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Symptoms And Signs of Mold Exposure


Symptoms And Signs of Mold Exposure

Mold is an organism belonging to the fungus family. It is found almost everywhere, both indoors and outdoors, and thrives in warm, damp, and humid environments. Molds are beneficial to the environment and form a crucial part of the ecosystem by breaking 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 reproduces by forming spores that spread through the air. People get exposed to mold frequently by touching or breathing it.

As molds grow in large amounts, spores get released into the air, where they can be easily inhaled. Because of their very small size and lightweight feature, mold spores easily travel through the air and spread. Generally, small amounts of mold in the environment do not cause any significant health issues in healthy people with a normal functioning immune system.

When large amounts of mold 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, making them sick. These problems could worsen in moldy indoors, as mold causes poor quality indoor air. Preventing mold growth and cleaning up mold in indoor environments are imperative because of 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 in dry and harsh environments where mold cannot grow. The spores travel through the air, and when they land on a surface with excess dampness or moisture, for example, where leakage occurs, such as roofs, pipes, walls, and plant pots, 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 can cause health problems and destroy surfaces and objects where it grows.


How does mold get into indoor environments?

Outdoor molds release tiny spores that float and spread through the air. Once mold spores get inside, they can grow on the surface they land on under the right conditions.

Many building materials have high cellulose content, which is suitable for the growth of some molds, such as wood, wood products, ceiling tiles, fiberboard, gypsum board, paints, wallpaper, cardboard, insulation materials, drywall, and wallpaper. Materials such as dust, lint, carpet, fabrics, and upholstery also support mold growth indoors.

Mold spores can enter indoors through:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Vents
  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Pets

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 many different types can grow together in the same area. The different varieties of mold can only be identified through testing.

The most common types of molds that 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, and basements, in addition to dry food items, and doesn’t require much ventilation.
  • Cladosporium: Cladosporium is green, brown, or black in color and can grow both in warm and cool sites. It is commonly found on fabrics, carpets, and wood, as well as in heating and cooling ducts.
  • Penicillium: Penicillium is a blue, green, or yellow fuzzy mold that is usually found in basements, in insulation, and under carpets when there’s water damage.


Some types of molds are not as commonly found indoors as the above-listed types. 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 bathroom and kitchen areas and in wallpapers and fabrics that are close to windows and air conditioners.
  • Aureobasidium: This type of mold is usually found on wood, walls, caulk, and grout and appears pink with black spots.
  • Stachybotrys chartarum: S. chartarum is also known as Stachybotrys atra or black mold. This type of mold is greenish-black in color and grows on materials that have a high cellulose content. It’s usually found on paper, fiberboard, gypsum board, or drywall.
  • Trichoderma: Trichoderma mold is creamy white in color 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 can cause allergies or produce 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 a foreign substance that needs to be destroyed, the immune system reacts to protect the body. Mold allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to certain types of mold or mold spores, which the body considers to be allergens.

Mold is present everywhere, and everyone breathes mold spores; however, not all molds cause allergy symptoms. The most common types of molds that cause allergy symptoms include:

  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus
  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium


Symptoms and signs of mold exposure

Exposure to mold in damp and moldy environments in the house can cause certain health issues in people who are sensitive to mold. Touching or inhaling large amounts of mold spores can cause the same signs and symptoms that occur in other types of upper respiratory allergies.

Some of the symptoms caused by a mold allergy include:

  • Brain fog (difficulty focusing)
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry cough
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Eye irritation
  • Fatigue
  • General malaise
  • Headache
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and throat
  • Lung irritation
  • Runny nose
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin irritation, rash, and skin scaling
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Watery red eyes
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

Occasionally, a few people develop severe reactions to mold exposure. Symptoms of severe reactions, which are uncommon, include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing

Symptoms of mold allergies could range from mild to severe and may vary from person to person. Some people may have symptoms throughout the year or experience flare-ups only during certain times of the year. Sometimes, symptoms may be noticed only when the weather is damp or when people are in spaces with higher concentrations of mold.

Exposure to mold may not always cause a medical emergency for most people. People with weakened immune systems or patients with chronic lung disease can develop serious lung infections because of mold. People who are at greater risk of health complications and are experiencing symptoms of severe mold exposure should seek medical help.


Mold allergies and asthma

Asthma symptoms can be triggered by exposure to mold spores when a person has both mold allergies and asthma. Exposure to mold or mold spores worsens asthma or other lung problems in people who have pre-existing lung conditions.

Signs and symptoms of severe asthma attacks when exposed to certain molds include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing


Risk factors

Risk factors for developing mold allergy symptoms include:

  • Having a family or 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 because of 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 has leaky pipes, excess moisture, or has been flooded
  • Working in a job where there is more exposure to mold, such as:
    • Farmworkers
    • Lumber millers
    • Winemakers
    • Woodworkers
  • People who are at higher risk include:
    • Infants and children
    • Elderly people
    • Immunocompromised patients


Diagnosis of mold allergy

Mold allergies can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider by performing the following investigations and tests:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination
  • Skin test: The skin test would involve scratching the skin with a needle that has mold extracts on it. If a person is allergic to mold, they will have some type of reaction, such as itching, redness, or swelling.
  • Blood test: A blood test is performed for allergy screening or an allergen-specific IgE antibody. A blood test can help diagnose an allergy as well as 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 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:
    • Antihistamines
    • Decongestants
    • 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 serious health issues in some people with certain risk factors.

Complications that can arise because of mold exposure include the following:

Asthma: For 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 infections or other infections from inhaling certain types of molds.

Some of the common mold-related infections include:

  • Aspergillosis
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Sporotrichosis
  • Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis)


People are at a higher risk of getting these illnesses if they have certain health conditions, such as:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Compromised immune system—including people who take corticosteroids or have HIV
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Tuberculosis

Pneumonitis: Exposure to a large amount of mold can cause a more serious reaction known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This is usually caused by occupational or workplace hazards.

Irritation: Mold can lead to irritation in the following:

  • Eyes
  • Lungs
  • Nose
  • Throat

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 dangerous and can cause even more severe symptoms and could sometimes be fatal. Severe complications caused by mycotoxin include:

  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Lung fibrosis and/or bleeding
  • Diseases of the digestive system, the immune system, and the nervous system
  • Problems with the liver, kidneys, and blood

Can mold allergies be cured?

  • Currently, there is no complete cure for an allergy caused by mold; however, mold allergies 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 that emit mycotoxins or cause infections. They can cause serious illness and, rarely, death.


Prevention of mold allergies

To prevent mold allergies from happening, certain steps need 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 bathrooms, regularly
  • Controlling moisture in the house
  • Drying clothes outside
  • Ensuring that the house is properly ventilated
  • 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 where leak is possible, as moisture may collect on the frame and sill
  • Repairing water leaks in the roof, walls, windows, or pipes immediately
  • Using 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. The occurrence of mold may vary significantly depending on the regional climate.
  • Whenever mold is seen or smelled in the house, it is a problem. All the different types of molds can cause health issues and need to be removed. Mold usually begins to grow out of a little spot and spreads quickly.


Identifying mold in the house

Large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelled. Depending on the type of mold, it can be spotted in black, white, or any other color. 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 the 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 a mold allergy or a chronic lung condition such as asthma, they are at a higher risk of more severe symptoms and complications.

If mold is present indoors, steps need to be taken to remove the mold to prevent health issues. While cleaning mold, it’s necessary to wear protective clothing, gloves, and a respirator.

Mold can be removed with:

  • Commercial products
  • Soap and water
  • A brush to scrub mold off surfaces
  • Bleach solution: A bleach and water solution can be made in the ratio of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.

While cleaning mold, it is necessary to:

  • Open the windows
  • Wear protective eyewear
  • Use nonporous gloves
  • Use a 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