Air conditioners are great for keeping us cool in the summer heat, but HVAC systems do have the potential to irritate the respiratory system.
Unfortunately, this can result in an unwanted symptom: a cough.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why your air conditioner may be making you cough, as well as some potential solutions.
What is Air Conditioner Cough?
Air conditioner cough is a condition caused by the drying of the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. When these tissues become dried out, they are more susceptible to irritation and inflammation.
This can lead to a chronic cough that may be accompanied by other symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, and sore throat.
While air conditioner cough is not a serious medical condition, it can be quite bothersome and may even interfere with your quality of life.
Causes of Air Conditioning Cough
There are a few reasons why your air conditioner may be causing you to cough. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common culprits:
- Dirty air filter
- Overly dry air
- Mold or mildew
- Dust or dust mites
Dirty Air Filter
One of the most common reasons why an air conditioner may make you cough is because of a dirty air filter. When the air filter is full of dirt, pollen, and other airborne particles, it can restrict airflow and cause the HVAC system to work harder than necessary.
This can lead to the release of dust and other irritants into the air, which can cause coughing. To prevent this, be sure to check and clean your air filter on a regular basis.
Overly Dry Air
Another common reason for an air conditioner-induced cough is because of the lack of moisture in the air. When the air is too dry, it can irritate the throat and cause coughing.
This is especially common in people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
To combat this, you can try using a humidifier to add moisture to the air. This will help to ease the coughing and make the air more comfortable to breathe.
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Mold or Mildew
If your HVAC system is not properly maintained, it can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew. When these spores are released into the air, they can cause a range of respiratory symptoms, including coughing.
To prevent this, be sure to have your HVAC system cleaned and serviced regularly. If you do suspect that mold or mildew is present, contact a professional to have the problem remediated as soon as possible.
Dust or Dust Mites
Another common cause of coughing is dust or dust mites. These tiny creatures are often present in homes and can trigger allergies and asthma. This is especially true if it accumulates in the ductwork of your HVAC system.
To combat this, be sure to keep your home clean and dust-free. Of course, some level of dust is impossible to avoid. In this case, using an air purifier can help to remove these particles from the air and improve your indoor air quality.
You may also want to consider investing in hypoallergenic bedding to reduce your exposure to dust mites.
Why Coughing Instead of Sneezing?
One common question people have is why they tend to cough when they’re around an air conditioner instead of sneezing.
The answer has to do with the way that air conditioners work.
Air conditioners work by circulating dry, cool air throughout the home. This can cause the mucous membranes in the nose and throat to become dried out. In addition, air conditioners also circulate dust and other irritants.
As previously mentioned, this can lead to a chronic cough. In contrast, sneezing is the body’s way of getting rid of irritants that are already in the nose.
So, if you’re coughing instead of sneezing, it likely means that these contaminants are making it past the protection provided by your nose and into your lungs.
What is Air Conditioner Lung?
Air conditioner lung, also known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of the lungs that develops from exposure to airborne contaminants.
This includes everything from mold and mildew to dust mites and other allergens. In severe cases, air conditioner lung can lead to pneumonia or other serious respiratory infections.
While air conditioner lung is rare, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms, which include coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. If you experience any of these symptoms after being in an air-conditioned environment, be sure to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Should You Hire a Professional?
If you’re concerned about the air quality in your home, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional. They can help to assess the situation and recommend the best course of action.
In some cases, they may even be able to identify the root cause of your cough and help you find a solution. When it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So, if you’re coughing and don’t know why, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.
Furthermore, if you’ve been experiencing ongoing respiratory symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor regardless of the cause. These symptoms could be indicative of a more serious condition, such as asthma or pneumonia.
If you find yourself coughing every time you turn on your air conditioner, there are a few things you can do to ease the symptoms.
Investing in a quality air purification system is a good idea for any home. Older HVAC systems should be inspected at least every two years. If mold is present, a professional should be able to spot it and recommend mold mitigation.
Furthermore, investing in air humidifiers to be used in areas where you spend a lot of time is a good idea. The moisture they release attaches to airborne contaminants and drags them down so that you don’t breathe them in. Central air purification may be the best solution when combined with portable humidifiers.
If your cough is persistent, especially after having taken steps to improve the air quality in your home, talking to your healthcare professional is strongly recommended.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- Elsaid, Ashraf Mimi, and M. Salem Ahmed. “Indoor Air Quality Strategies for Air-Conditioning and Ventilation Systems With the Spread of the Global Coronavirus (COVID-19) Epidemic: Improvements and Recommendations.” National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8146370.
- McCormack, Meredith C., et al. “Respiratory Effects of Indoor Heat and the Interaction With Air Pollution in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5291496.
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