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Household Mold Can Trigger Respiratory Issues

If you have allergies or asthma, our family practice doctors can provide ways to control your symptoms. Aside from medical intervention, however, the best way to protect your sensitive respiratory system is to avoid the allergens that trigger the sneezing, watery eyes and runny nose that are the hallmarks of allergies. One often overlooked allergen is one that is present everywhere, and that is mold. As with allergies to pollen, dust and animal dander, those with a mold allergy could experience many of these symptoms:

  • itchy, watery eyes
  • redness of the eyes
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever

 

Unhealthy but not ‘toxic’

Despite the frequent warnings about “toxic mold,” however, there is usually no cause to panic at the signs of mold within the home. Although some sensitive people’s reactions to household mold can be unpleasant, it rarely results in serious side effects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “[t]he term ‘toxic mold’ is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous.”

For those allergic to mycotoxins, the symptoms are largely confined to respiratory issues. They often include wheezing, red or itchy eyes, or sniffling and sneezing. Those with chronic respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) or asthma may have difficulty breathing in homes with mold. And, some mold can trigger asthma attacks.

Also, people who have suppressed immune systems may be at greater risk of infections from mold. In these days of the coronavirus, that’s reason enough to keep in-home mold under control. In addition, the symptoms suffered by sensitive individuals can be even more unpleasant these days because we have to spend so much time in masks.

 

Mold thrives in high humidity

Here in southern Florida, we experience near-constant exposure to high humidity and warmer temperatures. These conditions become even more pronounced following tropical storms and hurricanes. Unfortunately, they are ideal breeding ground for mold.

So what can you do when you find mold growing in your home? First, be able to identify it. Many people think of mold as the speckles of black spots they find in the bathroom. Mold can also be white, green, orange, or purple.

Look for it in any area that tends to be damp. Check the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, basement, around leaky pipes or refrigerator ice makers, or anywhere in your home that has experienced a water incursion or leak. In addition, mold can grow in air ducts. If you’re having issues, it’s best to have them inspected for signs of the fungus.

Unless you’ve experienced flooding, however, you can usually control household mold yourself. According to the CDC, mold on hard surfaces can be removed with

  • commercial products
  • soap and water
  • a bleach solution of no more than one cup of bleach in a gallon of water

Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry the area. Sensitive individuals can still have a reaction to the dead mold. Additionally, mold contamination can recur if a source of moisture remains.

In the aftermath of flooding situations, the CDC recommends having professionals in to remedy any potential mold issues. In this case, the fungus will rapidly reproduce in absorbent and porous materials like carpets, furniture, paper products and drywall. These items must usually be removed from the home, and the area must be treated to prevent mold regrowth.

 

Keeping mold at bay

To keep mold from taking hold in the first place, the CDC recommends you keep humidity levels in the home no higher than 50 percent all day long. Use an air conditioner and/or a dehumidifier to achieve this level.

In addition:

  • Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Direct water away from the home with proper drainage.
  • Ensure gutters are clean and free of leaks.
  • Remove leaves and vegetation from around the foundation.
  • Check frequently for signs of leaking pipes or groundwater seepage.
  • Toss or recycle old papers, books or newspapers, which tend to attract mold.
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Use a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter in your bedroom.

Finally, be sure to let us know if you’re experiencing any persistent or unusual respiratory or other symptoms that you think may be related to a mold allergy. We can perform specific tests to diagnose a mold allergy, as well as rule out other causes, and provide medications to help ease your symptoms.

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