be much easier when you're not sweating profusely and feeling like a potato in a microwave. Being in a cooler environment can reduce the risk of heat-related problems like dehydration and stroke. Also, air conditioning can improve indoor air quality by filtering out various allergens, pollutants, insects, and other organisms. In addition, lower humidity can reduce the risk of mold growing and your belongings being damaged.

However, not everything is always okay with air conditioning. One of the risks of air conditioning is that it can make the air very dry. This can dry out your eyes, skin, and potentially your airways. Therefore, it is a good idea to make sure you stay properly moisturized and hydrated when you are in air-conditioned areas for long periods of time.

Another risk is inadequate ventilation, when air is recirculated without being replenished with new fresh air. This can lead to a build-up of indoor pollutants from the various tools and equipment you are using. For example, running a laser printer can spread toner particles into the air, which you can breathe in if the room doesn't have adequate ventilation. Similarly, if someone has brought an infectious pathogen like severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) into the area, an air-conditioned room may not have enough ventilation to hang on to it, to borrow the words sung by The Supremes and Kim Wilde.

So, be aware of how much ventilation the room is getting. Check if the air conditioner is simply recirculating the same air or is also providing ventilation. See if the air conditioning unit is also filtering the air. If not, consider installing or using a machine that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that can effectively remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns (µm). Opening windows from time to time to ventilate the room can also be helpful.

The third potential risk is the air conditioning unit itself. Not all air conditioners are created equal. They can vary considerably in design, quality and age. When an air conditioner is not kept clean, mold and other debris can build up in the machine, making it look like one of those haze machines you might see at a concert, except you can't see the haze and all the nasty stuff in it. A poorly designed or very old air conditioner can spread a variety of other contaminants into the air. So, be aware of which machines can harm your air, clean them regularly and replace them when needed.

Finally, when you're in air-conditioned rooms all day, you're probably missing out on all the best things outdoors have to offer. Unless you live inside the Caesars Superdome — or whatever sponsor has their name attached to it these days — in New Orleans, indoor areas may not provide you with enough space to stay physically active. Staying indoors won't give you the benefits of exposure to sunlight — yes, the sun isn't all bad — such as stimulating vitamin D production and regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Then there are all the mental health benefits of being outside and getting in touch with nature.

So, before the weather gets too hot, set up air conditioning in your indoor areas. And even when it's too hot outside, try to find some ways to get outside, provided you're careful.

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