Mold Illness Overview
You may be unaware of it, but mold is everywhere and may well be affecting your health. Mold illness is not easy to recognize and can produce a number of symptoms that are confused with other conditions. Symptoms include fatigue, numbness and muscle weakness but can be even more severe as we will see later.
What is Mold?
Molds are a type of fungus or fungi which grow quickly in filaments. They reproduce quickly by forming minute spores that travel on the air. You may also hear mold being described as mildew especially when referring to interior molds that you commonly see in the home in areas like the bathroom on taps and shower curtains. Mold typically thrives in warm, damp and humid environments whether indoors or outside.
Types of Mold that can Cause Illness
There are several types of interior molds that may lead to illness. These are the most common..
- Alternaria : This type of mold is often found in the upper respiratory system, the mouth and the nose. It can lead to an allergic response.
- Penicillium : This is a very common species of mold which is found in various places around the home. It can be found on your wallpaper, carpets, old fabrics and even on fiberglass duct. It can cause asthma and allergic reaction.
- Aspergillus : This species is typically found in very damp, warm environments. It is commonly seen in house dust. It produces mycotoxins and can cause a lung infection.
- Cladosporium : This is a very common species of fungus that begins outdoors before making its way inside. It can thrive on wood, textiles and other porous, damp material. It can trigger allergic reaction and may lead to asthma symptoms.
- Stachybotrys : This species of mold is also known as ‘black mold’ and is extremely toxic. Among the many problems it can cause are bleeding in the lungs and severe breathing difficulties. It is thankfully not as common as the other species mentioned. It can be found on wallpaper and damp wood.
Mold Illness : What are the Symptoms?
Mold produces allergens that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Although the mold itself is not regarded as toxic, some species of mold also produces toxic substances called mycotoxins. When you see the term ‘toxic mold’, it is referring to the potential of the mold to produce mycotoxins.
Experts are not certain what conditions are necessary for mold to produce toxins and the mere presence of a mold does not always mean it is producing toxins or presenting a health risk. Unfortunately, many people do suffer but may not know the cause of their symptoms.
By far the most common effect of mold is an allergic reaction. These reactions may occur as soon as you are exposed or develop gradually over time. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to mold include the following:
- Runny nose
- Redness in the Eyes
- Watery Eyes
- Eye Itchiness
Other reported Symptoms include:
- Memory loss and brain fog
- Muscle aches and cramping
- Joint pain
- Tingling and numbness
- Digestive problems like loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea
- Night sweats
- Excessive thirst
More serious symptoms include:
- Asthma Attacks : People with asthma who have an allergy to the mold are more at risk of an asthma attack following exposure.
- Breathing Difficulties : Black mold or Stachybotrus can cause irritation to the airways in some people. It can also cause a nasty rash in some susceptible people.
- Lung Infections : Are a rare symptom of mold exposure but can occur in people with a weak immune system. People with chronic lung disorders may also develop a serious lung infection owing to mold.
- Fever : This symptom can happen but is far less common.
In 2009, the institute of medicine reported in their guidelines that there was enough evidence to link mold exposure to upper respiratory tract issues such as coughing and wheezing in healthy people. Mold was also linked to a deterioration of symptoms in people with asthma.
Exposure to mold has also been linked to an immunological condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis – a condition resembling pneumonia – in susceptible individuals.
According to the CDC, there are few reports of molds found in the home causing severe health conditions like pulmonary bleeding and memory loss. Reports of these illnesses are rare and according to the CDC, the link between mold exposure and these conditions is not yet established.
Causes of Mold Illness
According to experts, mold illness actually comes under a broader category of biotoxin disease called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome or CIRS. It is defined as an acute or chronic inflammatory response to mold exposure from water damaged buildings with toxic organisms including fungi, bacteria and mycobacterium.
According to Dr. Richie Shoemaker who has written a number of books on the subject, around 24% of the population is genetically more susceptible to the toxic effects of mold. These people have a particular immune response which increases the risk of reaction. People who are not genetically susceptible have a far smaller risk of adverse reaction to mold exposure but the chances are greater than zero.
Just like any other type of allergic reaction, the symptoms get triggered by the immune system’s overly sensitive response to exposure. Inhaling these tiny airborne spores cause a reaction by the body which recognizes them as unwanted invaders. The antibodies produced to fight off these foreign invaders can cause allergic reaction.
Even after exposure has ended, the body will continue to produce antibodies that effectively remember the invader. This mean that the immune system will react in the same manner when next in contact with the mold. Substances like histamine are released causing the common allergic symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing and coughing.
Risk Factors for Mold Illness
There are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing a mold allergy or to worsen your symptoms. These include the following factors:
- Family History : If asthma and allergies are common in the family, you are more likely to be susceptible to mold.
- Occupational Hazards : Working in an occupation that exposes you to mold can increase the risk. Jobs such as logging, farming, carpentry and baking increase the risk of exposure.
- Household Humidity : If the humidity in your house is high then it increases the chance of mold thriving in the home. Mold thrives anywhere in the right conditions and is present on a range of surfaces. It can grow in various places around the home including on carpets, wallpaper, wood, basements and shower heads.
- Homes Exposed to Too Much Moisture : This can include houses damaged by floods or homes that leak during a rainstorm.
- Homes with Inadequate Ventilation : If your home is not well ventilated, moisture may get trapped indoors causing the ideal conditions for the mold to thrive. Damp areas like bathrooms and kitchens are especially vulnerable.
Treatment for Mold Illness
Treatments for an allergic reaction to mold typically follows the same treatment as other forms of allergy. Fungal infections in people with weak immune systems usually require hospital treatment with anti-fungal medications as well as treatment to improve circulation and breathing. While the symptoms of mold illness are usually not severe, if you are in any way concerned about your symptoms, it is important to see your doctor as soon as you can.