Link between Air Conditioning and Sinus Problems

Can air conditioning affect one’s sinus health?

Yes, air conditioning can affect one’s sinus health by causing stuffy or runny nose. On one hand, air conditioning enables breathing in pollution free air. But on the other hand, it can lead to sinus congestion.

One’s nose has fragile nerve endings. When activated, they trigger blood vessels to swell up and increase mucus production, leading to congestion or a runny nose. Sinus health may worsen in air conditioned spaces if one has allergies caused by dust mites, pollen, mold or hay fever. This happens because the small particles of irritants get trapped in air conditioning filters and then get circulated back into the air.

This article, address the link between air conditioning and sinus problems.

What are sinuses?

The sinuses are four paired hollow cavities within the bones between the eyes, behind cheekbones and in the forehead. They are joined by a narrow channel. The sinuses produce thin mucus that drains out of the passages of the nose and keeps it moist. This mucus drainage aids in protecting the nose against dust, allergens and pollutants.

The sinuses are named after the bones that furnish their structure namely:

Ethmoidal sinuses – It is located between the eyes.
Maxillary sinuses – It is located below the eyes.
Sphenoidal sinuses – It is located behind the eyes.
Frontal sinuses – It is located above the eyes.

What are sinus infections?

Sinus infections arise when the sinuses which are generally filled with air get filled with fluid. When that happens germs can develop and trigger infections. These infections are also termed as rhinosinusitis, where ‘rhino’ means ‘nose’.

Sinus infections are typically caused by a virus. But in certain cases, a bacteria or fungus may cause it.

Whether caused by a virus or bacteria, sinus infections can give rise to symptoms like mild headache, fatigue, weakness or a cough. Viruses are much more plausible to be the cause of sinus infections compared to bacteria. Although a bacterial sinus infection could be serious if it is associated with severe headaches, neck pain, excessive sleepiness or a change in mental state.

Consult Dr G V K Chaitanya Rao – Best ENT Doctor in Hyderabad.

Link between Air Conditioning and Sinus Problems Image by Dr GVK Chaitanya Rao

A sinus infection can affect anybody. But one is more likely to get a sinus infection if he/she has:

  • Common cold
  • Blocked drainage ducts
  • Nasal allergies
  • Nasal polyps
  • Asthma
  • Abnormal nose structure
  • Smoking habits
  • Immune system deficiencies

The common signs and symptoms of a sinus infection can be listed as:

  • Pain in forehead
  • Pain on either side of nose
  • Pain in upper jaws and teeth
  • Pain between eyes
  • Tenderness in the face
  • Nasal discharge
  • Post nasal drip
  • Pain in ears
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus headache
  • Throat irritation and cough
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Bad breath (halitosis)

What are symptoms of air conditioning sickness?

The symptoms of air conditioning sickness are:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Breathlessness
  • Issues with digestion
  • Watery eyes

What are the causes of air conditioning sickness?

Air Conditioning Sickness Image by Dr GVK Chaitanya Rao

The causes of air conditioning sickness can be listed as:

  • Pollen – Pollen is a dusty substance produced by seeds plants. It enters one’s house through open doors and windows. It usually settles onto surfaces, but can spread through air flow and stay suspended in the air. This way it causes air conditioning sickness.
  • Dust mites – Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that usually live in house dust. They primarily feed on human skin and can breed inside one’s air conditioning system.
  • Pet dander – Dander is tiny flakes of skin, shed by pets. It can go airborne and get circulated by the air conditioning system.
  • Mold and mildew – Mildew comprises certain kinds of mold or fungus. While molds include all species of microscopic fungi that develop in the form of multicellular filaments. These organisms grow in damp environments. If one’s air conditioning system has a damp or wet cooling coil, humidifier or condensate plan, then mold and mildew problems may arise. Ultimately causing air conditioning sickness.
  • Bacteria and viruses – Bacteria and viruses can be transmitted through the air. One’s air conditioning system can circulate them. Some airborne bacteria and viruses are influenza, measles, chickenpox, legionella and staphylococcus.
  • Pollution – Air pollution is not only found outdoors, but can also be found indoors. It gives rise to coughing, agitated asthma and reduced lung function.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – VOCs are human-made gasses, emitted into the air from products or processes. One’s air conditioning system can spread toxic gasses.

How does air conditioning cause sinus problems?

Air conditioning can cause sinus problems in the following ways:

The primary function of an air conditioning system is to circulate cold air. This cold air may lead to congestion of sinuses as well as a runny nose. Cold air irritates the membranes of one’s sinuses, giving rise to excessive mucus production. Air conditioning systems tend to reduce humidity in the air, which ends up triggering sinus problems.

Dry air is one of the principal factors of sinus infections worldwide. When one breathes in dry air, the mucus and saliva can’t carry out their job properly. If the mucus is not circulating adequately, one may start experiencing stuffy nose, congestion, sinus pains or headaches. Dry air can cause problems like dry skin, static electricity, cracked lips, nosebleeds, stuffy nose, coughing and sore throat.

Besides circulating air, the air conditioning system can also blow toxic chemicals, mold and pollen grains into the air. If the air conditioning system is not well kept, mold may build up on the coils. Coils and ducts form the best environment for the growth of mildew. The spread of allergens in one’s house may lead to transmission of sinus problems.

The air conditioning system only circulates the air in one’s house. If there is a spread of allergens or bacteria in the air, it rotates through one’s house over and over again. It passes through ducts and filters, into one’s house and back into the air conditioning system again.

How to protect sinus health from air conditioning?

The following measures can be taken to protect one’s sinus health from air conditioning:

  • Switch to HEPA filters
  • Change the filters regularly
  • Clean registers and return vents of the AC unit
  • Clean the ductwork below or above house
  • Clean dust and debris as well as outdoor AC unit
  • Promptly remove mold
  • Use an air purifier
  • Get AC ducts professionally cleaned
  • Use a humidifier
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature to let one’s body adapt
  • Stay hydrated


Yes, one can sleep with the air conditioning system on. Though it is advised to leave the door of the room slightly ajar and often drink water during the night.

If one’s air conditioning system is not maintained routinely, mold and dust start to accumulate in the ducts, filters, and coils of the system. All these pollutants are then blown into one’s home. Hence, air conditioning ends up causing sinus infections, allergies and sore throat.

Air conditioning acts as a lifesaver during warm summer days. But wafts of cold and dry air can impact one’s nose causing it to become blocked or runny.

To treat sinus pain triggered by air conditioning, one can try out:

  • Using warm compresses
  • Inhaling steam

Yes, air conditioning causes breathing problems. Alterations in nasal passages get triggered, if one with healthy sinuses is exposed to very cold air. The chances of developing a respiratory illness is high in one already suffering from conditions such as asthma.

Conclusion - Link between Air Conditioning and Sinus Problems

One can still enjoy a cool air conditioned environment by changing the air conditioning filters regularly. If one has sinus problems triggered by cold or dry air, then it is advised to drink plenty of water. In case, one has allergies which keeps on worsening due to air conditioning, then immediately consult an ENT specialist.

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Medically reviewed by SinusDoctor,
Dr G V K Chaitanya Rao

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