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​​How to Get Rid of an Air Conditioner Cough

Dr. Michelle Frank

|

December 27, 2023
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

Air conditioning unit

As the summer rolls in, it is common to have your air conditioner running for most of the day. However, for some of us, when used frequently we get a cough from air conditioning. While the quality of the AC can make you cough, through this article, we will look at other possible causes of a dry and persistent cough and also find simple solutions to get rid of an air conditioning cough.

Why Does the AC Make Me Cough?

You may have wondered – can AC make you cough? The air from an air conditioner is only one of the several reasons why you may develop a cough from air conditioning. Understanding why you have developed the cough can help narrow down the most suitable way to get rid of your air conditioner cough. 

Dry and Cold Air

One of the primary reasons why your AC can make you cough is because the longer the AC is on, the more the air dries. Rooms with the air conditioner turned on usually also have their windows and doors closed to assist with optimal cooling. But this reduces overall ventilation and the level of natural humidity in the air you’re breathing. As a result, your nasal passages and throat dry out, leading to irritation and dry cough1.

Sudden exposure to cold air from the AC can also provoke a cough. Drastic changes in temperature within your upper nasal passages and throat can often work as an irritant prompting the reflex of cough, among other respiratory tract changes, which can reoccur following further exposure to cold air2.

Continuous exposure to air with low humidity can additionally make you more susceptible to respiratory infections3. Along with the appearance of fever, body aches and runny nose, which are tell-tale signs of an infection, your cough can also worsen.

Failure to Regularly Clean Air Filters

The air coming out of your AC is filtered through a screen, which can easily be seen when you open the front covering of your air conditioner. Plenty of dust, dust mites, and other debris get trapped in these filters, and without regular cleaning out, bacterial and fungal growth is encouraged on these filters4. With repeated use, these filter pollutants can be pushed out and into the air, resulting in you breathing in the dust and debris, which can result in a dry, persistent cough, along with other allergic symptoms.

dirty AC filters

Buildup of Mold and Mildew

The warm and somewhat moist enclosed space of your air conditioner makes it an optimal environment for mold growth. Especially if your filters are not cleaned regularly, leaks in the AC’s ductwork or excess air humidity can further encourage mold growth. Without regular maintenance checks, your AC can cause fungal contamination of the air you breathe5.

In addition to directly causing a cough, it can also increase your risk of respiratory infection and allergies, and exacerbate any underlying respiratory conditions you might have. Air-conditioned air with mold, mildew, dust, and pollen can result in airway narrowing and inflammation, which causes wheezing, and difficulty with breathing in addition to a dry cough, signs indicating what is known as an “air-conditioner lung”6.

Underlying Respiratory Conditions

Another and more prominent reason why you can develop a dry cough from air conditioning is if you already have a pre-existing respiratory condition. Breathing in the AC air can exacerbate conditions such as asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis7, prominent causes themselves for a dry cough. Another name for hypersensitivity pneumonitis is “air-conditioner lung”8.

How to Get Rid of an Air Conditioner Cough?

When you notice a dry and persistent cough consistently appearing a few hours after you switch on your air conditioner, consider checking in with your doctor to find out the root cause of your cough. Frequent and continuous exposure to AC air resulting in a cough works as a crucial clue toward your diagnosis. It becomes more pertinent to do so if you notice other alarming symptoms such as a fever, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.

After checking in with your doctor there are some simple ways to reduce your chances of developing an air-conditioning cough.

1. Clean or Replace AC Filters

One of the easiest ways to prevent an air conditioner cough is to regularly clean and maintain your AC. Start with cleaning out your filters before the AC season sets in. You can consider replacing regular AC filters with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These are capable of filtering out about 99% of the minute air particulates9

2. Repair Leaking or Damaged ACs

Before the AC season sets in, get a professional to service your air conditioner. An AC expert can tell you if you have any leaks or parts within the AC that require repair. Additionally, they can clean or replace your filters if required. Regular AC maintenance helps not only to reduce the chances of an air conditioner cough but also enables optimal AC function without wasting energy. 

3. Invest in a Humidifier and Air Purifier

Constant exposure to cool, dry AC air works as an irritant which can provoke a cough reflex. A humidifier can help maintain moisture in the air while you use your AC. Nowadays many ACs come with built-in humidifiers, which you can use or supplement with additional humidifiers. If you still notice a cough even while regularly maintaining your AC and humidifying the air, you still notice a cough, consider your environment and possible pollutants in the air you breathe. An air purifier can help tackle this concern, lowering the chances of a cough from air conditioning. 

4. Ensure Your Room is Properly Ventilated

Ventilation is the best way to circulate fresh air into your room where your air conditioner is used. It can help with both humidity and flushing out possible contaminants, such as mold and mildew that can build up within closed rooms. Many ACs now come with ventilation fans or can be fitted with one to increase ventilation when the AC is in use.

5. Stay Hydrated and Optimize Your Lifestyle

Ultimately, the best way to limit your chances of developing an air conditioning cough is to have a robust immune system capable of handling possible contaminants in the air. For one, staying hydrated throughout the day helps to keep your throat and nasal passages from drying out and is necessary for your lungs to clear themselves out10. Additionally, a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise also ensure your immune system is functioning optimally.

A man doing maintenance work on the AC unit

To Wrap Up

While your cough is typically a reflex action to propel irritants out of the respiratory system, a persistent cough usually hints at something requiring more attention. An air conditioner cough is a persistent dry cough that appears following continuous exposure to AC air. The dry and cold air are the frequent culprits that can provoke a cough. In addition, ACs with dirty filters and build-up of contaminants/allergens such as mold can also work as contributors to an AC cough. People with underlying respiratory conditions, especially asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis, are at a greater risk of developing air conditioning cough. To lower your risk, the first step is maintaining your AC for optimal functioning, with regular cleaning of the AC filters. HEPA air filters, humidifiers, and air purifiers can supplement efforts to improve the quality of your air conditioner air, helping get rid of an air conditioner cough.

References
  1. Matsumoto, H., Tabuena, R. P., Niimi, A., Inoue, H., Ito, I., Yamaguchi, M., Otsuka, K., Takeda, T., Oguma, T., Nakaji, H., Tajiri, T., Iwata, T., Nagasaki, T., Jinnai, M., Matsuoka, H., & Mishima, M. (2012). Cough triggers and their pathophysiology in patients with prolonged or chronic cough. Allergology international: official journal of the Japanese Society of Allergology, 61(1), 123–132. https://doi.org/10.2332/allergolint.10-OA-0295[]
  2. D'Amato, M., Molino, A., Calabrese, G., Cecchi, L., Annesi-Maesano, I., & D'Amato, G. (2018). The impact of cold on the respiratory tract and its consequences to respiratory health. Clinical and translational allergy, 8, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13601-018-0208-9[]
  3. Mäkinen, T. M., Juvonen, R., Jokelainen, J., Harju, T. H., Peitso, A., Bloigu, A., Silvennoinen-Kassinen, S., Leinonen, M., & Hassi, J. (2009). Cold temperature and low humidity are associated with increased occurrence of respiratory tract infections. Respiratory medicine, 103(3), 456–462. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rmed.2008.09.011[]
  4. Al-abdalall, A. H., Al-dakheel, S. A., & Al-Abkari, H. A. (2019). Impact of air-conditioning filters on microbial growth and indoor air pollution. Low-Temperature Technologies; Morosuk, T., Sultan, M., Eds, 179-206.https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.88548[]
  5. Hamada, N., & Fujita, T. (2002). Effect of air-conditioner on fungal contamination. Atmospheric Environment, 36(35), 5443-5448 https://doi.org/10.1016/S1352-2310(02)00661-1[]
  6. Koyuncu, A., Sarı, G., & Şimşek, C. (2023). Evaluation of cases with hypersensitivity pneumonia: 10 year analysis. The clinical respiratory journal, 17(4), 329–338. https://doi.org/10.1111/crj.13598[]
  7. Banaszak, E. F., Thiede, W. H., & Fink, J. N. (1970). Hypersensitivity pneumonitis due to contamination of an air conditioner. The New England journal of medicine, 283(6), 271–276. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM197008062830601[]
  8. Koyuncu, A., Sarı, G., & Şimşek, C. (2023). Evaluation of cases with hypersensitivity pneumonia: 10-year analysis. The clinical respiratory journal, 17(4), 329–338. https://doi.org/10.1111/crj.13598[]
  9. Vijayan, V. K., Paramesh, H., Salvi, S. S., & Dalal, A. A. (2015). Enhancing indoor air quality -The air filter advantage. Lung India: official organ of Indian Chest Society, 32(5), 473–479. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-2113.164174[]
  10. Randell, S. H., & Boucher, R. C. (2006). Effective Mucus Clearance Is Essential for Respiratory Health. American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, 35(1), 20–28. https://doi.org/10.1165/rcmb.2006-0082sf[]

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    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

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