Indoor Mold: Does the Nose Really Know?

James Thompson, MD Health Pro
  • Through the years I’ve listened to many patients tell me, “I smell mold in my house.”  But were they experiencing a sensory hallucination or perhaps mistaking another odor for mold? Maybe it was really mold.


    An article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports an association between indoor dampness and molds with rhinitis problems (hay fever). The research found a strong link between mold odors and nasal sinus problems. The study collected data from 31other studies.


    Indoor dust mites, animal dander and molds are the most studied and talked about triggers of perennial allergic rhinitis or year-round hay fever. But it has been difficult to pinpoint the impact of mold spores on rhinitis because mold spores are so extensive in number and species, and exist, to some degree, in all homes. Although it is possible to measure levels of indoor mold, no good standards yet exist for how much mold is really bad for you. Furthermore, only a handful of mold species have been found to play a role in causing allergic reactions.

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    Since so much about the impact of indoor mold remains uncertain, my advice to patients allergic to mold is to do what they can to limit the growth of mold in their homes. Here are steps anyone can take:

    • If you notice moisture or water in your house, don’t ignore it. Find out how it’s getting into your home and fix the problem, whether from leaky pipes, roof damage, foundation leaks, basementflooding or other sources.
    • Carefully clean up areas where mold has infiltrated the home. This may mean removing carpets and padding, replacing plywood or parts of wood flooring, or removing and replacing wall or ceiling tiles and drywall. If lots of mold is visible or the musty odor is strong, have a licensed professional do the job. You can be exposed to large amounts of mold during the cleanup process. Consider wearing a mask and protective gloves.
    • Think about getting a dehumidifier for the basement, which may be more important to run during the summer months if you live in the northern states.
    • If you’re allergic to mold, you might want to hire experts to measure the mold level in your home.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a good start if available for residential evaluations in your state (they only do commercial assessments in my state of Illinois). It is important to check the background of private companies that engage in home mold assessment. Get a recommendation from a local allergist, or have your allergist review the company’s website information to assess their technological skills, standards for mold measurement and equipment.
    • Some home assessment kits for mold that use DNA analysis are available by phone order through a company called Mold Code (see below).

    Bottom line


    All indoor environments contain mold, but some places may have significantly more than others. If mold is at a relatively high level in your home, it may cause some medical problems. Evaluation by your doctor is the first step if you suspect you are getting sick from mold. Determining whether you have increased mold or harmful mold levels or species is the next order of business. Toxic mold exposure is less common than long thought, but may occur with extensive mold overgrowth. It is important to get out of such an environment if a large amount of mold or intense mold odor is present.


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    Your nose just may know if high levels of mold are present. 


Published On: April 03, 2014