Right use of ACs and proper cleaning processes are vital for health
“I started experiencing breathing problems a week after I came to the city. It used to be worse in the mornings, and I kept wondering if it was the heat or the humidity,” recalls Shilpa Phadkare (29), a marketing executive residing at a women's hostel in Mylapore.
When D. Balachandran, a visiting ENT consultant in her office examined her, he suggested that she could be “inhaling a lot of allergens and that the problem could be with the air conditioning.”
“It was then I realised that the dampness in the room at all times with a stench along with the stuffiness was because the old AC in the hostel was almost never cleaned,” says Ms. Phadkare, who came to the city from Mumbai.
With temperatures soaring, ACs have become more of a necessity.
But the low level of awareness among users with respect to both the right way to use airconditioners and the regular cleaning recommended for them has critical implications on health, say doctors.
It is important to use the AC the right way, says Amar Agarwal of Dr.Agarwal's Eye Hospital. “Headaches and pain in the area around the eyebrows is also common among people who sleep with both AC and fans on.” Many people sleep with the AC blast directly on their faces, he adds.
In an extreme event, this can lead to paralysis of the facial nerve that helps eyes close. If this happens it can affect the ability to close the eye. “It takes almost six months for the facial nerve to recuperate then,” says Dr. Agarwal.
If the filters, ducts and coils of the air-conditioning systems are not cleaned periodically, it can facilitate the spread of micro-organisms, says Rajan Santosham of Santosham Chest Hospital.
Many people use anti-fungal and anti-bacterial sprays on the moist membrane of the air-conditioner to stop moulds being formed, but that can only delay the process not stop it, says Ramesh Babu, Joint Managing Director, Cold Point, AC service dealer firm. “Most people think AC cleaning is expensive, but it doesn't cost more than Rs.500 for household ACs to be cleaned by agencies and it has to be done only once in three months, he says.
While most big companies have maintenance contracts that ensure the regular cleaning of ACs, the smaller ones do not take the necessary care to clean ducts of a central air-conditioning system. Such firms and cabs use fresheners extensively to cover up, he adds.
Hosts to micro-organisms
Some brands of AC have fans that run even after the AC is switched off keeping the coil surface dry apart from anti-bacterial filaments and ‘viral sensors' which detect and trap micro organisms. But the filters inadvertently become hosts to micro-organisms which can spread from the filter into the air, say doctors.
Mostly, the vent of older ACs is kept closed to avoid cold air going inside, but that leads to old air getting circulated repeatedly in the room, says Ravi Ramalingam of KKR ENT Hospitals. “By American standards, there should be at least 8.4 air exchanges in a room within a span of 24 hours, which does not happen,” he says.
Hence, allergens from dust, mould growing on moist surfaces, dust mites on pillows, mattresses and curtains and flakes of skin and hair that pets shed also percolate into the circulated air, and can cause different allergies. Concentration levels are affected sometimes, Dr. Ramalingam adds.
Besides cleaning the ACs periodically, putting out mattresses in the sun, and encasing them and the pillows after they are dry are important, suggests Dr. Ramalingam.
“Regular washing of the curtains, vacuum cleaning, keeping the place dry, and using strong lights at places near piles of clothes to prevent dampness, apart from making cautious choices with regard to suitable paints, solvents and mosquito repellents would help,” he adds.