Is Your Office Air Conditioning Making You Sick?

Most businesses worldwide use central air conditioning to regulate the temperature in their offices, but its negative effects on employees’ health is often overlooked. Central air conditioning is essential in our South African climate, especially during our hot summer days as it is helps us to stay productive, both physically and intellectually. However, air conditioned environments can aggravate health issues, contaminate the air with hazardous particles and spread certain diseases.

Respiratory Conditions

Central air conditioners create small water drops on the cooling coils and in drain pans; this creates the ideal environment for micro-organisms and mold to grow and thrive. They are spread throughout the office daily by the central air conditioning ventilation system. This can be very damaging to people who suffer from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illnesses, as it can cause serious lung infections, shortness of breath, panting or other severe reactions. This can also cause healthy individuals to suffer from shortness of breath, coughing and upper respiratory tract symptoms.

Indoor Air Contamination

According to The Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollutants might be greater than the contaminated air outside. Because people spend a majority of their time indoors, this increases risk factors for people with respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. Central air conditioning units can spread indoor impurities such as bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses and pollen.

Spread of Harmful Disease

Central air conditioning has been linked to the spread of Legionnaires’ disease, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In 1980 at a hospital in Memphis, an air conditioning cooling tower was found to have L. pneumophila in the water. Air intakes near the auxiliary cooling tower spread the disease, which caused 44 people to fall ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

Can Cause Workplace Illness

In a study published in the Aug. 19, 2004, "International Journal of Epidemiology," people working in office buildings with central air conditioning had more symptoms of illness than those who did not work in air conditioned buildings. The symptoms included headache, fatigue, mucous membrane irritation, breathing difficulties and skin irritations. The study noted that a likely explanation is central air conditioning ventilation systems spread contaminants in the air. 

Furthermore, air conditioning systems also have a drying effect on our skin and mucous membranes, which can cause throat irritation and hoarseness. The noise from units can contribute to the noise pollution we are exposed to every day, this can in turn hinder us from concentrating.

What you can do to minimise the negative effect on your health

 These are some small steps you can take to protect yourself against air contamination caused by air conditioning unit.

  • Make sure the air conditioning unit's air filters are cleaned and changed regularly.
  • Open the windows as much as you can. Outdoor air is necessary to flush out the concentration of air pollutants in the office.
  • Keep room temperature between 21º and 25º C.
  • Try to maintain an average humidity of between 60% and 70%.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day to keep your skin hydrated.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables to strengthen your immune system.
  • Keep an office plant on your desk as they will help to bring fresh oxygen into your workspace.
  • Try to avoid locating your workstation directly in front of or below air conditioning outlets.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

International Journal of Epidemiology

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