Air Conditioning: Is your AC making you sick?

Increased dust and humidity from poorly maintained air conditioning systems can allow mould to spread and result in allergic reactions

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Just a teaspoon of the fine dust found in AC vents can contain up to 1,000 dust mites
GN Focus

As the temperature climbs and you crank up the air conditioning, it’s easy to take it for granted. However, unbeknown to many residents, lurking in that comforting air-conditioning unit can be all sorts of nasty bacteria, mould and fungi. 

“Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems can harbour bacteria, which can lead to the development of diseases for the building’s occupants, if the system is not well maintained and regularly cleaned and sanitised,” explains James Day, Director at home maintenance firm Hitches & Glitches. 

“Mould and bacteria growth can develop in a relatively short period of time, particularly when a premises is not occupied and ambient conditions encourage mould growth such as the hot and humid summer months.”
-James Day, Director, Hitches & Glitches
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“Increased dust or humidity from poorly maintained systems can result in symptoms such as allergic reactions, and the combination of both creates the perfect environment for mould to spread, which can cause chronic respiratory problems to develop.”

Dr Ravi Gutta, MD, Consultant Allergy and Immunology, Mediclinic City Hospital, says, “Exposure to dust mites in fine dust happens from uncleaned/unserviced AC units, which can play a big role in nasal or respiratory symptoms in people with pre-existing allergies, causing significant effect on quality of life. The reason is that a gram (about half a teaspoon) of fine dust contains as many as 1,000 dust mites and 250,000 allergenic dust mite faecal pellets.”

This may sound gross, but a relatively easy solution exists to prevent it from happening. One of the remedies, Dr Gutta says, is to clean the AC unit vents once every three months if the household has known allergic patients and every six months if no prior history of allergies exist. 

However, whether you’ve lived in your property for a long time or are moving to a new abode this summer, you should always ensure the air conditioning has been maintained and cleaned regardless, as it doesn’t take long for bacteria to grow. 
“Mould and bacteria growth can develop in a relatively short period of time, particularly when a premises is not occupied and ambient conditions encourage mould growth such as the hot and humid summer months,” says Day. “The diseases themselves can also develop fairly rapidly among the building’s occupants, and particular care should be exercised when the occupants are children, elderly, or have pre-existing respiratory or immune system conditions.”

Like most things around the home, many of us don’t spot problems until it’s too late, but Gian Nicola Consolini, CFO, Tool Time, suggests you take action sooner. “Normally residents wait for an AC issue before calling a maintenance company asking for support. However, residents should understand that carrying out preventive maintenance regularly means the equipment would last longer and more efficiently.”

And there’s no time like the present to schedule that maintenance. 
Niranjan Gidwani, CEO, Eros Group, the distributors for Hitachi and TCL air conditioners, says, “As summer approaches it’s time to service your air conditioner and get it thoroughly checked. I would also advise to have an annual service contract with a dedicated facilities management company that ensures timely visits to your residence to service your air conditioners.”

Even if you do have regular maintenance though, it might be time to upgrade your existing AC system altogether, as new technology can now ensure we stay healthier than ever. “Newer air conditioners provide improved features for air filtration such as Nano Titanium among others to provide better air conditioning,” adds Gidwani.

Nano Titanium technology is said to produce an anti-mould and antibacterial effect. 

So thanks to new technology and regular AC maintenance, it’s becoming easier to ensure your home isn’t a breeding ground for illnesses any longer. After all, one mustn’t forget that old adage: prevention is better than cure. 

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