Table of Contents
Why Air Conditioning Makes Me Cough and What To Do About It
Air conditioning can sometimes cause coughing due to dry air. When AC units cool air, they remove moisture, resulting in dry, low-humidity indoor air. This dry air can irritate the throat and airways, triggering coughing.
Why Dry Air Causes Coughing
Our respiratory tracts are lined with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia. These cilia trap dust, pollen, and other particles to keep them from reaching the lungs. To do their job properly, cilia need moist air. Dry air dries out the cilia, impairing their function. Irritants can then bypass the cilia and penetrate deeper into the airways, provoking coughs.
Dry air also dries out the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. This makes the membranes swollen and inflamed. Swelling in the throat area can stimulate cough reflexes. Additionally, dry, inflamed membranes produce less mucus. Mucus helps keep the respiratory tract moist and traps particles. With less mucus, the airways become even drier and further irritated.
Tips for Reducing Air Conditioning Cough
If your AC unit is making you cough, try these tips to add moisture back into the air:
- Use a humidifier. Humidifiers increase humidity levels and can significantly reduce air conditioning cough.
- Place bowls of water near AC vents. As air blows over the water, some moisture will evaporate into the air.
- Keep hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids can help keep mucous membranes moist.
- Buy a dehumidifier for only the bedroom. That way, you get the benefits of added humidity at night while sleeping.
- Set the AC to continuous fan mode. This helps circulate indoor air rather than drying it out.
- Make sure your AC unit is clean. Dirty filters can restrict airflow and dry out air.
When to See a Doctor
If simple home remedies don’t help your cough, see your doctor. A chronic cough lasting more than 3 weeks may indicate an underlying health issue that needs treatment. You should also see a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Cough with phlegm or mucus
- Cough accompanied by fever, chills, or breathing problems
- Cough that occurs with other Troublesome symptoms like weight loss or chest pain
With proper care and treatment, air conditioning cough can be relieved. Work on optimizing the humidity in your home, stay hydrated, and see a doctor if symptoms persist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does air conditioning make me cough at night?
Coughing at night can be worse because breathing dry air for hours cumulatively dries out your airways. Also, at night, air circulation decreases, allowing indoor air to become even drier.
Does air conditioning cause coughing in babies?
Yes, babies are also susceptible to air conditioning cough. Their airways are smaller and more easily irritated by dryness. Use a humidifier in baby’s room and ensure they stay well hydrated.
Is coughing up phlegm normal with air conditioning cough?
No, coughing up phlegm or mucus is not typical for simple air conditioning cough caused by dryness. It could signal an infection or other underlying problem needing medical attention.
Can air conditioning filters make you cough?
Yes, dirty AC filters allow more dust, pollen, and particulates to circulate through the air. Breathing in these particles can provoke coughing. Change filters regularly.
Should I take cough medicine for air conditioning cough?
Unless recommended by your doctor, cough medicine is not necessary. The cough is from dryness, not infection. Focus on adding moisture back into the air instead.
What medical conditions make air conditioning cough worse?
Pre-existing conditions like asthma, COPD, bronchitis or allergies can all exacerbate air conditioning cough. The airways are already sensitive and dry air further aggravates them.
Is having a small AC unit better for reducing cough?
Not necessarily. A properly sized AC unit for your space is best. An oversized unit may not run long enough to dehumidify the air. An undersized unit runs constantly, over-drying the air.
For more information, check out this article on indoor air quality from the Environmental Protection Agency.