Ask a Best Doctor: Does My Air Conditioner or Radiator Make Me Sick?

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Historic buildings on Greene Street in the SoHo Cast Iron Historic Destrict in New York. This region of New York City has the largest concentration of cast-iron architecture in the world, approximately 250 buildings. The name SoHo is a blend of South and Houston from the geographic location South of Houston Street. The heart of the district is Greene Street, where 50 buildings erected between 1869 nad 1895 are found on 5 cobblestoned blocks. Many of these buildings were built in under four months time because of its simplistic design but used cast iron for decorative purposes which was mass produced but today are rare works of industrial art. New York, New York. --- Image by © William Manning/Corbis
Photo: William Manning/Corbis

 I can't stand how hard it is to regulate the temperature in my apartment: In the summer, it's unbearably hot, so I blast the A/C for months — despite all the rumors I hear about constant air conditioning not being good for you in some way. In the winter, the radiator heat is unbearable, until I open a window. Is either practice going to make me sick? 

"So much of that is folklore," says Andrew Blitzer, otolaryngologist and director of the New York Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, as far as air conditioning goes.

A good air conditioner "isn't just air cooling — it's conditioning the air so you don't inhale the crap you don't want to inhale," while also taking out discomfort-causing humidity. In studies that have compared buildings with A/C throughout to those without A/C, Blitzer says, no increased sickness was found in the A/C-filled buildings.  

That said, Blitzer emphasizes the importance of keeping your A/C filter clean (i.e., actually cleaning or changing it when that little "change filter" light comes on). "If a system isn't clean, molds and spores can grow," and then circulate in the air, disturbing allergy-sufferers — and perhaps contributing to the "A/C makes you sick" myth.

As for opening the window in the winter, it's unfortunately not the greatest idea — you're letting all the impurities in the air (the ones air conditioning so helpfully filters out in the summer, like spores, molds, and other such fun stuff) right into your passageways. If you've got sinus issues and the radiator-inflicted dryness is getting at you, try an easier to clean cool-mist humidifier to ease your pain.

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