Mold can easily grow in damp environments. People who spend time in these environments are likely to complain about respiratory related issues, headaches as well as other physical symptoms, like the development of a rash.
The symptoms of a mycotoxicosis (mycotoxin related disease) depend on the type of mycotoxin, the duration of exposure, the age, sex, and health of the person, as well as other external factors like genetics, diet, and interaction with other mold species. Meaning, exposure to mold does not always result in adverse health effects like the development of a rash or dermatitis.
In general, airborne mold spores in the environment don’t pose a significant health risk to healthy individuals who have regular immune system function. People with comprised immune systems or people who take immunosuppressants may develop respiratory issues as opposed to exhibiting a dermal response. Where-as people who have a mold allergy may develop a skin rash.
What are Mycotoxins?
While there are potentially hundreds of thousands of mold species, only molds that are classified as “Toxic” will produce mycotoxins. Unlike allergenic and pathogenic molds, toxic molds will intentionally produce poisonous chemicals in order to harm another organism.
Mycotoxins are found both on mature mycelium (visible mold) as well as on mold spores. Humans can become exposed to mycotoxins either by inhalation, dermal exposure, or ingestion. Depending on the individual, mycotoxins are capable of causing disease (mycotoxicoses) and death in humans and animals.
Scientists don’t yet know how many mycotoxins exist, however over 300 were identified and reported in 2017.
What are the Symptoms of a Mold Allergy?
Everyone breathes mold spores as they are around you at all times. People with allergies to mold will typically have symptoms that manifest themselves in the respiratory tract.
However, it’s worth noting that the symptoms associated with a mold allergy are similar to that of other allergies:
- Dry cough
- Watery eyes
- Skin rash
- Sore throat
- Runny or congested nose
What Medical Tests are Available to Diagnose a Mold Allergy?
In order to diagnose an allergy to mold or fungi, a Doctor will first take a complete medical history. Based on their findings, they will either do a skin test or allergen specific immunoglobulin E or IgE test.
In a skin test, a Doctor will administer extracts of different fungi by scratching or pricking the skin. If there are no adverse effects, you’re likely not allergic to mold or that species of fungi.
In order for an IgE Mold Profile to be done, a health care professional will take a sample of blood from a vein in your arm. An IgE Mold Profile is a blood test that measures IgE antibodies to 15 species of indoor and outdoor molds. Elevated levels of IgE antibodies means that you are likely allergic.
The doctor will then use the medical history, the results of the skin test and/or IgE Mold Profile, and a physical examination to finalize their diagnosis. There are a broad of possible diagnoses, but a common skin condition that's associated with molds is hives. For a clearer and more focused insight, hover over to this easy-to-understand post about hives and mold.
Treatment for a Mold Allergy
Treating a mold allergy is similar to treating other types of airborne allergies. Your options include:
- Avoiding the allergen (Mold spores in this case)
- Nasal rinse to flush mold spores out of the upper respiratory tract
- Antihistamines to prevent runny nose, sneezing, and itchy skin
- Nasal sprays to help remedy congestion issues
- A nasal corticosteroid to help reduce inflammation
- An oral decongestant to further reduce congestion.
The above solutions are short-term and most are available over the counter. For a long-term solution your Doctor may recommend immunotherapy. These allergy shots are administered over the course of a few years and can be highly effective. However, they can only combat certain types of mold allergies.
You can also prevent the symptoms of mold allergies by doing the following:
- Ventilating your home in the daytime by opening windows and doors helps to improve indoor air quality. However, at night, windows should be closed. The cool, damp nighttime hours have more airborne mold spores.
- Stay inside after a rainstorm, during damp weather, as well as other times when the mold count is high.
How to Get Rid of Mold in the Home
As noted above, mold spores are around you at all times and can lay dormant for years. However, in order for mold spores to germinate (reproduce), they need the ideal conditions to do so.
Mold thrives in humid climates and on/in surfaces that have moisture, a food source (carbon-containing), and oxygen.
In order to eliminate mold you need to remove elements from the aforementioned growth equation.
Moisture + Food Source + Oxygen = Mold Spore Germination
It’s obviously not possible to remove oxygen from the atmosphere as we need it to breathe.
Mold’s food source is usually structural surfaces like gypsum drywall, wood, and paper. Which are also hard to eliminate.
Leaving us to eliminate moisture and humidity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that humidity should be kept below 60% and ideally between 30-50%. Humidity results in condensation on surfaces like the structural nutrient sources above. Without moisture, mold spores cannot germinate.
How to Prevent the Growth of Mold
As we’ve just learned, moisture is one of the only factors we can eliminate to help prevent mold spore germination. Ensuring that humidity levels remain below 60% is ideal. Through the use of a dehumidifier you can effectively remove moisture from the air.
You could also invest in an air conditioner that features a HEPA or High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter to help remove mold spores from the air. A True HEPA filter is capable of filtering 99.97% of particles as small as 0.03 microns. Mold spores fall in the range of 1-30 microns.
You should clean areas that are prone to moisture regularly and inspect for signs of water damage and mold. For example, the bathroom. For the same reasons, you should avoid using carpeting in kitchens, basements, and bathrooms.
Flooding should be dealt with in a timely manner. Saturated furnishings should be dried out and sufficiently cleaned with a commercial cleaning product.