Health Risks of Indoor Mold Exposure

Molds flourish in humid areas both inside and outside the home, and there are estimated to be over three hundred thousand species. Because they spore to reproduce, molds can survive dry conditions. These spores are responsible for the majority of reactions and conditions caused by mold. Although some people are sensitive to the spores themselves, certain molds produce harmful toxins as well, including the much-discussed “toxic black mold”.

Common Mold Exposure Symptoms

For individuals susceptible to molds, symptoms can be minor; they are often mistaken for hay fever or colds. Signs can vary widely from person to person, but varying degrees of eye irritation, congestion, runny nose, or skin irritation are common. Acute reactions include shortness of breath with a sensation of tightness in the chest, persistent headaches, sensitivity to the sun or burning and redness of the eyes, fatigue, hives, nausea, or vomiting.

Individuals with asthma may experience attacks more often, as well as more acutely, than those without. Chronic bronchitis or sinusitis sufferers might notice a worsening of their own symptoms. Any of these conditions can also be induced in mold-sensitive persons.

Mold and Asthma

moldy wall
Household molds often grow hidden behind ceilings or walls, making them difficult to remove. – Photo courtesy of cornellfungi on Flickr

Studies have suggested that children exposed to mold may have a higher chance of developing chronic asthma. Asthma is a type of hypersensitivity disorder, so whether the mold itself is a cause of asthma, it is well documented that inhaling mold spores can trigger an asthmatic attack in those already suffering from the disorder.

At the same time, exposure to irritants at home or work may, over time, lead to what is known as Occupational asthma. The irritants involved with this type of asthma include mold spores, as well as hundreds of other irritants such as wood dust, feathers, and moldy hay.

Professional remediation of a facility or changes in workplace policies (such as requiring workers to use a respiratory device) can often resolve or lessen the effects of this type of asthma. Although adjustments to limit exposure may be helpful, workers are sometimes advised to change occupations as they become increasingly sensitive to exposure.

Systemic Mycosis and Mycotoxin Toxicity

Mold is all around us; the average person inhales some number of mold spores on a daily basis with little or no reaction. However, those who are regularly exposed to high levels of mold are at risk of developing a mycosis, which is a systemic fungal infection.

The amount of mold exposure necessary to cause this kind of illness vary depending on environmental factors and the particular person, but those with compromised immune systems (those with AIDS, for example) are a the greatest risk.

In addition to the problems caused by a fungal infection itself, molds can also produce mycotoxins. These compounds can cause neurological problems and even death when present in high enough concentrations, although poisoning from these toxins is relatively uncommon in humans.

It is worth noting that some molds are useful for humans, such as Penicillium, which has been used to produce Penicillin-based antibiotics for the greater part of century. Many of these types of mold are also used to produce blue cheese, brie, sausages, and other foods.

What Is Toxic Black Mold?

toxic black mold
Toxic black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) – Photo courtesy of cornellfungi on Flickr

Toxic black mold – a term for two species of Stachybotrys mold (S. chartarum and S. chlorohalonata) – does not affect everyone. Those who do react to it may initially experience allergy-like symptoms; if the situation is not addressed, however, the reaction can lead to black mold poisoning. Health effects can be quite serious, especially in children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems.

The severity of poisoning depends on the length of exposure and amount of spores with which the individual came into contact. Symptoms of black mold poisoning include all reactions previously mentioned, as well as ringing in the ears or hearing loss, blurred vision, inflammation of the lungs, bladder infections, soreness of muscles and joints and weight loss.

Untreated black mold poisoning can lead to circulatory issues, including hemorrhages or clotting, low blood pressure and heartbeat irregularities. It may also cause fluid in the lungs, seizures, recurring infections, and various mental issues. Exposure during pregnancy can cause birth defects and may lead to miscarriage. Those who have suffered black mold poisoning may develop a sensitivity and experience anaphylaxis if again exposed.



G. Walker

Greg Walker is a contributing author for Hive Health Media. He works with ACI-Tech, a mold remediation company serving the Philadelphia region.

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