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Is air conditioning activating our allergies?

Does air conditioning make allergies worse?
Does air conditioning make allergies worse? 02:21

MINNEAPOLIS -- Our air conditioning units are working overtime this week as we try to stay cool amid a heat wave.

For some, it's led to sneezing fits and stuffy noses while inside. Now we're wondering: Is air conditioning activating our allergies? And how do we stop it without turning units off? Good Question.

AC units generate a never-ending buzz serenading our sweltering days and nights.

"When it's really hot during the day we have two window units running," said Dick Rueter.

"My electrical bill is gonna be a little on the high side," joked Susan Spongberg.

Air conditioning is an undeniable relief, but not always for our allergies.

"If you don't have a sufficient air filter, then the pollens are just going right through like through Swiss cheese," said Dr. John Sweet, an allergist with Hennepin Healthcare.

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Sweet said cleaning the filter on AC units, or replacing dirty one with a new, HEPA filter, is the first step in stopping allergens from flowing into our homes.

"I just take [the filters] out and wash them off," Rueter said, a task he does each spring.

Can someone actually be allergic to the air conditioner?

"There is a phenomena called vasomotor rhinitis," said Sweet.

Vasomotor rhinitis is when your nose runs after going from a warm environment to a cold one. It happens often when we step outside in the winter.

In the summer, we transition from a hot outdoor climate to a cold indoor setting.

"You could get a runny nose but it actually has nothing to do with allergies at all," said Sweet.

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Can an air purifier help in this situation?

"Absolutely," said Sweet. "A good room HEPA air cleaner that's a sufficient size and strength can actually pull the pollens out of the air so it's not going into the nose and sinuses can be very helpful."

Pets play a role as well. The dander from their hair can accumulate and get circulated in the air if the AC filter isn't properly cleaned and replaced. Vacuuming often can help prevent filters from getting filled with pet hair.

Another step in battling indoor allergies on summer days is calling in the pros to have your AC system, including the air ducts, cleaned out.

"That's gonna require some sort of HVAC type person to come out and tend to that, way above my pay grade," said Spongberg.

If you've been outside all day, you could be carrying pollens into your home. Showering or changing clothes can help, but your symptoms won't immediately disappear.

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