If you watch television regularly, it seems that every day you are informed of some new sickness or ailment that can be attacked, fixed or cured by some new miracle drug created by one of the large pharmaceutical companies. Whether it is “Restless Leg Syndrome,” Low-T, “COPD,” or any number of other disorders, the soothing voice on the commercial will always recommend that you see your doctor and then, of course, go out and buy whatever panacea is being touted to solve your health problems.
And yet, one of the most insidious and common health hazards in the U.S. goes largely unnoticed by the drug manufacturers, and even by many medical professionals, themselves, who all too often misdiagnose the symptoms caused by this particular peril, attributing its devastating effects to other causes. The real culprit? Household mold.
Household Mold Makes People Sick
Scientists have identified more than 1,000 types of mold growing inside houses across America. And while some varieties of household mold are benign, others can cause serious health issues. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Americans are adversely affected each year from mold growing in their homes.
The type and severity of the symptoms and the extent of potential health problems caused by household mold will depend on several factors, including: the variety and amount of mold present; the level and duration of one’s exposure to the mold spores; a person’s age and general condition of health; and any existing sensitivities and/or allergies.
But because there are so many different types of molds, with different levels of toxicity, and because no two people can be expected to react in exactly the same way to mold exposure, it is always difficult for health professionals to determine if a particular patient’s health problems are related to household mold or to other causes. In fact, mold exposure may well be the single most misdiagnosed illness in the country.
And what makes mold exposure diagnoses even more difficult is that people who are allergic to mold in their homes may experience a diminution of their symptoms by the time they reach their doctor’s office, only to see those same symptoms re-occur when they return home. How is a doctor to determine the extent and possible cause of an illness, when the patient in his or her office is seemingly healthy?
Mold’s Ill Effects
However, even though mold allergies may be hard to pin down, most physicians do agree that exposure to household mold has been clinically proven to cause the following ill effects on the body’s systems:
- Respiratory System – Coughing, wheezing, runny or itchy nose, trouble breathing, nose bleeds, bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, shortness of breath, bleeding from the lungs.
- Skin – Itchy rashes, burning, sloughing of the epidermis, sensitivity to light, hair loss.
- Vascular and Circulatory Systems – Rupturing of blood vessels, hemorrhaging of organ tissue, endocarditis (heart disease).
- Digestive System – Diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, liver damage, fibrosis (formation of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ or tissue), necrosis (tissue death).
- Neurological System – Tremors, headaches, loss of coordination, sleep disturbances, depression, loss of memory, visual distortions.
- Renal System – Kidney and urinary problems.
- Endocrine System – Swollen glands in the neck and under the armpit, pancreatitis.
- Immune System – Immunosuppression (reduction of the efficacy of the body’s ability to fight disease), fatigue.
- Reproductive System – Infertility, changes in reproductive cycles, sexual dysfunction.
- Skeletal System – Osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), joint pain.
In terms of their effects upon human health, household molds are classified into three groups:
- Allergenic Molds – These mold varieties don’t usually produce life-threatening effects but can be particularly irksome to those who are allergic or have a sensitivity based on their genetic predisposition. Children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are particularly susceptible to the spores of allergenic molds.
- Pathogenic Molds – These molds are more dangerous to human health and are capable of producing some sort of infection, especially in the lungs of those with suppressed immune systems. Aspergillus fumigates is a type of pathogenic mold.
- Toxigenic Molds – These molds are the most dangerous to human health because they produce poisonous mycotoxins which can cause serious problems in anyone, no matter how robust. The chemicals that are present within, or on the surface of, the mold spores, when inhaled, ingested, or even touched, can cause detrimental reactions, including neurological and organ damage, cancers, and, in some cases, even death.
More than 200 different mycotoxins have been identified as being produced from common molds. The most lethal are trichothecenes, produced by the molds Stachybotyrs chartarum, or “black mold” and Aspergillus versicolor. The mycotoxin, aflatoxin, is one of the most potent carcinogens (cancer producers) known to man, because it damages the DNA of the cells. In fact, some of these mycotoxins are so poisonous, they have been developed as biological warfare agents.
Some Common Indoor Molds
Here are five of the most common indoor mold varieties and some of their deleterious health effects:
- Alternaria: Can cause allergic responses when inhaled and allowed to infect the tissues of the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract.
- Aspergillus:This mold produces mycotoxins that can cause the lung infection, aspergillosis. It is usually found in warm, extremely damp climates.
- Cladosporium: This is a common indoor fungus which can cause hay fever and asthma symptoms. It grows on fabrics, wood and other damp, porous materials.
- Penicillium: This very common mold species grows on wallpaper, decaying textiles, carpet, and fiberglass duct insulation. It can cause allergies and asthma. Some species of penicillium produce mycotoxins.
- Stachybotrys: This is the extremely toxic “black mold” that can cause serious breathing difficulties and bleeding of the lungs, among other health problems. It is less common in homes than the other four. It can be found on wood or paper (cellulose products).
An Ounce of Prevention
No doubt you’ve heard the phrase made famous by Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Well, it’s certainly true when it comes to household mold. It is far better to prevent mold growth in your home, or, at least, if mold is present, to get rid of it before it injures your health or that of someone in your family.
The key to preventing mold build-up is understanding how and where mold grows in a home and what to do if it is suspected or discovered. The fact is, mold can grow on virtually any substance, provided there is moisture and oxygen present. This means that the wood, paper, carpet, insulation, tile, sheetrock, furniture, fabric, etc., in your home can be a food source for mold. And because it is virtually impossible to rid any environment completely of mold spores, once favorable conditions do exist even spores that have been dormant for decades can spring back to life and begin propagating a new colony.
Where Mold is Likely to Grow
The places where mold is most likely to grow inside a home include:
- Kitchens and bathrooms or any place where a sink with leaky pipes can allow moisture to build up.
- Under or behind appliances that have a plumbing component, such as refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers
- Around windows and doors.
- In the attic or inside walls if there is a roof leak that allows water to trickle in.
- Basements that have a high level of humidity.
Often, even before mold can be seen, it can be smelled. A musty odor in any area of the home is a sure sign that mold is growing. Visual evidence can include a water stain on the wall, discoloration of a carpet or piece of furniture, small black specks on tile surface or on the ceiling, or even the bowing or buckling of floorboards or paneling.
So the key to preventing mold is to make sure that your house is as dry as possible at all times. Check for leaks in plumbing and appliances regularly. Make sure that your roof is sound, windows are tight, and doors close snuggly. Use a humidifier in the basement if possible and make sure there are working exhaust fans or vents everywhere moisture is likely to build up, especially in the home’s bathrooms.
If Mold Exists
If mold is discovered, or even suspected, you should take immediate steps to identify the type and level of mold spores in your home by having an expert sample the air and process the test results in the laboratory. If the infestation is small, and the mold is in an area that you can reach, you may decide to remove it yourself by cleaning the infected area with a biocide like bleach or chlorine and removing the treated area or items carefully.
If the problem is sizable, and/or if the mold is in an area of your home that is difficult to get to, like behind a wall, or underneath the floor, it is advisable to hire a professional mold remediator. An expert will have the tools and experience to rid your house of mold before the problem gets out of hand. Then, a follow-up air sampling can determine if the amount of spore contamination has been brought down to an acceptable level.
See Your Doctor
If you suspect that your health has been compromised due to indoor mold exposure, you need to see your physician as soon as possible. No matter what adverse health issues your may be experiencing, they will continue to re-occur as long as the mold is present in your indoor environment. Mold remediation, therefore, is a major component in the recovery of your good health.
Remember, exposure to mold can cause ailments that range from the merely annoying to the very serious. Preventing mold from growing in your home is your first line of defense. Knowing how to identify mold and then how to get rid of it is also key. Finally, understanding how it can affect you and appreciating that your doctor is your best ally should you have unexplained symptoms, will help you maintain, or regain your health, if it has been compromised due to household mold.