WRONG_WOEID WRONG_WOEID

The Cold Could Be Killing You

photo- mariosbistro.files.wordpress.comWith the hot conditions that prevail in Antigua & Barbuda, an air conditioning unit is considered desirable, if not essential, in most work places. And let’s face it, who doesn't want to be cool and comfortable while at work?

But we have now become so dependent on the AC unit that many modern buildings are designed without any adequate natural ventilation. In fact, the AC unit is even cropping up in more and more homes.

While it is nice to feel cool and comfortable, it is important not to get carried away. For like most modern conveniences, artificial air conditioning has its drawbacks. And although they may not be saying to get rid of your AC unit completely, many researchers are advocating a reduced dependence on the same. Why is this so?

Improper use and maintenance of the AC unit has now been implicated in many illnesses - most frequently colds, ear, nose and throat infections, headaches, allergic reactions, asthma, irritated skin and eyes, and even atypical pneumonia. These conditions stem primarily from three factors associated with air conditioning - unnatural coldness, moulds, and overexposure.


The AC units in many buildings are unnaturally cold. They are so cold that it is not uncommon to see people in buildings wearing coats and sweaters to keep them warm. As a result of this unnatural cold, the body responds with flu-like symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, and cough. Added to the cold, the dry central AC causes the mucous membranes that line the nose, mouth, and throat to become dry and cracked, leading to nose bleeds and throat irritation.

Under these conditions, the body tends to overcompensate by producing excess fluids, hence the runny nose and watery eyes. However, the person sometimes becomes quite dehydrated without even knowing it. This is because the AC keeps us cool and dupes us into believing that we do not need to drink much water.


The issue of mould is being studied more, and it is now known to be a very serious problem. Moulds are microscopic fungi in the same family as yeast and mushrooms. They are very adaptive, but particularly like the moist conditions that we find in AC units. There are about 300 known species of mould, and many of these can cause disease.

Moulds are present in the vents, ducts, coils, and filters of the AC unit. From the AC, they are distributed all over the building, contaminating furniture, clothes, food, hair, and skin. These moulds then attack the respiratory system, leading to illness. Of course, the effects are greater in those who may have a weakened immune system, such as small children, the elderly, pregnant women, HIV and cancer patients, and people with underlying respiratory problems such as asthma. Also, smokers and persons with allergies are at higher risk.

As well as mould, certain bacteria also thrive in AC systems and can cause serious harm. For example, increasing cases of Legionnaires Disease are being reported in the United States, caused by a flu-like bacterium that flourishes in AC systems.

The problems of unnatural coldness and moulds are compounded by overexposure. Hence, people who spend prolonged periods of time in AC buildings are more likely to get sick with an AC related illness than persons who do not. The longer one spends under the influence of the AC, the more they are likely to suffer from the effects of the extreme cold and from the invasion of moulds and other micro-organisms.

Also, those who spend long periods in AC buildings may find it more difficult to adjust to very hot conditions outside; and are more likely to get sick because of the extreme variations of interior and exterior temperatures. The body does go under serious amounts of stress going from boiling hot downtown St John’s to one of those cold AC banks on High Street.

So what can be done to prevent or reduce the health problems associated with AC use? No, I am not naive enough to think that anyone in St John’s is going to throw out their AC units tomorrow morning. However, there are certain measures that can be taken.

Do not totally ignore the use of natural ventilation. Having open windows will ensure cross ventilation and help prevent some of the conditions that would lead to mould formation. Now, opening windows is not the same as using a fan, for while a fan may help to prevent moulds, once the moulds have been established, the fan circulates them faster and into more cracks and crevasses.


Your AC unit has to be cleaned and maintained regularly. While the filters of your AC unit were designed and installed to prevent the spread of micro-organisms, they can become the distribution point when they are not cleaned adequately. Hence, it is essential that there is regular cleaning of your unit.

If it is a central AC system, you need to get professionals to check for moulds, and once they are found there should be no delay in cleaning. This would involve using a safe chemical agent that has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and in some cases the use of ultraviolet light. The use of just a vacuum and a brush would be inadequate. This is because the micro-organisms will just get agitated and spread easier around your building.

In a central AC system, the filters should be cleaned at least once per month. If you do not want the hassle or cost, then consider portable AC units. These have much less of a problem with spores and allow for multiple filters and humidifiers that would prevent the excessive dryness associated with central AC units.

Be cool, not cold. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the problems associated with AC units stem from the fact they are set too cold. Studies show that most public buildings are comfortable at 78 degrees Fahrenheit, yet most of the times the AC is 72 degrees and below. This is not only dangerous to your health, but it also wastes money, as it takes 60 percent more energy to cool a building to 72 as opposed to 78 degrees.

The quality of air we breathe is a key health determinant. If the air is contaminated, it makes us weak and unhealthy. If it is clean, it will provide energy, vigour, and vitality to our being. While the AC unit helps to keep us cool and comfortable, make sure its use is adequate. This is where health and safety officials have to work along with trade unions to make sure workers and the public are adequately protected.

Do not ignore the need to clean your AC units regularly; do not set it SO cold, and finally, take a breath of fresh air.

Dr Jerry Simon (NSA Medical Surgical and Rehab Centre; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 462 0631).

 

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8 Comments In This Article   

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Cold AC?

#8 Tammy Sal » 2010-11-24 06:29

Had noticed that while on Holiday in Disney Florida...that the rooms had AC but no provision for opening a window? On leaving the room to go to the Parks the family was hit by a wall of heat that floored us. After a week of going from cold to extreme heat and back again into the cold we were all left feeling ill.
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Tammy Sal

@concern person

#7 Jalani » 2010-11-12 00:56

You did not read the article, did you ?
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Jalani

#6 Concern Person » 2010-11-11 23:51

Suppose the work place doesnt have any windows
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Concern Person

AC hurts in many ways

#5 my way of helping » 2010-11-11 23:31

I forgot, it also kills your pocket with the high energy bills, inspiration for this statement came from the energy article today.
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my way of helping

@ The Author

#4 my way of helping » 2010-11-11 06:01

I have read a part of your article so far and i must say thanks for illustrating what i have been saying for a while now, thanks for the act of Love. Love is saying and doing things that is unexpected but to the benefit of all.

Thank you and everything you describe, i get sometimes in that cold office office, a lot of dust usually stick in the AC vent, i use to wonde what will be the end result of this.

Love is the only answer and solution to all our problems
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my way of helping

@ Dr. Simon

#3 Beauty » 2010-11-11 00:50

Thanks for this article, it is indeed welcomed. I enjoy your reading your articles.
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Beauty

@ Dr. Simon

#2 Morris » 2010-11-11 00:13

I must say that this article is indeed an "out of the park home run" packed with facts and remedies.
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Morris

???

#1 Wham » 2010-11-10 23:12

I wonder if the writer has any information on any buildings in Antigua where people were possibly getting sick due to faulty AC. I heard of cases in the department of sports building ( i do not know if the same building in question is still being used) ,some APUA building and several banks.
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Wham

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Dr. Jerry Simon

Dr.Jerry Simon,a general physician, is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and Villa Clara (Cuba) Medical School. He has previously worked in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. Presently he is Medical Director of the NSA Medical Surgical Rehab Centre and is a certified member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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