Symptoms And Signs of Mold Exposure
Mold is a small organism that belongs to the fungi family. It is found almost everywhere, both indoors as well as outdoors and thrives in warm, damp and humid environments. Molds are beneficial to the environment and form an important part of the ecosystem by break down dead plant and animal matter. One can find mold growing in the darkest and dampest spaces indoors. More than causing an aesthetic problem, mold can damage the house and contribute to health issues.
Mold grows in filaments and reproduce by forming spores that spread through the air. People get exposed to molds frequently by touching or breathing them.
As molds grow in large amounts, spores get released into the air and they can be easily inhaled. Due to their very tiny size and being lightweight, mold spores easily travel through air and spread. Generally small amounts of mold in the environment do not cause any significant health issues to healthy people with a normal functioning immune system.
When large amounts of molds are inhaled by a person, they could have allergic symptoms. Recurring exposure to mold may increase a person’s sensitivity and cause more severe allergic reactions and they can get sick. These problems could worsen more in moldy indoors as mold causes poor quality of indoor air. Preventing mold growth and cleaning up molds in indoor environments are imperative due to their potential health risks.
How does Mold grow?
Mold can grow both indoors and outdoors. Molds reproduce by forming tiny spores that are invisible to the naked eye. Mold spores are very enduring and can live under dry and harsh environments in which mold cannot grow. The spores travel through air and when they land on a surface with excess dampness or moisture, where leakage may be present, such as roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots etc. then they start to grow.
In the outdoors, molds play a vital role in the decomposition of organic material and they are most commonly found in damp, dark areas or areas of decomposing plant life such as dead trees, compost, and leaves.
Most often mold is found indoors in the darkest, dampest spaces in basements or shower stalls and has the potential to cause health problems and can destroy surfaces and objects where it grows.
How Do Molds Get in The Indoor Environment?
Outdoor molds release tiny spores that float and spread through the air. Once mold spores get inside, they can grow on the surface it lands on under right conditions.
Many of building materials have high cellulose content which are suitable for growth of some molds such as wood, wood products, ceiling tiles, fiberboard, gypsum board, paints, wallpaper, cardboard, insulation materials, drywall, and wall-paper. Materials such as dust, lint, carpet, fabrics and upholstery also support mold growth indoors.
Mold spores can enter indoors through:
- Heating and air conditioning systems
Mold spores grow very quickly in spaces with moisture, such as:
- Around windows
- In basements and attics
- In sinks, bathtubs and shower areas
- Near leaky water pipes
Types Of Molds
There are different types of molds and the many different types can grow alongside in the same area. The different varieties of mold can be identified only through testing.
The most common types of molds which can be found indoors include:
- Aspergillus: Aspergillus has a powdery look and is green, white, or gray with dark spots. This type of mold thrives on fabrics, walls, attics, basements besides dry food items and doesn’t require much ventilation.
- Cladosporium: Cladosporium is green, brown or black in colour and can grow both in warm and cool sites. It is commonly found on fabrics, carpets, wood and in heating and cooling ducts.
- Penicillium: Penicillium is a blue, green, or yellow fuzzy mold which is usually found in basements, in insulation, under carpets when there’s water damage.
Some types of molds are not commonly found indoors as the above listed types of molds. Molds that can be occasionally found indoors include:
- Alternaria: This type of mold is fuzzy white with black spots. They generally tend to grow in in bathroom and kitchen areas and in wallpapers and fabrics which are close to windows and air conditioners and.
- Aureobasidium: This type of mold is usually found on wood, walls, caulking, and grout and appears pink with black spots.
- Stachybotrys chartarum: S. chartarum is also known as Stachybotrys atra or as black mold. This type of mold is greenish-black in colour and grows on things which have a high cellulose content. It’s usually found on paper, fiberboard, and gypsum board or drywall.
- Trichoderma: Trichoderma mold is creamy white in colour and turns green when the spores are released. It’s often found in bathrooms, kitchens on windows and wood.
Under certain conditions molds such as Aspergillus and Stachybotrys produce toxins called mycotoxins which can cause more serious illness.
Causes of Mold Allergies
Molds produce substances that act as allergy causing substances or allergens in sensitive individuals. Some toxic molds produce toxic substances known as mycotoxins which can cause more serious illness.
When the body sees the mold spores as foreign substance that needs to be destroyed the immune system creates reactions to protect. Mold allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to certain types of mold or mold spores, which the body considers to be an allergen.
Mold is present everywhere, and everyone breathes mold spores however not all molds cause allergy symptoms. The most common types of molds which cause allergy symptoms include:
Symptoms And Signs of Mold Exposure
Exposure to mold in damp and moldy environments in the house, have the potential to cause certain health issues in people who are sensitive to molds. Touching or inhaling large amount of mold spores can cause the same signs and symptoms that occur in other types of upper respiratory allergies.
Some of the allergic symptoms caused by a mold allergy can include:
• Brain fog (difficulty focusing)
• Difficulty breathing
• Dry cough
• Dry, scaly skin
• Eye irritation
• General malaise
• Itchy eyes, nose and throat
• Lung irritation
• Runny nose
• Skin irritation, rash and skin scaling
• Sore throat
• Watery red eyes
• Wheezing or shortness of breath
Occasionally, few people develop severe reactions to mold exposure. Symptoms of severe reactions, which are uncommon, include:
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms of mold allergy could range from mild to severe and may vary from person to person. Some may have symptoms all year round or some may experience flare up of symptoms only during certain times of the year. Sometimes symptoms may be noticed only when the weather is damp or when people are in spaces which have higher concentrations of mold.
Exposure to mold may not aways cause a medical emergency for most people. People with weakened immune systems or patients with chronic lung disease can develop serious lung infections due to mold. People who are at greater risk of health complications and are experiencing symptoms of severe mold exposure should seek medical help.
Mold Allergy and Asthma
Asthma symptoms can be triggered by exposure to mold spores when a person has both mold allergy and asthma. Exposure to mold or mold spores worsen asthma or other lung problems in people who have pre-existing lung conditions.
Signs and symptoms of severe asthma attack when exposed to certain molds include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Risk factors for developing mold allergy symptoms include:
- Having a family history of allergies.
- Having personal history of allergies.
- Having respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Being exposed to mold over a long period of time due to work.
- Living in a humid house or building that has more than 50 % humidity.
- Living in a house or a building with poor ventilation
- Working or living in an environment that’s has leaky pipes, excess moisture or been flooded.
- Working in a job where there is more exposure to mold, such as:
- Lumber millers
- People who are at a higher risk include:
- Infants and children
- Elderly persons
- Immune compromised patients
Diagnosis of Mold Allergy
Mold allergy can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider by the doing following investigations and tests:
- Complete medical history and physical examination.
- Skin Test: The skin test would involve scratching on the skin with a needle that has mold extracts on them. If a person is allergic to molds, they will have some type of reaction, such as itching or redness or swelling.
- Blood Test: Blood test is done for allergy screening or an allergen-specific IgE antibody. Blood test can help to diagnose an allergy as well as to see if treatment is working.
Treatments for mold allergies may include:
- Immunotherapy or Allergy Shots: Immunotherapy commonly known as allergy shots reduces sensitivity to mold. This treatment method may be particularly suitable for a person who experiences severe symptoms throughout the year.
- Medications: Some types of medications can give relief from mild to moderate symptoms linked to mold exposure. These medications include:
- Nasal corticosteroid sprays
- Nasal rinse
- Inhaled steroids or mast cell stabilizers: These may be suggested by the doctor if a person has asthma.
Complications Related to Mold Illnesses
Following mold exposure most people experience only an allergic reaction or allergy-like symptoms. Rarely, mold exposure can cause very serious health issues in some people with certain risk factors.
Complications that can arise due to mold exposure include:
Asthma: In people with asthma, mold exposure may trigger an attack. Higher levels of mold in homes are also a risk factor for causing asthma in school aged children.
Infections: People with certain health conditions may be at risk of lung infection or other infections from inhaling certain types of molds.
Some of the common mold-related infections include:
- Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis)
People are at a higher risk of getting these illnesses if they have certain health conditions such as:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Compromised immune system - Including people who take corticosteroids or have HIV
- Cystic fibrosis
Pneumonitis: Exposure to a large amount of mold can cause more serious reaction known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This is usually caused due to occupational or workplace hazards.
Irritation: Mold can lead to irritation in the:
Chronic irritation and inflammation can cause serious health issues.
Headache and Memory Loss: Exposure to black mold spores which release toxic compounds may cause health issues such as memory loss and headaches.
Other complications: Some types of molds can produce mycotoxins, which are very dangerous and can cause even more severe symptoms and could sometimes be fatal. Severe complications caused by mycotoxin include:
- Pregnancy complications
- Lung fibrosis and/or bleeding
- Diseases of the digestive system, the immune system and the nervous system
- Problems with liver, kidneys and blood
Can Mold Allergy Be Cured?
- Currently, there’s no complete cure for an allergy caused by mold, however, mold allergy can be managed by reducing exposure to mold and taking suggested medications when needed.
- There are certain types of molds that are more dangerous than others. These are toxic molds which emit mycotoxins or cause infections. They can cause serious illness and rarely death.
Prevention of Mold Allergy
To prevent mold allergy from happening certain steps have to be taken to prevent and remove mold.
Mold can be prevented indoors by:
- Avoiding carpets in bathrooms, laundry rooms or basements.
- Cleaning damp areas, such as basements and bathroom regularly.
- Controlling moisture in the house.
- Drying clothes outside.
- Ensuring that the house is properly ventilate.
- Keeping humid areas well ventilated.
- Maintaining 50 % humidity or lower in the house with the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
- Not leaving wet towels or clothes in a pile.
- Repairing or replacing windows that leak, as moisture may collect on the frame and sill.
- Repairing water leaks in the roof, walls, windows or pipes immediately.
- Use mold-resistant paint.
- Using dehumidifiers in damp areas, such as the basement.
- Using exhaust fans or opening windows while showering or bathing.
- Using wall paint with mold inhibitors.
- Ventilating bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas.
How common is mold in buildings?
- Mold is often present in homes and buildings. Occurrence of mold may vary significantly depending on the regional climate.
- Whenever mold is seen or smelt in the house, it is a problem. All the different types of molds can cause health issues and needs to be removed. Mold usually begins to grow out from a little spot and spreads quickly.
Identifying Mold in the House
Large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelt. Depending on the type of mold that is present it can be spotted, black, white or any other colour. They may be powdery, cottony or velvety in appearance.
Signs to differentiate mold from that of an old stain or dirt include:
- Applying a drop of bleach lightens the color of mold in a minute or two.
- Mold has an earthy, musty smell.
- Presence of warping, cracking or peeling of material on which the mold is growing.
- Source of moisture and less light near the mold.
- Unchecked mold continues to grow whereas dirt and old stains will not.
Getting Rid of Mold
If a person has mold allergy as well as chronic lung condition such as asthma, they are at a higher risk of more severe symptoms and complications.
If mold is present indoor, steps need to be taken to remove the mold to prevent health issues. While doing own mold cleaning, it’s necessary to wear protective clothing, gloves and respirator.
Mold can be removed with:
- Commercial products
- Soap and water
- A brush to scrub mold off surfaces
- Bleach solution: Bleach and water solution can be made in the ratio of 1 cup bleach and 1 gallon of water.
While mold cleaning, it is necessary to:
- Open the windows
- Wear protective eyewear
- Use nonporous gloves
- Use face mask or N95 respirator
- Not to mix other cleaners or ammonia with bleach as toxic fumes may be created.
Seek a professional contractor if there is:
- A large amount of mold
- Severe water damage
- High risk of symptoms from mold spores