Air conditioning can cause headaches in some people for various reasons. Dehydration, noise, allergens, and temperatures can play a role.

During the summer months or in warm climates, the use of air conditioning increases. They work by pulling warm air from inside the house and passing it across a cold evaporator coil. The unit separates the heat from the air and expels it outside the home using a compressor.

Air conditioners can cause headaches due to dehydration, cold temperatures, noise, airborne illnesses, allergens, and chemicals.

This article examines air conditioning headaches, treatments, prevention, and more.

An industrial air conditioning machine that can cause headaches. -2Share on Pinterest
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Air conditioners work by passing indoor air across a cold evaporator coil. The unit removes the heat from the air, along with some moisture, and a compressor expels it outside the home.

As air conditioners dry the air, continued use without drinking water can cause dehydration. This may result in a headache.

According to 2021 research, experts do not fully understand the exact mechanism of dehydration headaches. However, drinking water will remedy any headaches resulting from dehydration.

The International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition includes a definition for headaches brought on by external cold temperatures.

Air conditioning can typically cool the temperature to around 60°F — much lower than comfortable for most people.

This headache is a sharp, stabbing pain caused by the rapid constriction of blood vessels or, possibly, the triggering of the trigeminal nerve near the temple.

Usually, these headaches resolve within 30 minutes after the temperature warms up, so turning up the thermostat just a few degrees may alleviate a headache.

A poorly maintained air conditioner may produce intermittent or repetitive noise that can cause a tension headache or trigger migraine.

According to a 2017 study of occupational noise and vibration in Korean workplaces, the pathways in the body that conduct noise signals link indirectly to the autonomic nervous and neuroendocrine systems that help regulate stress.

Noise may also contribute to muscle tension that leads to headaches.

Rest, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, ice packs, and muscle relaxants are suitable treatments for these headaches.

A person should also remove the source of the noise to prevent the headaches from returning.

To do this, a person may wish to put the air conditioning on a quieter setting, wear earplugs, or have intermittent breaks from using the machine.

It is possible that airborne illnesses could circulate from an indoor air conditioning system, possibly causing headaches as a symptom.

A 2016 literature review examined studies on the link between airborne illnesses, such as SARS, flu, measles, and tuberculosis.

It concluded that air conditioning systems do play a role in the transmission of airborne pathogens.

Airborne illnesses, such as COVID-19 and flu, can cause headaches.

An air conditioning system may cause airborne allergens and irritants to circulate around the room, possibly leading to a headache.

The air inside the home may look clean, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it could be 2–5 times higher in pollutants than outdoors.

That includes chemicals and allergens that settle inside the home and do not circulate out, leading to a headache.

Sources of allergens and chemicals inside the home can include:

  • pet dander
  • mold
  • ozone from air cleaners
  • organic compounds from a variety of products and materials
  • off-gassing from pressed wood products
  • chemicals from cleaning supplies, paint, and insecticides
  • degrading building materials

Recirculating the air and resolving the source of the pollutant can ease this type of headache.

A person can ensure they install the air conditioning unit properly for maximum function and make sure it has the required filter.

It is also good to be aware that air conditioners dehumidify the air. Therefore, individuals can help prevent dehydration by drinking extra water while it is in use.

If the air conditioner system is a central air system, they can set the fan to “auto” mode so it is not running constantly. This prevents noise pollution.

A person can also change the filters on the proper schedule.

Below are the answers to common questions about air conditioning and headaches.

Can sleeping in a cold room lead to a headache?

A cold room may cause rapid constriction of blood vessels or trigger the trigeminal nerve, causing a headache.

Why do I get sinus headaches from air conditioning?

Sinus headaches from air conditioning are generally the result of dry sinuses caused by dry air. Nasal sprays, rinses, or a shower can be helpful.

Headaches from air conditioning may come from various causes, including dehydration, cold temperatures, allergens, chemicals, or an airborne illness.

There are ways to prevent and treat headaches when they appear, including rest, water, and OTC pain relievers.

It is important for people to keep the air conditioning system clean and well-maintained and change the filter on the recommended schedule. This allows the system to run quietly and clean the air efficiently.