Partner Channels

The Definitive Source of Information on the Following Subjects:

Building Automation | Building Envelope | Commercial Roofing | Cooling
Energy Measurement | LED Lighting | Lighting Control | Site Furnishings

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Allergic To Air Conditioning

Written by Heidi Schwartz. Posted in Ask The Expert, Facility Management, FacilityBlog, Featured Post, Interiors, Question Of The Week, Safety, Topics

Tagged: , , , ,

Published on September 09, 2013 with 8 Comments

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

This Question of the Week comes from the Facilities Management Group on LinkedIn. 

Have you ever had anyone claim to be allergic to the air conditioning in your building? Everyone moans about the air con in the office but this is different; the person suffers from dry eyes, sore throat which slowly gets worse, and ends up with time off work sick with flu like symptoms. The pattern keeps repeating itself every four to six weeks.

The system is newly installed (it’s only about five months old) and the person only seems to have problems when the cold air blows. Workstations have been rearranged so the person could try different parts of the office, but the problem remains. Now the employee is working from home on a regular basis.

The person is adamant about being allergic to the air con and is pushing for us to remove it in the section where they work. This is not feasible, but I am keen to try every avenue to demonstrate we have taken the complaint seriously. Ultimately there is only so much that is reasonably practicable. I have arranged for our maintenance company to carry out a full clean and inspection, but would an air specialist be able to test dry, cold air, which is one of the major concerns?

Kellie Lord-Thomas
Facilities Manager
Non-Profit Organization
London, England

Share your feedback and suggestions in the LEAVE A COMMENT section below.

About Heidi Schwartz

Heidi Schwartz

Schwartz joined Group C Media in April 1989 as managing editor of Today's Facility Manager (TFM) magazine (formerly Business Interiors) where she was subsequently promoted to editor/co-publisher of the monthly trade magazine for facility management professionals. In September 2012, she took over the newly created position of internet director for TFM's parent company, Group C Media, where she is charged with developing content and creating online strategies for TFM and its sister publication, Business Facilities. Schwartz can be reached at schwartz@groupc.com.

Browse Archived Articles by

8 Comments

There are currently 8 Comments on QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Allergic To Air Conditioning. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. It sounds like you need more than just a cleaning and inspection of your system. The symptoms the employee is experiencing sounds more like an indoor air quality problem. Your business may need better air filtration, as well as humidification/dehumidification. A lack of humidity could definitely result in dry eyes and sore throat. There are a variety of air filtration systems on the market as well. Trane makes a really good Filtration system called CleanEffects. You might also consider a UV light. It will eliminate most mold, allergens, odors, etc. Find a company that specializes in solutions to these types of problems. There are a ton of companies out there that want to just sell you a new system and sign you up to maintain it. You need a company that solves problems.

  2. There are many accessories that can be added to any A/C system to increase IAQ levels even higher than outside air. Perhaps you can take a look at the line of products offered by AtmosAir. Their bi-polar ionization technology is test and proven.
    http://www.atmosair.com

  3. Yes; relative humidity and temperature are routinely measured and listed on IAQ (indoor air quality) inspections. It could end up being as simple as adding humidity to the AC unit supplying this worker’s area, or providing them a small desktop humidifyer.

  4. You may want to check out some of the accessories that can be added to any A/C system to increase IAQ levels. I would suggest bi-polar ionization technology as offered by AtmosAir. It is a tested and proven technology that is often used for severe azma patients.

  5. Air con has always been associated with some common issues like sore throats, asthmatic symptoms, respiratory infections, hoarseness, inflammatory conditions of the eye, irritated skin, headaches, and fatigue but not to all. Since we remove moisture from air through A/C and the cold air can carry only less moisture and hence is more dry, it results in drying out the body surfaces which majorly includes the eyes, skin, throat and the nasal passages. Since the body surface is dry and can form crack, it let the bacteria and other contaminants to enter our body and react badly.
    Following may be more reasons in causing the issue:
    Your Air con may be running below standards and you need to get a third party inspection done, in order to check the air quality as per ASHRAE standards etc. This is common for Clean room applications however can be done in a special cases as in case of your premises.
    Person may be highly sensitive or the body may be having extremely less strength for fighting against such conditions. The temp. in various areas can be maintain differently by adopting some common techniques like VAV, rebalancing of air as/ requirements etc. etc.. You need to keep the temp. little higher (b/w 27 to 29 Degree C) for such people.
    Hope that resolves the difficulty.
    Cheers!!

  6. I have to make a lot of assumptions with this…

    This could easily be the result of LOW humidity. Assuming you didn’t replace the old air conditioner just for grins and giggles, the new one is probably drying out the air much more effectively than the old one did. (lower coil temp = more dehumidification) Check the humidity of the room air. (not at the duct outlet) You may need to ADD humidification. Have you noticed an increase in static electricity?

    Adding humidification can be done at the air conditioner, inside the ductwork or locally with water atomizers. Adding a water line to a rooftop unit may be a problem due to freezing in the winter and/or a leak could flood the ductwork and office. If low humidity is the problem, discuss your options with your HVAC contractor and review your insurance policy.

    Since “no one is inexpendable” and moreso these days than ever before, how far you are willing to go for this employee depends on how much you value thier services. But assuming that their working from home is not a good thing, (I’ve had co-workers I wished would work from home!) and assuming they are highly valued, at least valued equal to or greater than the cost of a lawsuit, I would first hire an Indoor Air Quality consultant to thoroughly test the building. I’m assuming, of course, that there is not another environmnetal zone avialable or you would have moved them to it.

    If the IAQ expert finds something, fix it and move one. I’m assuming the IAQ expert will not find anything. My next step would be to request of the employee that they be tested by an alergy specialist in order to identify the trigger for their symptoms.
    And either they can or can’t. Which leads you to a whole other set of decisions to make.

  7. Air con has always been associated with some common issues like sore throats, asthmatic symptoms, respiratory infections, hoarseness, inflammatory conditions of the eye, irritated skin, headaches, and fatigue but not to all. Since we remove moisture from air through A/C and the cold air can carry only less moisture and hence is more dry, it results in drying out the body surfaces which majorly includes the eyes, skin, throat and the nasal passages. Since the body surface is dry and can form crack, it let the bacteria and other contaminants to enter our body and react badly.

    Following may be more reasons in causing the issue:

    Your Air con may be running below standards and you need to get a third party inspection done, in order to check the air quality as per ASHRAE standards etc. This is common for Clean room applications however can be done in a special cases as in case of your premises.

    Person may be highly sensitive or the body may be having extremely less strength for fighting against such conditions. The temp. in various areas can be maintain differently by adopting some common techniques like VAV, rebalancing of air as/ requirements. You need to keep the temp. little higher (b/w 27 to 29 Degree C) for such people.

    Hope that resolves the difficulty.

    Cheers!!

  8. Sorry – was there supposed to be an expert answer to this question? If so, I can’t see it.

Leave a Comment