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Household Mold: How It Can Impact Your Health

Mold is all around us. 

Outside, mold is as natural and harmless as the grass and the leaves. Although there can be seasonal spikes in mold growth, similar to pollen, outdoor mold is rarely a problem. In fact, it’s rarely even noticeable.

Mold growing indoors, however, is a different story. Unfortunately, high concentrations of household mold can create health problems ranging from mild irritation to chronic respiratory conditions.

With the right knowledge, you can solve mold problems and keep them from ever affecting your home.

The Culprit: Mold Spores

To fully understand the health effects of mold, you need to understand the root cause. It’s not so much the presence of mold that causes a problem; rather, it’s the spores that mold produces.

Mold spores are microscopic structures that are made for the purpose of reproduction. They are incredibly small, making them difficult to see even when using 400-times magnification. According to the University of Central Florida, a single mold spore can be as small as 3 microns and no bigger than 40 microns. For a little perspective, the human hair can be 150 microns in width. Mold spores are everywhere and abundant. It’s estimated that a cubic meter of outdoor air can contain roughly a million spores.

These mold spores are the reproduction cells of mold. Similar to how flowers release a large amount of pollen, mold plays the numbers game, releasing millions upon millions of spores into the air. The vast majority will never become a new mold colony, but because so many are released, it’s almost inevitable that some will find a comfortable home.

These spores are generally believed to be the root cause of most health problems caused by mold. As we breathe in the air, we also inhale mold spores, creating short and long-term health issues.

The other issue is mycotoxins, which are released by some forms of mold. Combined, spores and mycotoxins can present serious health risks to people of all ages.

Is Some Mold Worse Than Others?

Not all mold is the same. There are, in fact, many different types of mold, and some can have harsher effects on your health than others.

One of the most common is called stachybotrys. This type grows best on wood, paper, hay, and cardboard, making indoor structures a good home for the mold. This is the type of mold that is commonly referred to as black mold or toxic mold, and it usually grows in damp conditions. Other forms include aspergillus, cladosporium, and acremonium. 

Mold can become more dangerous because of mycotoxins. These are dangerous toxins that can affect your breathing and neurological systems. However, not all molds produce mycotoxins, and those that do produce it do so at varying levels.

Chaetomium, for example, is known as a particularly dangerous mold. It can cause allergic reactions and minor infections, and people with weakened immune systems may be particularly susceptible to problems.

Fusarium is another problematic mold. It is dangerous because it can cause a wide range of issues for both people and animals. This mold has the ability to cause issues with eyes and even fingernails and toenails.

Because they are common in American households, aspergillus and stachybotrys are also considered dangerous. These molds can produce both spores and mycotoxins, and have been linked to cases of poor health, respiratory conditions, and, in extremely rare cases, even death.

Symptoms of Mold Exposure

If you have been exposed to high amounts of mold, you may experience a wide range of reactions. If there is a lot of mold floating in your indoor air, you may experience fatigue or general weakness. Headaches are a common symptom of mold exposure, and light sensitivity can also occur.

Mold is even associated with a decline in cognitive function. Sustained and significant mold exposure can lead to poor memory and can cause you to have difficulty finding words. It may make it difficult to concentrate and you may have difficulty making decisions.

There is also a physical result of mold exposure. Joint pain and muscle stiffness are associated with inhaling mold spores, as are unusual skin sensations, such as numbness and tingling.

If you have been breathing large amounts of mold, you could have shortness of breath, sinus congestion, and even a chronic cough. Studies have found a connection between damp indoor areas (which are one of the causes of mold) and an increase in upper respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing. General shortness of breath is certainly a concern, but respiratory illnesses can also be caused or made worse by the presence of mold.

Long-Term Health Effects of Mold Exposure

Many of the symptoms we discussed above are certainly challenging to deal with, but most of them are short-term issues. Coughing, for example, can fade when mold exposure is reduced.

But what about long-term health effects?

Is there a link between mold exposure and diseases or conditions that stay with a person for years?

The evidence appears to say yes. In fact, there is evidence suggesting mold exposure could be fatal.

In the 1990’s, there was a trend of children in Cleveland developing pulmonary hemorrhaging, which is marked by bleeding in the lungs. The cases were so severe that many of the children were hospitalized; the disease was even fatal for one child. Trying to unravel the mystery, researchers identified exposure to mold as a possible cause of the issue. Although the conclusions and methodology have been called into question, it initially appeared that the mold stachybotrys chartarum was the main cause.

Mold and Allergies

Another significant concern for mold is allergies. If you or a family member have allergic reactions similar to hay fever, but they seem to last throughout the year, it’s possible that mold spores are causing the problem.

Mold allergy symptoms are similar to other respiratory allergic reactions. You may have sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, a runny nose, congestion, and coughing. It’s also possible that mold spores are causing problems on your skin, such as dry, scaling skin or, in severe cases, rashes.

If you notice these reactions from your body when you enter damp indoor areas, it may be possible that you have a mold allergy. However, mold allergies can occur seasonally outdoors. During the summer and fall, outdoor mold is more frequent, creating the potential for seasonal reaction.

Allergies are essentially an overreaction by the immune system to substances that it feels are harmful. The immune system attacks the otherwise harmless invader, which is now an “allergen.” This is the root cause of the allergic symptoms.

Mold spores can be breathed inward, reaching the nose, airways, and lungs, triggering potentially severe immune reactions. Sometimes allergic reactions happen almost instantly, but it is possible to have delayed reactions to mold allergies. If the symptoms are delayed, they can lead to significant nasal congestion and worsening reactions.

Mold and Asthma

Anyone suffering from asthma symptoms knows that inhaling many different substances can cause significant reactions. One of the causes of asthma attacks may be mold spores floating in the air. If you have asthma, these mold spores can make their way to your windpipes, causing irritation and inflammation. It’s no secret that exposure to household mold can cause asthma attacks and make symptoms more severe.

If you have asthma, mold may cause attacks to last longer or become more severe, and medications that used to be effective may no longer bring relief.

There is even evidence that mold exposure at an early age could result in the development of asthma. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati found a link between infant mold exposure and the development asthma.

For two years, they collected dust samples from nearly 300 homes with infants and, after seven years, conducted allergy tests on the children who were living in the home. Comparing the two data sets, researchers found strong evidence (although not proof) that indoor mold could contribute to the development of asthma.

Asthma and Allergies Combined

One of the most troubling situations for mold exposure is when a person has both asthma and mold allergies. Known as “bronchopulmonary aspergillosis,” or ABPA for short, this condition is marked by asthma as well as an allergy to aspergillus, which is a mold found in soil.

ABPA symptoms go beyond a typical mold allergy and can include coughing with bloody mucus, increased weakness, and fever. To diagnose the condition, doctors often use blood tests or radiological investigations. Treatment in most cases starts with managing asthma and limiting exposure to the allergen, although medications may be used.

Detecting Mold in the Home

Because mold is so present in the natural environment, detecting high or dangerous levels can be difficult. However, there are some tests that you can perform to discover whether or not mold is in your home and causing health problems.

First, use a very non-scientific test: just smell the air. If you notice a moldy, musty smell in the home, especially in damp or previously-damp areas, there’s a good chance that mold has grown in your home. This is obviously a very unofficial test, but it can point you in the right direction.

If you have a strong suspicion that mold is present in the home, it may be time to conduct real testing, which can be done either with a home kit or professional services.

Hiring a professional mold tester who is experienced in the collection and analyzing of samples can give you reliable information. However, if you prefer the DIY route, you can purchase mold tests that allow you to collect samples yourself. This is a more affordable option, but the samples you collect will need to be sent to a professional lab which will analyze the sample and send the results.

In many cases, multiple mold testing is preferred. Each mold test gives you a sample, and like all things in science, the more information the better. One test showing the presence of mold is a concern, but three or four tests all coming back positive is a strong indication that mold is present.

Generally, there are three types of mold tests: air, surface, and bulk testing.

Air testing takes a sample of the home’s air that are later examined under a microscope. These tests are useful because they can tell you if you have a problem when you suspect mold but can’t find the source.

Surface testing takes a swab sample from various surfaces to test for mold and spore deposits. Mold growth and spore deposits are never spread evenly, so results will vary; it’s best to take multiple samples from a wide range of surfaces.

Bulk testing involves taking entire pieces of material, such as samples of drywall or cloth, and sending them to the lab for testing. If mold particles are inside the material, the tests can examine the mold and tell where there may be concentrations in the home. For example, if bulk samples from the downstairs bathroom are positive, it demonstrates that that room may be a problem area.

Mold Cleanup

If you have mold in the home, you can start by taking steps to eliminate the mold where it lives. There are numerous ways to reduce mold, and many of the most effective steps use household items, such as bleach and scrubbing brushes.

For example, rubbing diluted bleach onto areas where mold has grown will effectively kill the colony, reducing its effect in your home. Borax, vinegar, and other common household items can often be used to kill mold in the home. There are also chemicals that are made specifically for killing mold.

Depending on where the mold is growing, you may need to consider complete removal and replacement. For example, if mold is growing in carpets, it can be virtually impossible to remove it completely. It’s much wiser to simply replace the carpeting with new material.

Professional mold cleanup is also an option for your home. If you have a large amount of mold in your home that is causing significant health problems for you or a loved one, hiring a team to remove the contaminants may be the best choice. They can be more effective at removing a higher percentage of the mold, but they do come with a price tag. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for removal of mold and toxic materials is $2,254.

Preventing Mold: Take a Proactive Approach

Whether or not you have had mold issues in the past, you should take a proactive approach to dealing with this potential problem.

Mold thrives in damp areas, so the best approach to containing mold growth is to reduce and control indoor humidity. The use of dehumidifiers, especially in damp basements, can be essential to the reduction of airborne moisture and the removal of mold.

General cleanliness in the home is also crucial for fighting mold. Cleaning up water spills and seepage in bathrooms and kitchens, for example, can help eliminate potential growth areas for mold.

Do Air Purifiers Really Help with Mold?

Using air purifiers can also help reduce the chances of mold and are commonly used in mold abatement or cleanup. Air purifiers that are most effective for mold are ones that use  high efficiency air filters and a strong motor to trap and contain the microscopic spores.

What Air Purifier is Best for Mold?

The mod+ air purifier works best for mold spore removal. Both a high quality filter and a strong air flow are needed to effectively clean mold from the air.

Using air purifiers for mold removal throughout the home is not a guarantee against mold, but it can be useful for reducing the chance of future growth.

Contact Oransi today to learn more about our world-class air purifiers. Whether you need clean air for a commercial building or a small bedroom, we have outstanding products that exceed the standards for air purification!