Tips to Protect yourself from the effect of Air Conditioning
Britain might not be the hottest place in the world but when the sun is burning bright, many places now offer us an air-conditioned solace.
However, for office workers spending hours of the day in an artificially cool environment it can be a curse, not a blessing. That’s because air conditioning can have a negative effect on your health and leave you prone to illness.
Getting a temperature
Moving from the heat outdoors into an artificially cool environment plays havoc with your internal thermometer. Our bodies strive for the normal temperature of 37C so when experiencing the blasts of cold air, the skin tells the brain that the body needs to get warm. This message causes our blood vessels to constrict and affects our respiratory system, and it can diminish the number of infection-fighting white blood cells there.
So it’s a good idea to move into the shade first and allow your body to adjust to a cooler temperature before feeling the chill of air conditioning. Watch out for how it might affect your skin too, especially if you suffer from a skin condition.
“In people with skin disease moving from an area of higher humidity to an area of lower humidity may potentially make their condition worse,” says Matthew Gass from British Association of Dermatologists.
Dry those eyes
Inevitably the use of air conditioning can be tough on your eyes. For people who wear contact lenses or suffer from pre-existing eye conditions, it can mean serious discomfort.
“Air conditioning can make the air dry and so soreness in your eyes is a common symptom,” says Simon Kay, consultant optometrist at Specsavers Eye Health website. “If you suffer from dry, sore eyes, try using some lubricating eye drops that you can buy from the optician or pharmacy.
We know that the respiratory system struggles when changing temperature too quickly and air conditioning can contribute to more associated problems. Those who spend a lot of time in air-conditioned rooms can often contract summer colds.
“The lining of the nose is covered with a thin layer of mucus which protects against infection,” says a report from the University Of Cardiff’s Common Cold Centre. “Since air conditioners extract moisture from the air they may cause some drying of the protective mucous blanket in the nose and predispose it to infection. The cold air may also help viruses to establish a hold in the nose as they reproduce better in a cold nose.”
The circulation of cold air also has an unfortunate side effect of helping travelling germs, bacteria and dust get around faster. That can be very bad news for people with allergies, and is the reason germs can take down several people who work in a close proximity.
Sick Building Syndrome
The term Sick Building Syndrome was coined to describe the condition that affects a group of people who experience systems in the workplace that are relieved when they spend time away from it.
Common symptoms of this include chronic fatigue, headaches, dry throat and sore eyes, and these complaints can be very severe. Air conditioning and the maintenance of the unit can be a big factor in Sick Building Syndrome.
Although it’s not a recognised illness, the Health & Safety Executive have put together a publication for employers to help combat the problems of Sick Building Syndrome with guidance on how to improve the work space for employees. If you experience these symptoms, you should report it to your manager.
Just as it dries out the eyes, air conditioning is no friend to the skin.
“Air conditioning dries out the skin compromising it by dehydration,” explains Dr Aamer Khan of Harley Street Skin Clinic. “It reduces the production of sebum from oil glands, leading to dry, tight skin. Skin can then be more exposed to environmental pollution so you have to be sure to use a hydrator more often and drink plenty of water.”
Just as it can exacerbate other health issues you already suffer from, air conditioning can also antagonise skin problems too.
“Air con units also have the potential to aggravate pre-existing dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation Spokesperson. “I’d recommend regular breaks out of the artificial environment created by air con, moisturise your skin and lips (always carry hand cream and lip balm with you) and limit your caffeine intake, no more than two cups of tea or coffee while in the air conditioned space.”
One of the most likely scenarios in which you could experience discomfort thanks to air conditioning is in a plane. It’s not just the air con, but the cabin pressure and the fact you’re packed into a small space where air is being circulated among hundreds of people for hours on end. But there are ways you can help yourself during the flight.
Make sure that you drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and try to avoid alcohol and coffee, even if the temptation is overwhelming. Make sure you have a warm blanket or clothes so you don’t get too cold and keep your body temperature normal and help your skin to stay hydrated by applying moisturizer and lip balm liberally.
If you’re brave enough, remove all make up and put on a facial oil to help protect your skin barrier. That way you can emerge at your destination looking fresh faced.