Can Excessive Mold Exposure Cause Allergic Reactions?

The last article “Is Your Home Making You Sick?” discussed substances in your home that that could create illness in its occupants. These elements included chemical leaks (such as natural gas or Freon), dust mites, excessive pesticide use and excessive dampness which creates indoor mold growth.

In my practice, I find mold in homes to be a frequent, yet unknown, problem for many individuals. Unusual odors, damp smell or wall discoloration may be visual clues of a problem. Changes in your health, such as onset of asthma or worsening asthma, aggravation of allergies, headaches or fatigue after moving to a different residence may be an indicator of indoor contamination.

Individuals generally develop an allergy to mold due to an excessive exposure for that individual. Each of us have different tolerance levels and genetic makeup that can cause greater or lesser individual susceptibility. In a “sick house,” only one person can have a problem while the rest are symptom free, or all can be affected.

Different Varieties of Mold Allergies and Where They Reside

Not all mold allergies are created equal, and there are several varieties. Type 1 is the typical IgE allergy (histamine mediated response) causing nose and eye irritation, hives and asthma. The other five types cause variations in an inflammatory response, releasing other mediators, generally creating delayed-type allergic reactions over multiple hours. Symptoms could include fatigue, headaches, memory and cognitive problems, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain and skin rashes.   

Molds produce mold spores and chemical compounds, called mycotoxins, which are released into the air. There are hundreds of outdoor molds that can cause allergy, and they are often worse when the wind is blowing. Generally, symptoms from these molds respond to antihistamines, allergy immunotherapy and short-term use of steroids.

Indoor molds are fewer in variety, but when dampness occurs can cause severe medical problems, both allergic and toxic. In newer homes, the possibility for these molds to develop is enhanced by the tight construction requirements with very little fresh air exchange.

In older homes, damp crawl spaces and leaky air ducts can encourage mold growth. These enclosed environments hold the mold spores that are produced from damp areas in the house, and do not allow for dispersion of the mycotoxins (volatile neurotoxic organic compounds) in the air. These damp areas may be hidden in the walls, under sinks, behind washing machines, in AC closets or in ceilings. These locations are often hard to see, making isolating the problem area difficult.

Receiving Help for Your Mold Problems

Certified Indoor Air Inspectors can measure and define the different types of molds present and the spore concentrations.  With this information, they can calculate the percentage of each type of mold found and measure mold volatile organic compounds (MVOCs).

A physician experienced in treating mold exposure illness is generally consulted to correctly interpret the results as related to the affected person. Increased concentrations and higher percentage of spores from Aspergillus, Penicillium, Stackybotris and Cheatoninum are indicators of a potential problem.

MVOC measurement can help in finding areas that are hidden and growing “black mold” that produce the mycotoxins but not releasing spores into the rooms.

Tests Available to Help Identify Mold

If you are concerned that you are having symptoms from mold in your home, there are multiple lab tests available to help. Individual exposure and toxicity can be measured by urine tests for the excreted mycotoxins. IgG antibody blood tests can be used to document exposure to the individual species of mold. Skin allergy tests can determine the allergic component and specific cultures to determine type and amount of infection in sinuses or lungs.

In addition to diagnosing your specific issues via testing, effective treatment begins with avoidance of further exposure. If you have persistent symptoms and illness, the specific testing is necessary to determine the type of treatment needed. Continuing to live and work in a contaminated building only will make the medical condition worse. The good news is that there are numerous treatment options to improve your health if you find yourself struggling with symptoms from mold exposure – it’s a situation that can be remedied through a targeted approach tailored to the individual.