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Air Conditioning: too cool to be good for you?

Air con has had a bad press in recent years, but is it really as risky as we've heard?

05 JULY 2010

Not so many years ago, air conditioning was a luxury vouchsafed only to the privileged few; now, though, it's the norm in many offices and public transport systems, so it's a part of our lives whether we want it or not. Unfortunately, abusively low temperatures and faulty maintenance have led to health problems, triggering common disorders in some people and occasional major outbreaks of illnesses such as Legionnaires' disease. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of keeping your cool:

 

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Benefits:

  • Extreme heat has a clear negative impact on the intellect and on physical activity and the use of air conditioning can go some way to rectifying this.
  • It improves comfort levels at work and at leisure.
  • It improves job performance.
  • It can result in increased physical and intellectual activity.
  • A lower temperature reduces the presence of insects and parasites.
  • Lower temperatures mean less sweating, reducing the risk of dehydration.
  • A clean air conditioning system helps exclude external allergens such as pollens.
  • If the air conditioning installation is good, and if it is well maintained, it renews and improves air quality.

Risks:
  • Sudden changes in temperature and humidity affect the respiratory system.
  • It has a drying effect on skin and mucous membranes.
  • It adds to ambient noise, contributing to noise pollution.
  • The air circulation can transmit infectious respiratory diseases.
  • Airborne dust and fungi can cause allergic reactions.
  • Air conditioning is associated with chronic rhinitis and pharyngitis, throat irritation and hoarseness.
  • Air conditioning can exaccerbate eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, as well as causing problems for contact lens wearers.

Don't forget...
  • Air conditioned spaces should be regularly ventilated.
  • Professional installation and maintenance is essential for both individual units and centralised systems.
  • Keep room temperature between 21º and 25º C.
  • Try to maintain an average humidity of between 60% and 70%.

One final word:
Carry a light uncrushable jacket or wrap with you in the summer so if you suddenly go into a building board a bus where the air con is at full throttle you can protect your system from such extreme temperature changes.

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