The warm air hits. You turn on your air conditioning and you find yourself and those around you sneezing. You start to think, I can’t be allergic to the air conditioner, can I? After considering the air conditioner allergy theory, you move onto chalking it up to something more plausible: seasonal allergies. Though you might not be exactly correct with either one of your diagnoses, you could be on the right track.
Your air conditioning system and seasonal allergies may both be playing a role in what you perceive as an air conditioner allergy. It’s not that you are allergic to your air conditioner unit, it’s that you are allergic to the contaminants that are being circulated through it, which could include seasonal allergens and other nasty stuff. Let’s take a look at what is blowing your way and could be the source of your air conditioner allergy.
Contaminants that may take the blame for your air conditioner allergy
Pollen often enters your home through open doors and windows, but can be tracked inside on shoes and clothing. Consequently, pollen can become embedded in carpeting and furniture, which contributes to seasonal allergies. Many allergists recommend air conditioning as a means to filter pollen from the air. Though if you live in a city that is not exactly bursting with flora, your air conditioner allergy might be triggered by other allergens.
Whether your home is located in the city or suburbia, it is just about impossible to keep your home clear of dust mites no matter how fastidious you are with your dusting and vacuuming. Like some pollen, dust mites are fairly large particles and the larger the particle, the quicker they will settle from the air to a surface, which makes these two allergens a more common and persistent problem and routine reason for an air conditioner allergy.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as many as 3 in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs in the United States. Most of us love our pets and would only give them up for adoption as a last resort if someone in our home was allergic to pet dander. We’d likely look for other solutions.
Mold and mildew
Mold, a fungus born in humid conditions, could be the reason for your air conditioner allergy. Many types of mold can trigger allergic reactions in a wide range of people and especially allergy sufferers, the young and elderly. Mold and mildew grow under damp conditions, including humidity and water leaks which could be happening with a neglected air conditioning system (more about that in a minute).
Bacteria and viruses
Your air conditioner could be blowing more than cool air. If bacteria and viruses have infiltrated your system, they can be circulated throughout your indoor space via air ducts. Left unchecked, it could lead to Sick Building Syndrome, when your home or building’s occupants start complaining about a variety of health issues, but do not have a specific illness such as the flu.
If you live or work in a big city and you’re like most people, you probably think you’re safe from smog or other outdoor pollutants behind the hallowed walls of your living or work sanctuary. Truth be told, the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) has determined that the air inside can be at minimum 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside! So, outside pollutants can be creeping into your indoor space and can be contributors to your air conditioner allergy problem.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chemicals
Though your home might not be as prone to VOCs and chemically induced allergies as your workplace, most of us have a variety of cleaning supplies and other household products that could be the source of our air conditioner allergy problems.
VOCs are gases emitted by a variety of common household items. Though ozone is usually thought of as a gaseous layer in the upper atmosphere, which is harmful to air quality, ozone is emitted by ordinary supplies and equipment found in our homes such as printers, adhesives and permanent markers. You may associate another VOC, formaldehyde, with science lab experiments. However, formaldehyde and other VOCs are emitted by things like cleaning supplies, paint, pesticides, gasoline, cigarette smoke and carpets.
How do all these contaminants find their way into my breathing space?
Humidity is possibly the most prevalent promoter of your HVAC system developing contaminants. This begs the question – Why do I have excess humidity on my home? You might have an oversized air conditioner. If your air conditioner is too powerful, it will cycle on and off more frequently and not stay on long enough to remove humidity from the air. High humidity can also be caused by inadequate ventilation. A qualified HVAC installer can correct this problem by re-routing ductwork or adding makeup air.
You may have neglected maintenance, which could mean your equipment is operating inefficiently. When your system’s evaporator and condenser coils are dirty, it could interfere with the transfer of heat, which will result in inefficiency and a struggle to remove humidity from the air. Coil cleaning and other preventative maintenance work is part of most service contracts with HVAC professionals. Investing in an air conditioning tune up, could help stop an air conditioner allergy problem before it starts.
Related article: AC Maintenance: The Cure For Springtime Allergies
Air conditioner allergy prevention tactics
We cannot stressed enough that installing the proper filters and replacing them on a timely basis is a key component of combatting an air conditioner allergy problem. If you’re like most people, you probably think that your system’s air filter should be adequate to ward off an air conditioner allergy. The intended purpose of the filter is to keep dust off your air conditioning equipment to maintain efficient operation.
While ordinary paper filters help remove dust from the air, there are better choices to remove the miniscule particles that are the cause for an air conditioner allergy. HEPA (High Energy Particulate Air Filters) are designed to trap smaller particles such as bacteria, mold and smaller strains of pollen. HEPA filters consist of densely packed glass fiber layers as opposed to paper and the top ones can block about 99% of those particles responsible for your air conditioner allergy.
While installing a HEPA filter will go a long way to solving your air conditioner allergy problem, it is important to select a high quality one. HEPA filters are rated for their efficiency in catching different size particles. The MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) range is from 1-12. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filter is at trapping the smallest of particles. Look for a MERV rating of 10 or above.
While selecting an efficient HEPA filter is half the battle, you should not neglect to change the filters regularly and more frequently during allergy season. You should change the filters at least every other month and more often if you live in a thriving metropolis for allergens. Choosing the right filter and changing it is critical, but cleaning and maintaining the entire system is also essential.
Related article: Why and How to Change an AC Filter
Avoid an air conditioner allergy: Don’t duck cleaning ductwork
If your air conditioning system is not operating properly or if you have an inefficient filter, different allergens including pollen, mold and mildew can make their way to your ductwork where they accumulate and are circulated throughout your home or throughout the building you manage. Not only will duct cleaning improve your air quality, but will also improve the efficiency of your air conditioning system.
Get more information from this helpful guide: FAQ: Duct Cleaning and Your Indoor Air Quality
Air purifiers can crimp an air conditioner allergy
If you want to go the extra mile to ensure than pesky particles making you sneeze are removed from the air, you can consider installing an air purifier. Central air purification systems remove dust, mold, bacteria and viruses from the air circulated throughout your HVAC system. They utilize a heavy-duty HEPA filter to trap largest particles like dust and electrostatic fields to capture microscopic particles like viruses.
As you can see, there is no need to allow allergens to threaten the comfort of your living space. To determine what steps you should take, why not call in a professional from a qualified HVAC company, like Arista Air to inspect your system and make recommendations? Proper maintenance is a worthwhile investment to block an air conditioner allergy from invading your home.