In most parts of the United States, seasonal allergies start in February — during early spring — and can last until the beginning of the hot, humid summer season. Many people experience endless sneezing, nasal stuffiness and even ear congestion. While there are a lot of things you can be allergic to, it’s possible that most of those pollutants and microbial contaminants inducing adverse health reactions are coming from your air conditioning unit. So, what’s in the cooling equipment that can make you sneezy and itchy?
What Are Allergens?
An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction in certain people. Dust, pollen and pet dander are common day-to-day allergens, though anything can trigger mild to severe allergic reactions. In general, pollen is the principal cause of allergic rhinitis brought about by seasonal changes. However, if a runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes and sneezing trouble you year-round, then you most likely have a case of non-seasonal hay fever, also known as perennial allergic rhinitis. This condition is normally caused by dust mites, mold and animal dander.
To effectively manage seasonal allergies caused by indoor allergens, it’s important to minimize your exposure to them or, if possible, totally eliminate them.
Common Indoor Allergens
From hair, fur or feathers from animals to microorganisms like mold, there’s a range of substances that can build up in your air conditioning unit and provoke mild to intense allergic reactions in different people. Some of the most common allergens that are present indoors come from:
- Mold spores
- Pet rodents
- Dogs (dander)
- Cats (dander)
- Dust mites
All of these can migrate into your living space and settle in every room via the duct system, potentially carried and stirred up by a filthy, dust-caked air conditioning unit. Since the indoor air will pass through your heating and cooling system at least five to seven times per day, there’s a great chance that you’ll come into contact with unpleasant substances and, of course, breathe them in, which will result in tiresome sneezing, coughing, congestion and even digestive problems.
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms and Signs
Seasonal allergies caused by indoor allergens can manifest in various ways — sneezing, watering of the eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, throat clearing and postnasal drip, to name a few. Susceptible individuals can also experience common symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. Other allergy symptoms involve the skin — eczema or seasonal dermatitis, for example, a condition that makes your skin red, blotchy and itchy. This typically results from direct contact with allergens.
If your eyes are feeling particularly itchy and your face is starting to swell up, it’s likely that you’re experiencing an allergy attack. Some people may develop hives and experience itchiness all over their bodies.
So what are the signs that your air conditioning and heating systems are responsible for making your seasonal allergies worse?
- Your sneezing, watery eyes, stuffy nose and other allergy symptoms become worse when the air conditioner in the room is running.
- Your symptoms improve when you spend time away from your home.
Allergens in Air Conditioning Systems
Common allergy-inducing air contaminants that can be found in air conditioning systems are:
- Pollen. If you often experience seasonal allergies, it’s crucial for you to avoid breathing in pollen as much as possible. Pollen is a fine powder produced by flowers, trees and grasses, and can come into your home through open windows and doors during the spring and summer. If the air filter of your air conditioner isn’t working properly, small pollen particles can be distributed into other rooms and become trapped in the carpeting and furniture.
- Dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that can trigger severe allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in residents. You can find dust mites in pillows, blankets, curtains, carpeting and other fabrics in the room.
- Pet dander. If you have a furry friend or two living in your home, you’re likely familiar with pet dander. It’s composed of microscopic flecks of skin shed by animals with fur and feathers. This can cause adverse reactions in people who are specifically allergic to proteins found in the saliva, urine and feces of dogs, cats and other pets.
- Mold. Toxins released by mold and mildew can cause seasonal allergies to flare up like nothing else. A fungus that thrives in damp, humid environments, mold grows where there’s a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in windows, pipes, air conditioners and heating systems. It can also be found in dust, carpet, upholstery and fabric.
The Importance of Good Air Filters
While traditional air filters are designed to protect your heating or air conditioning system, not all of them will protect your health and keep out allergens, pollutants and other contaminants. Here are different types of air filters:
- Pleated air filters. These are the most common filters found in homes. A pleated filter features folded media that’s often made of cotton or polyester material. Pleating the media gives these air filters increased surface area while staving off the depletion of airflow. One of the benefits of this type of filter is that it offers greater particulate capture and doesn’t encourage bacterial growth.
- Electrostatic filters. An electrostatic filter is a washable filter panel that’s placed in a heating and air conditioning system. It’s made with self-charging cotton or paper fibers to attract indoor air impurities and trap dirt, dust and other day-to-day allergens. The higher the MERV rating of this filter, the more effective it is at capturing airborne particles.
- HEPA Filters. High-efficiency particulate air filters are king. Theoretically, these filters can remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, bacteria and mold particles that are 0.3 microns or larger.
Maintenance of Air Conditioners
Even a brand-new air conditioner with a high-rated air filter won’t perform well if it’s not maintained regularly. While installing a top-quality filter is an excellent place to start, commercial HVAC experts recommend taking additional steps to make your air conditioner as allergen-free as possible.
- Cleaning out your ducts. Pollen, dust, mold spores and other airborne contaminants can build up in your ductwork system. Let an experienced technician clean out all the filth that’s collected in your ducts at least every three to five years.
- Remove debris around the unit. Keep the area around your outdoor unit clean and free of dirt, vegetation and other debris. This will prevent the equipment from pulling in outdoor allergens and circulating them in your home.
- Change your filter. A fancy air filter is of no use if it’s clogged with nasty allergens. Check your filter once a month and replace it every 30-60 days. If you have pets running around the house, it’s best to change your filter every month.
Contact Acker Heating & Cooling for All Your HVAC Needs
Keep your living space safe and healthy with a top-rated air conditioning or cooling service. Acker Heating & Cooling is a premier source of residential and commercial HVAC solutions–including equipment repair and maintenance, air duct sealing and indoor air quality testing–in greater Athens, GA. Our certified technicians are committed to providing the comfort and efficiency you need through industry-leading products and outstanding customer service. Call us today at (706) 989-6663 or fill out our contact form to set up an appointment or request a free, no-obligation estimate.