Does Air Conditioning Make Us Sick?


The ‘sick building syndrome’ has become common among office workers. They report experiencing more frequent headaches and respiratory problems. Immediately the poor ventilation inside buildings is seen as at fault here.

Does air conditioning make us sick?

However, it could also be because of the stressful working environment. It’s possible that our minds and bodies have not caught up yet with the present environmental and working conditions. After all, it’s only recently that dense urban areas and highrises have become widespread. For much of human history life was simple and a bit slow paced. Also, natural ventilation was already enough to achieve comfort.

Today, artificial ventilation systems should be in place to support our economic activity and productivity. People now have less space around them because of crowding and the need to gather people to get something done. We’ve also relied on enclosed and confined spaces, perhaps to protect us from heat, cold and other outside elements. Consistency in temperature levels has also become important to higher levels of focus and productivity (e.g. 21 to 23℃ helps achieve maximum human performance in office environments).

There are consequences though, especially if the HVAC systems are not maintained properly. Dirt and allergens can build up and compromise indoor air quality. Poor circulation of air can also worsen headaches and respiratory problems. It’s also possible that the temperature levels are above or below the comfort levels of occupants (which make them feel uncomfortable the entire day or night).

In other words, it’s not about the air conditioning itself, but in the shortcomings in its maintenance and operation. Also, poor ventilation and air conditioning could be just one factor (although it still plays a huge role) in perhaps causing the sick building syndrome. The stress in modern work also makes us uncomfortable and pushes us to our physiological limits. We’re not built for chronic stress, which is why eventually health problems show up.

It’s then crucial to pay attention to the HVAC system, comfort levels inside the building and other related factors when it comes to the health of workers, occupants and guests. Getting sick as a result of poor ventilation lowers our performance and harms our health, which is why ventilation and good indoor air quality should always be prioritised.