Whether you live in a hot climate year-round or only experience heat waves during the summer, air conditioning is a reliable ally in controlling the heat. However, despite the cooling relief your AC unit can provide, the effects of air conditioning on ears, nose and throat health are important to keep in mind. By understanding how these home appliances affect your well-being—from the side effects of sleeping in air-conditioning to the ties between air-conditioning and ear pressure and much more— you can learn how to use AC without negatively affecting your health. Learn how to protect your health while keeping cool.
At the most basic level, air conditioners draw in the warm air from your home and return cool air. This process continues until the unit senses the interior temperature has reached the desired level. The unit restarts the cycle when the temperature rises.
When the heat is removed from the warm interior air, moisture from the air is taken out too. This means that while you’re feeling cool air inside, you’re also experiencing very dry air. Because AC units often run continuously, pumping dry air into a space for long periods, interior humidity drops significantly.
Without some moisture in the air, your nasal passages and mucus membranes of the middle ear also dry out. Typically, these membranes help filter germs and bacteria out so they can’t travel into the inner ear and other body parts. They also ensure that the air you breathe arrives in the lungs at the best levels of humidity and temperature possible. If the membranes can’t function normally, bacteria can enter the body through the nose more easily. And because the back of your nose is connected to the ear through the Eustachian tube, bacteria that enter through your nose can then accumulate in the deepest parts of the ear. Simply put, exposure to air conditioning and your ear, nose and throat health are closely connected.
Some of the side effects of air conditioning on the ear, nose and throat are bothersome in the moment, but others can lead to longer-lasting problems:
Beyond your air-conditioner’s effects on your ear, nose and throat, there are correlations between air conditioners and your health that extend to other body parts . Extensive exposure to air conditioning can also lead to:
Air conditioning and ear pressure go hand in hand, affecting the sensitive tissues of your airways. Prolonged exposure to air-conditioning can lead to ideal conditions for developing a cold that subsequently blocks your Eustachian tube. The obstruction in the tube is usually due to the excessive production of catarrh or a build-up of mucus or phlegm in the nasal cavity. This build-up creates a sensation of blockage and difficulty hearing or breathing, making your cold seem much worse. In short, exposure to air-conditioning and clogged ears are tangentially related.
To resolve air-conditioning colds and clogged ears, try using decongestant medicines, nasal sprays, nasal washes with saline solution, or the Valsalva maneuver. If your cold persists, discuss your symptoms with your primary care physician.
Summer, with its common combination of swimming and hanging out in air-conditioned spaces, is a time ripe for another problem: otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear. This condition is caused by higher levels of humidity in the ears after spending time in water and not drying them properly, leading to bacteria growth.
While swimmer’s ear is one thing, the damage that AC causes to the mucus membranes (which usually help stop the spread of infection) means that the bacteria can spread further and more easily. While pain is the primary side effect of this condition, temporary hearing loss is possible because of some blockages caused by inflammation.
While there are some potential negative side effects of using AC, there are ways to use your air conditioner healthily and safely. Here are some tips to protect your ears:
Air conditioning for many people is a must-have for summer’s hottest days. By being aware of its potential side effects on your health and learning how to mitigate them, you can keep cool safely whenever the temperatures start to soar.