Is mold in your house making you sick? This kind of a question would arise if someone suffers from persistent symptoms such as sneezing, runny noses, red eyes and skin rashes that seem to lessen or disappear when the person is not at home. The situation maybe complicated by the fact that only one member in the family would be experiencing these symptoms. Observations suggest that about 20% of the human population can have allergic reactions to mold spores. For asthma sufferers who are very young, elderly or those with weak immune system, mold spores can trigger much more serious problems.
How to tell if mold in your house is making you sick
As said earlier, if a sufferer tend to get better when out of the house, this suggests that the cause of their illness is in the air within the home. The first step would to determine if mold spores were present in the house. It is important to bear in mind that
mold spores are everywhere. They’re in your house, in your attic, on the street, in your living room, in your kitchen. It’s a question really of how much mold is in your house and what types. Some mold spores are worse than others.
How to tell if you have mold in your house
The obvious sign of mold in your house is the visible mold growth on surfaces. This may appear as fuzzy or hairy growth when the mold is actively growing or powdery when the mold is inactive. The mold comes in different colors such as black, grey, blue, green, white or a shade of these colors. There are also indirect visual signs that suggest your home could be infested by mold. These include signs of water damage such as discoloration, peeling or bubbling paint, and bulging walls or ceilings. A musty or earthy smell is another reliable indicator of mold growth.
The best way to confirm if you are exposed to excessive amounts of airborne mold spores is to test the air in your house or office. To test the air for mold, you could either use a do-it-yourself mold test kit or you could hire a professional to do it for you.
Mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors. However some people (about 20% of the human population) are sensitive to molds. Symptoms of mold exposure are primarily allergic reactions involving the upper respiratory system. Also referred to as mold allergy, the symptoms can include:
Runny or stuffy nose
Cough and postnasal drip
Itchy eyes, nose and throat
Symptoms of mold exposure vary from individual to individual, and range from mild to severe. Some individuals may have year-round symptoms or symptoms that flare up only during certain times of the year when the allergens are present. Currently no exposure limits have been established. The large number of mold species and strains present in the environment and the large inter-individual variability in human response to mold exposure make it difficult to establish exposure limits.
For individuals with mold allergy and asthma, their asthma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to mold spores. In some people, exposure to certain molds can cause a severe asthma attack. Signs and symptoms of asthma include:
Shortness of breath
On some rare occasions, effects of mold exposure may include infections and toxic effects. Serious infections from living molds are relatively rare and occur mainly in people with severely compromised immune system. Many types of molds may produce toxins but only under certain growth conditions. Toxic effects have been reported from eating moldy grain, but evidence is weak that inhaling mold spores in buildings causes toxic effects.
Prevention of mold exposure and ensuing health issues include control of mold growth in the first place by rectifying the moisture problems. Failure to completely dry out building materials after extensive flooding and water damage can result in extensive mold growth.
If you are concerned about mold exposure, check your home to make sure there are no hidden areas of mold growth. Speak to your doctor if you have had previous mold exposure, and discuss any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Since the 1993-1994 unusual outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage (lung breeding) in infants in Cleveland, Ohio, that was then thought to be due to exposure to Stachybotrys, the health effects associated with this mold have remained controversial. Frequently referred to as the Black Mold by the general public, Stachybotrys has probably caused more economic and psychological agony than ill-health. The mold has resulted in multimillion dollar remediations and litigations.
Stachybotrys was first associated with death of horses in Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Horses fed with hay contaminated with Stachybotrys were reported to surfer from a disease characherized by irritation of the mouth, throat, and nose; shock; dermal necrosis; a decrease in leukocytes; hemorrhage; nervous disorder; and death.
While Stachybotrys is so much feared the number of cases where it was the cause of ill-health or death are insignificant compared to some other toxigenic molds such as Aspergillus flavus or Aspergillus fumigatus. There are about 15 species of Stachybotrys but the most well known is Stachybotrys chartarum. Stachybotrys chartarum is sometimes erroneously referred to as pathogenic mold. When encountered in buildings it’s a serious problem for homeowners, building managers and remediation contractors who must deal with the human issues and remediation. The presence of a single spore in an air sample is enough for some professionals to declare the remediated building unfit for human occupancy. Currently there is no scientific evidence to support such a decision. Perhaps such decisions are driven by fear of liability, fear of being sued by someone who may later believe they were sick because the building was found to have a few spores of Stachybotrys when they occupied it. It’s time the scientific community demystified Stachybotrys, the black mold, for everyone’s peace of mind.
Should you have a question on Stachybotrys please contact us at 905-290-9101 in Ontario or 604-435-6555 in British Columbia.
Allergies can be caused by one or possibly a combination of many different things including an array of triggers such as food, medicine, environmental factors and inhalants. Allergies are among the most common chronic conditions worldwide.
Mold allergy symptoms vary from one person to another and range from mild to severe. Mold spores and very fine hyphal fragments trigger allergic reactions in about 20% of the adult population. The reactions are due to protein and polysaccharide components of molds. The smaller the spores and the finer the hyphal fragments the easier it is for them to penetrate deep into the respiratory tract. In humans mold allergy symptoms are of two types, the immediate hay-fever or asthma Type I and the delayed farmer’s lung Type III. Type I allergy occurs only in allergic individuals and may be caused by many types of molds including plant pathogens. Alternaria and Cladosporium spp., are two of the common molds causing seasonal mold allergies of this type.
Mold allergy symptoms can include sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy or watery eyes. People who suffer from Asthma may experience wheezing and shortness of breath. Some people may experience mold allergy symptoms all year round while in some others symptoms would flare up only during certain seasons of the year depending on what triggers the allergy or the amount of allergens present in the environment. Mold allergy symptoms are significant when the weather is damp, and when indoor or outdoor spaces have high mold spore concentrations.
People who are sensitive to mold can experience mold allergy symptoms both indoors and outdoors. For example in summer and fall several types of molds thrive on dead leaves and release spores into the air. On inhaling these spores, individuals who are sensitive to mold spores are likely to experience allergic reactions.
Controlling mold allergy means controlling your exposure to mold. That isn’t always easy outdoors. But you can limit exposure inside your home by controlling mold growth, cleaning up existing mold growth, and to some extent preventing outdoor mold from infiltrating indoors.
All molds are potentially a health hazard. While majority of common molds are not a concern to individuals who are healthy, the health effects of most of the indoor molds are not known. Some symptoms associated with mold exposure are also highly controversial. Health effects of mold include:
2. allergic reactions (i.e., allergy);
3. mycotoxin poisoning.
Infection of healthy individuals by indoor molds is very rare. Occasionally, however, immunocompromised individuals may be infected by some opportunistic pathogens such as species of Aspergillus, Penicillium and Fusarium.
It’s estimated that about 20% of the human population is allergic to normal spore concentrations. The rest 80% would require exposure to higher spore concentrations. Health effects of mold partly depends on the amount of mold an individual is exposed to. However, with the large number of mold species and strains growing in buildings and the large inter-individual variability in human response to mold exposure it’s hard to define what is “normal” or “high” mold spore concentration.
Apart from infections the most well known health effects of mold is mycotoxin poisoning. Some common molds such as Aspergillus flavus, Stachybotrys chartarum, Fusarium, Alternaria, Paecilomyces, Rhizopus, Trichoderma, and Trichothecium produce substances (mycotoxins) that are toxic to humans, animals or other microorganisms. A number of mycotoxins are not only toxic but are also highly potent carcinogens. Spores of toxin producing molds contain mycotoxins. Majority of mycotoxins are not volatile and therefore mycotoxin exposure is likely to occur through inhalation of spores and dust. Evidence that inhaled mycotoxins affects human health is circumstantial.
Minimizing Exposure To Mold
The best way to deal with the health effects of mold is to minimize exposure to mold. Exposure to mold can be minimized by improving the indoor air quality. Here are some steps one can take:
Controlling humidity and letting more air into the house by ensuring sufficient ventilation. This prevents moisture from building up on walls and windows. If there is excessive humidity, mechanical ventilation such as a fan may be needed to get rid of it.
Measuring humidity by using a hygrometer to see if a de-humidifier is needed. The relative humidity should be kept below 50% in summer and 30% in winter.
Repairing leaky roofs, walls, and basements.
Cleaning moldy surfaces with a detergent.
Keeping the house clean and dust-free.
Regularly cleaning and disinfect humidifiers, de-humidifiers, and air conditioners.
If you have a question regarding health effects of mold, contact us at 905-290-9101.