It can be hard to recognize the symptoms of mold sickness. Here's what to look for.
Some mold is good. Molds help decompose organic material like fallen trees. We reap the benefits of mold's work in bleu cheeses, penicillin, and soy sauce. But some strains of mold are harmful to the point of causing severe physical problems. The symptoms of mold sickness are wide-ranging and non-specific, which is why it's important to have an idea of where they come from and what they include.
What Makes Mold Dangerous
Mold is a general term describing thousands of species of fungi. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are between "tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more" species of molds.
Of those thousands of species, none are "toxic" molds. Again, the CDC mentions that "while certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous." Even so, mold exposure has been linked to respiratory tract symptoms, cough, runny nose, dry skin, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. There is also some evidence that mold exposure could lead to the "development of asthma in some children."
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that even though it's impossible to determine an "acceptable levels of contamination by microorganisms," damp and moldy surfaces in buildings may lead to or exacerbate health problems.
The WHO also brings up the often overlooked fact that mold is rarely present without other elements that can cause health problems, and it's this conjunction of ingredients that contributes to the symptoms of mold sickness. Environments that harbor mold may also contain dust, dust mites, chemicals, and other detritus.
The problem with mold contamination, however, is that it's not always obvious. Mold can grow in any damp environment, so anything from high humidity to a leaking pipe can provide an opportunity for mold to grow hidden within your walls, under carpets, or behind appliances.
The Symptoms of Mold SicknessBecause mold can grow unnoticed, it's important to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of mold sickness so you can combat the problem. Along with the symptoms noted above, the Cleveland Clinic notes that it's also possible to develop:
- Sore throat
- Bloody cough
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflamed lungs)
The good news is that exposure to mold does not automatically put you at risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for developing a mold sickness include:
- A family history of allergies
- Frequent exposure to mold through work
- Working or living in a building with water damage
- Living in a home with high humidity
WebMD also says that infants, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and people with chronic lung disease have an increased risk of mold sickness.
What You Can Do
If you discover small amounts of mold in your home, you can clean it on your own with soap and water or a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. (Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products and open windows for ventilation if you clean with bleach.) For large areas, you may need to contact a professional mold remediation service.
You may need to discard moldy drywall, insulation, or carpeting as it's nearly impossible to completely remove mold from them. Once you clean or replace moldy surfaces, thoroughly dry the area. It only takes a little bit of moisture for mold to grow.
There is also a lot you can do to prevent or limit a recurrence of mold problems:
- Use a dehumidifier, especially in areas like basements that don't get a lot of air circulation.
- Fix any leaks in your roof or gutter as soon as you can.
- Open windows or use fans to keep air circulating.
- Use an exhaust fan in your bathroom.
- Use area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpets.
- Don't leave damp clothes or towels in the hamper.
- Fix any leaking water pipes as soon as possible.
- Clean behind and underneath appliances regularly.
There's no way to completely eliminate mold from your home, but if you know what to look for and take steps to limit moisture in your home, you can keep your family safe from mold sickness.
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