Health problems associated with high levels of airborne mold spores include allergic reactions, asthma episodes, irritations of the eye, nose and throat, sinus congestion, and other respiratory problems. For example, residents of homes with mold are at an elevated risk for both respiratory infections and bronchitis. When mold spores are inhaled by an immunocompromised individual, some mold spores may begin to grow on living tissue,attaching to cells along the respiratory tract and causing further problems. Generally, when this occurs, the illness is an epiphenomenon and not the primary pathology. Also, mold may produce mycotoxins, either before or after exposure to humans, potentially causing toxicity.
Do Molds affect my Health?
People who have allergies or asthma may be more sensitive to molds. Sensitive people may suffer severe health problems experience skin rash, running nose, eye irritation, cough, nasal congestion, aggravation of asthma or difficulty breathing. People with an immune suppression or underlying lung disease, may be at increased risk for infections from molds.
A small number of molds produce toxins called mycotoxins. When people are exposed to high levels of mold mycotoxins they may suffer toxic effects, including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritation to the lungs and eyes. If you or your family members have health problems that you suspect are caused by exposure to mold, you should consult with your physician.
When is mold a problem
You know you have mold when you smell the “musty” odor or see small black or white specks along your basement walls. Some mold is hidden growing behind wall coverings or ceiling tiles. Even dry, mold can cause health problems, so always take precautions when you suspect mold.
Mold is often found in areas where water has damaged building materials and furniture from flooding or plumbing leaks or Basement leaks. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces, such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers, headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Mold often grows in rooms with both high water usage and humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. If you notice mold or know of water damaged areas in your home, it is time to take action to control its growth.
Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people who are allergic to mold. Researchers are investigating whether damp indoor environments and mold may actually cause upper and lower respiratory problems. Furthermore, anyone — with or without allergies — may experience irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs when exposed to airborne mold particles.
Mold has also been linked to:
- Worsening of asthma
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
An uncommon disease known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been associated with exposure to indoor mold in people who have weakened immune systems. This disease creates flu-like symptoms that may recur.
- Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Mold can grow on or fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, so the mold may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
- Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold (see discussions: What to Wear When Cleaning Moldy Areas and Hidden Mold).
Black mold is a slimy, greenish-black fungus scientifically referred to as Strachybotrys and has been “linked to the death of babies from respiratory bleeding (pulmonary hemosiderosis), and as a contributing factor to illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.”2 Dangerous black molds produce airborne mycotoxins that can irreversibly destroy a person’s health. It is possible to breath in mold spores and mycotoxins without being aware that you are getting really sick. Being exposed to dangerous molds over a long period of time can cause serious symptoms and illnesses such as respiratory disorders, learning disabilities, mental deficiencies, heart problems, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, a suppressed immune system and more.
Things You Should not do
- Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces. Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.
- If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in phone books. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations.
Things You Should Know About Mold
- Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.
- There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
- If mold is a problem in your home or school, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
- Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.
- Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60%) to decrease mold growth by:A ventilation systems , dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.
Inspect Home for signs of mold, moisture, leaks, or spills
- Check for moldy odors.
- Look for water stains or discoloration on the ceiling, walls, floors, and window sills.
- Look around basement water stains white powder, or mold.
- Inspect Basement for standing water, water stains, or mold.
- Do not let water stand in air conditioning or refrigerator drip pans.
Asthma and Mold
Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should avoid contact with or exposure to molds.
EPA’s Asthma Website
Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growths. This in turn can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from allergic reactions and asthma attacks to more serious illnesses. In addition to health problems, severe moisture problems can lead to rot, structural damage or premature paint failure. Consider these techniques to control moisture that can occur in your basement:
Fix leaks, drips, and seepage problems.
Ensure wet areas are dry within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and consider removal and replacement of items that appear to be permanently water damaged. If mold and mildew does appear on hard surfaces, wash, and then let it dry completely.
Do not finish a basement below ground level unless all water leaks are sealed. A finished basement should also have adequate outdoor ventilation and heat to prevent condensation.
Operate a dehumidifier in the basement, if necessary, to keep relative humidity levels down. But keep in mind a dehumidifier consumes electricity, so look for an ENERGY STAR © model.
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The publication, “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings”, is available in HTML and PDF (54 pp., 5 M) [EPA -March 2001]
Order publications from EPA’s NSCEP. Use the EPA Document Number when ordering.
- EPA Mold: www.epa.gov/mold
- Allergy & Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AAN/MA): (800) 878-4403; www.aanma.org
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI): www.aaaai.org
- American Lung Association: 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872); www.lungusa.org
- Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America: (800) 7ASTHMA; www.aafa.org
- Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation “Fighting Mold – The Homeowner’s Guide” www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/momo/momo_005.cfm
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: www.niaid.nih.gov
- National Jewish Medical and Research Center: (800) 222-LUNG (5864); www.njc.org
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): (800) 480-2520; www.fema.gov Flood information – www.fema.gov/hazard/flood/index.shtm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emergency Preparedness and Response page on “Protect Yourself from Mold” – www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/protect.asp and Key Facts About Hurricane Recovery – www.bt.cdc.gov/hurricanes/index.asp
- University of Minnesota, Department of Environmental Health and Safety – www.dehs.umn.edu/iaq.htm Flood Information – www.dehs.umn.edu/iaq_fi.htm