Singapore’s tropical heat rarely goes above 35 degrees Celsius. Combined with our relatively high humidity though, it can be nigh unbearable as sweat is slow to evaporate. So it’s hardly any wonder that air conditioning is so prevalent throughout the island. Gone are the days that there were public buses with no AC units!
But is air conditioning actually good for you?
An optimal temperature, which AC units help to maintain, can improve cognition. In 2018, PLOS Medicine published a study by Harvard University that found that students without AC units did worse compared to their air-conditioned peers in the summer.
Do you prefer to sleep with the AC on? There’s a reason for that. AC units make it easier to sleep when it’s hot, since they help us get a little closer to the optimal temperatures for sleeping. According to Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, who is a family and emergency physician, that optimal temperature range hovers between 17 to 20 degrees Celsius. While I know it’s easier to fall asleep when I’m cold, I’m not sure I would particularly enjoy being that cold.
And now, for the bad news.
Have you noticed how air conditioners are installed? It is a sealed system that goes from inside an enclosed space to outside of it. The refrigerant in a AC unit is constantly being circulated and what it does is absorb heat from inside and cast it outside. Because of all the air movement, it’s important that AC units are monitored and maintained regularly.
AC units that are contaminated, whether they’re in a vehicle, home or office can cause adverse health effects. For example, they can cause allergies and even worsen asthma problems.
Epidemiologists speak of Sick Building Syndrome, a sickness that typically afflicted office workers who worked in poorly designed AC systems. According to a document published in 1996 by the Institute of Environmental Epidemiology (IEE), an arm of the Ministry of Environment, sufferers of Sick Building Syndrome recover quickly once they exit the building. Symptoms include perpetually blocked noses, breathing problems, fatigue, skin irritation and headaches.
The problem could lie with microorganisms growing in the AC system, or with indoor air contaminants. For example, in the same document published by the IEE, it is said that common indoor air contaminants include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and even formaldehyde. According to the IEE, formaldehyde can lurk where you least expect – office furniture, carpet glues, paint, even ceiling tiles!
So while air conditioning is generally good for you, don’t neglect the harmful effects it could cause if the AC unit in your home or office is not well-looked after. Do you remember when the AC unit’s filters were last washed or when the unit was last inspected in general?