Why your air conditioner could be giving you a stuffy nose

Air conditioners can be lifesavers, especially when you need to beat the Summer heat. But sometimes, too much of a good thing — in this case, gusts of cool, dry air — can trigger a reaction in your nose, causing it to become stuffy or runny. “This is called nonallergic rhinitis,” says Dr. Ali Amirzadeh, an expert allergy and immunology doctor with Mercy Medical Group in Sacramento, California. “I have patients who get the same symptoms as hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, like a runny and/or stuffy nose, but it is not caused from allergies.”

If it’s not summer allergies, then what, exactly, is causing this reaction?

Why air conditioners may lead to a stuffy nose

According to Dr. Amirzadeh, temperature changes can cause nonallergic rhinitis in addition to weather changes, hormones, certain medications, infections, and even strong smells. This may be related, says Dr. Amirzadeh, to the hyperresponsiveness of the nerve endings in an individual’s nose. Essentially, the blood vessels in your nose swell in the presence of triggers (like cold, dry air), and you experience nasal congestion or an uptake in mucus production, leading to a runny nose.

On the other hand, irritants present in the air can also cause a stuffy or runny nose. Sometimes, these irritants can get stuck in the air conditioner, leading to worsened symptoms. “Dust mites and mold can be present in air-conditioning units and can worsen or aggravate symptoms of hay fever,” says Dr. Amirzadeh. “If the problem isn’t identified or fixed, it could cause prolonged hay fever symptoms.”

How to ease air-conditioner related stuffiness

So, what can you do if you think your air conditioner is making you sick by either aggravating your hay fever or causing nonallergic rhinitis? The good news is you don’t have to stop using your A/C altogether—you just need to be smarter about how you use it and understand how it might affect your nose.

First, always change your air-conditioning filter regularly based on the manufacturer's suggestion. “Bear in mind that recommendations can vary based on the type of filter, type of A/C unit, and the amount of allergen exposure, including the amount of pollen, smoke, etc. in the air,” says Dr. Amirzadeh.

To help relieve symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis from cold, dry air, drink plenty of fluids to loosen the mucus in your nose and use a humidifier to add moisture back into the air in your home. You should also consider trying Breathe Right® nasal strips, which instantly open your nose. They’re drug-free, safe to use with any medicine, and they’re the only nasal strips that use 3M adhesive for comfortable fit and removal.

With these simple tips, you can enjoy the luxury of a cool room on a hot Summer’s night without having a stuffy nose!