What bugs are lurking in your AC?

Why your home air conditioner is a major health threat if not properly cleaned

The summer is on. In UAE, this means the home (and office) air conditioners (ACs) are working all the time.

As much as we enjoy the cooling environment in our houses or offices, the AC could be a health hazard.

For people with respiratory problems the AC is a gateway for unwelcome 'guests' to enter. 

Sneezing, runny or stuffed nose, coughing, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, nose or throat or watery eyes - if you recognise one or more of these ailments you are probably sensitive to airborne allergens. In that case, the AC may not be your best friend.

“In principal, there should be nothing wrong with the AC, even for people with inhalant allergies. In reality, people with these allergies may suffer from the AC.

"This is because the AC is not always properly cleaned,” says Dr Michael Loubser, Pediatrician, Immunologist, and Allergist at Infinity Health Clinic.

“The key to controlling allergies is to reduce the level of exposure to indoor allergens.

A Dubai-resident discussing the issue on a local online forum acknowledges the problem, and says how maintenance companies often do the bare minimum, not even checking for mould, with which they would not be able to deal anyway.

Having the AC cleaned properly makes a very big difference, she writes, as her baby had been experiencing respiratory problems and her older child coughed whenever the AC was turned on. 

The coughing stopped, and the baby is doing much better after a cleaning company serviced the AC.

"A majority of breathing-related problems are preventable by destroying invisible contaminants and micro-organisms in indoor air and contaminated ventilation systems,” explains SaniService, a ventilation system cleaning company.

Dust, mould and fungus are the main allergens that are found in many ACs and thereby find an easy gateway through to the indoors.

"To get rid of these intruders, professional cleaning is required," explains Med Jemni, Sales and Marketing Director of SaniService.

“In many buildings, the maintenance company takes care of the cleaning of the AC. All they do is clean the filters.

“However, cleaning of the ventilation system, including the air ducts, evaporator coils, drainage trays and pipes, registers, grills and air plenium, is needed,” tells Med.

“After that a non-chemical disinfecting solution needs to be sprayed through the air/heat system eliminating bad odours, viruses and bacteria.”

Another challenge is the disinfector used by some companies, points out Med.

“There are companies using ozone, a chemical that can harm the AC, but also the human skin.”

“Mostly, we have individuals as customers,” he adds. “More recently we were asked to clean the AC system in some hospitals, and we were shocked to see what we found. The health of patients there could easily be affected.”

What the hazards are in offices, shopping malls, schools and other public places, can only be guessed at.

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