When most of us think of heating and air conditioning, we imagine modern marvels that allow us to live in comfort during the worst times of the year. The history of the air conditioner is also the history of movement into areas where summers are sweltering and uncomfortable, including the South.
While heating and cooling allow us to live in comfort, did you know that it can also affect your health? We can be surprisingly sensitive to our environments. If something is off with the HVAC elements in your home, it can cause an array of uncomfortable symptoms, including headaches. In fact, chronic headaches are one of the most common signals that something is up with the air quality of your home.
If you are experiencing headaches on a regular basis, especially ones that seem to improve as soon as you leave the house, there’s a pretty good bet that air quality (and possibly your HVAC system) is to blame. So, what are some of the major HVAC-related causes of headaches?
Dry air is generally a winter problem but can happen in the warmer months as well, depending on the strength of your air conditioner. Air that is too dry can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons – it dries out your skin, it can affect your nose, and leave you feeling a bit parched.
Well, that dry air can help to contribute to headaches thanks to dehydration. When you are dehydrated, your body pulls moisture from every source available, including brain tissue. This process signals pain sensors in the body, leaving you with a splitting headache. It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated, but running a humidifier during the winter months can also help.
We cannot emphasize this enough – check your filters monthly! A dirty filter can cause so many problems, up to and including headaches. When filters are dirty, some of the captured grime ends up blowing through your ductwork and into your home. Depending on what’s in that grime (and it can include mold spores), you are sometimes left feeling less than stellar.
Not Enough Ventilation
That “V” in HVAC stands for “ventilation,” which plays a major role in keeping your home environment healthy. Without enough ventilation, polluted air ends up staying in your home, circulating over and over again. Now think about all the things that can get stuck in your air – dust, dander, cooking odors, and VOCs from cleaning products, just to name a few. In a home with poor ventilation, it’s no wonder that headaches begin to appear.
To avoid this issue, remember to run your vents on a regular basis. The ventilation helps to get the old air out while bringing in new, fresh air for your breathing pleasure.
Allergens & Dust
Allergens and dust sometimes go hand-in-hand with a dirty HVAC filter, but they can be a problem even if your filter is clean. In some cases, especially if dirty filters have been the norm in a household, the ductwork itself can become dirty. This creates a haven for allergens, dust, dander, and other particulate matter that cause headaches. In some cases, mold growth can take hold, creating a dangerous problem.
If you are experiencing headaches on a regular basis, the first step is to establish a good cleaning routine to rid your home of potential problems. Be sure to clean your vents on a regular basis as well. If you still find that you are experiencing headaches and notice that the dust never seems to end, you may want to call a professional out to inspect your ducts for cleanliness.
Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector – it’s not optional. These devices can save your life if increased levels of this deadly gas appear in your home. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that usually occurs due to a malfunctioning gas furnace or boiler, but malfunctioning chimneys can also be a source.
One of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is a headache, usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, confusion, and fatigue. You can experience these symptoms even with low-level exposure to carbon monoxide. Remember – alarms usually won’t go off unless life-threatening levels of the gas are detected. If you suspect this is the cause of your headaches, your best option is to get out of the house and call an HVAC professional immediately.
Have an HVAC system that is just plain noisy? If you experience constant background noise whenever your system is running, it is possible that the sound is leaving you with a mild headache.
Your system shouldn’t be overly noisy, especially if it is new. For HVAC equipment that is driving you to a headache due to noise, a pro may be able to come in and make some adjustment to quiet things down a bit.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to make your home too cold during the summer months. A significant change in temperature from outdoor to indoor air can cause headaches. In cold environments, the blood vessels in your brain contract, which can leave you feeling some pain. If you have your air conditioner temperature set somewhere around Arctic levels, try increasing the temperature slightly to see if that helps to drive away the pain.