You are in Phoenix. We also have a Tucson site.

You are in Phoenix. We also have a Tucson site.

You are in Phoenix. We also have a Tucson site.

Breathing Easy: Is Running My Heater Making Me Sick?

'Tis the season for colds and flu. After the "tripledemic" of 2022 infected around 40% of households across the U.S., it's safe to say none of us are looking forward to illnesses for the 2023-2024 winter season. From dry skin and nausea to coughing, the chances are good that you'll experience at least some kind of cold-related symptom this year. 

If you're lucky, those symptoms will go away. If you aren't, you might be dealing with them for weeks or even months, making you start to suspect another cause. You might even be wondering if running your heater, furnace, or any type of heating system, is making you sick. 

The truth is that heater sickness happens more often than you might think! If you're worried that your HVAC system is to blame for your cold and flu symptoms, here's what you should know.

Is Running My Heater/Furnace Making Me Sick? 

The simple answer is that it might be.

Heater sickness can be subtle and sneaky. With plenty of other colds and illnesses going around in the winter months, it's easy to pass off your symptoms as something else. 

Not so fast! If you notice that you and your household keep experiencing cold-like symptoms that won't go away, even after days or weeks, it's time to check your central heating.

The chances are higher that your heater is making you sick if you have an older model, you haven't had it serviced in a while, or you know the system isn't as clean as it should be. 

Why Does Heater Sickness Happen?

When it's running as it should, your heater does a lot of things you might take for granted. Think about it: your HVAC unit is always bringing warm air into your home, getting rid of condensation, pushing air through filters, and even maintaining your indoor humidity. 

When something goes wrong within that system, it affects the air quality throughout your entire home. Once you start breathing in warm, dry air packed with allergens, mold, and other contaminants, it's not hard to see why your health might be affected. Issues like these can wreak havoc on your nose, throat, eyes, skin, and lungs.

There are a few things that can go wrong within your heater to put a serious damper on your health: 

Broken Humidifier

Humidity is another thing that's easy to overlook until things go wrong. When your heater's humidifier malfunctions or breaks, it can dry out the air in your home. Low humidity means dry, itchy skin, and you'll probably also start feeling thirsty all the time. 

Worse, low humidity primes you for colds and illnesses. Viruses spread faster in low humidity, making you more likely to experience frustrating symptoms.

Allergen Buildup 

One of the most common reasons for heater sickness is unclean air. The EPA estimates that indoor air can be between 2 and 5 times more polluted than the air outside, and a faulty heater can ramp up those pollutants in no time.

As dust, pollen, pet dander, mold, and other contaminants build up in your heater, the only thing your system can do is cycle those allergens around your home. This is especially true if you've got filthy ducts or a dirty air filter, as your system is forcing clean air through dirty areas. In the end, your home may be practically swimming in gross contaminants! 

Carbon Monoxide

Last, but not least, don't rule out the threat of carbon monoxide. This toxic, odorless gas can build up if you have poor ventilation or there's a fault in your exhaust system. 

In small amounts, it can give you headaches and nausea. In larger amounts, it can be deadly.

Install carbon monoxide detectors and check them at least once a month to make sure this gas isn't the reason you're feeling sick. 

Symptoms of Heater Sickness

As we've said, it can be tricky to tell when you're dealing with heater sickness vs. other conditions. Sometimes, the easiest way to be sure is to see if your symptoms last more than 7-10 days, which is how long it takes the average cold to work its way out of your system. 

Here are a few common symptoms to keep an eye out for:

  • Coughing and sneezing 

  • Sinus infections

  • Allergy symptoms 

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue 

  • Itchy or irritated eyes, nose, or throat

These symptoms will be worse in anyone who has allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions. If there's no explanation for why your condition has suddenly gotten worse, your heater might be to blame. 

What Can You Do?

First of all, don't turn off your heater! It's tempting to switch off the problem at the source, but that's not the best solution this time of year. 

Experts recommend never letting your indoor temperatures dip below 64 degrees. Colder temperatures can affect your lung function and blood pressure. If anyone in your home is older or has respiratory conditions, the effects can be even worse.

Instead, do a thorough cleaning. Remove dust, soot, or debris from around your heater and vents. 

Swap out or clean your air filter if you haven't done so in a while. If you want to go the extra mile, switch to a HEPA air filter, which removes up to 99.9% of all indoor contaminants. Parker & Sons specializes in improving your indoor air quality to improve sleep, reduce cold/flu and make breathing easier.

Reach out for a heater and air conditioning tune-up. An experienced technician can check for contaminants in your ducts and blower, fix your humidifier, and look for any other red flags that may be causing problems. 

In the meantime, you can also open your windows now and then, if the weather allows. This is a great way to air-out your home and improve your symptoms. If you have a humidifier or don't mind shelling out for an affordable one, now is the time to put it to use.

Keep Heater Sickness at Bay 

No one wants to deal with extra cold symptoms on top of the complex viral stew that brews every winter. If you're ready to clean up your air and give your cold symptoms the boot, Parker & Sons can help.

Our expert heater tune-ups and safety inspections will get your system cleaned and maintained in no time, with no extra charge for nights, weekends, or holidays. For total home comfort, fast, schedule your appointment now. 

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