Mold: There's No Escaping It

by James Thompson, M.D. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

During the tree, grass and ragweed seasons you can take refuge inside your home to minimize exposure to pollen. Perhaps by leaving for work or school you can, for a while, avoid dust mite or dog and cat dander. But it's much more difficult to get away from mold. During three out of four seasons (for those of us in the Midwest) mold spores infiltrate the outdoor air. Some species of mold reside in your home year round. But outdoor mold levels come to a screeching halt after the first deep frost of the late fall or winter (in the Midwest and northern U.S.).

Molds are a subgroup of fungi which are ubiquitous in indoor and outdoor environments throughout the United States and most of the world. Spores are the reproductive particles of molds that are microscopic and may be carried in air currents for several miles. Molds thrive on moist surfaces of plants, dead animals and soil. There are thousands of mold species but only a small group of them have been associated with medical illnesses.

Molds can cause ill-health in three major ways: allergic reaction, infection and irritation. Infections are uncommon but are more of a problem in people very young, very old or immunosuppressed. Mold toxins may irritate respiratory passages, skin and other tissues of the body. It takes an extensive amount of aerosolized toxin to cause illness when it comes to indoor mold. Most homes never reach high enough levels. On the other hand, mold allergy is the most common mold related ailment, and most treatable. Our focus will be on addressing mold allergy.

Seasonal allergy problems may be further worsened by mold allergy. Here in the Midwest, tree and grass allergy usually fades away in late June or early July. Mold spores begin to climb in the outdoor air after the temperature starts to rise in March. They usually peak in late August or September, which happens to be when ragweed pollen is high. Yep, double trouble if you are allergic to ragweed and mold.

The increased plant life, fallen leaves and farm vegetation along with hot humid weather spawns high mold counts. Downpours of rain may briefly cleanse the air ridding it of mold spores but during the summer and fall, warm windy days following the rain, sends mold counts soaring.

How would you know if you are hypersensitive to mold?

Allergy skin tests or blood tests for allergy to mold may identify hypersensitivity. An allergy evaluation will include an interview which analyzes your history of symptoms and environmental exposures, a physical exam and appropriate skin testing.

What can you do if you have mold allergy?** Here are 7 Tips**

Fix all leaky pipes, seal any cracks or deficiencies in the wall or floors in order to cut off sources of water entry. If your basement has flooding problems see about getting a sump pump.

If you have crawl spaces make sure they are well sealed.

Use a dehumidifier in the basement (if unfinished or musty) during warm summer months

Clean up areas already contaminated by mold, with solutions capable of doing the job (but avoid inhaling the pungent fumes). If you have sustained flooding, you may need to remove moist drywall or wood panels.

If you suspect there is excessive mold have your home inspected by an environmental company which can take mold samples, check for moisture leaks and evaluate air particles.

Use bathroom and kitchen ventilation when running water or cooking. Consider a daily mold cleaner for the bath/shower tiles

Run you're a/c more in the summer in order to keep indoor humidity levels down.

Mold spores are a part of life but if you are hypersensitive to them your quality of life may suffer. Don't assume you are allergic to mold because you feel sick when you are around it. Allergy testing and advisory may help to determine what treatment is best for you. Based on the weather patterns we have encountered so far, I anticipate the rest of the summer and fall will generate very high outdoor mold counts. Will you be prepared?

How high are the mold counts where you live?

James Thompson, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
James Thompson, M.D.

Dr. Thompson completed medical school and specialty training in allergy and immunology at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Allergy and Immunology. He sees adults and children in Chicago and greater Chicago area. He is also certified in Integrative Nutrition Coaching. Dr. Thompson is dedicated to incorporating holistic nutrition concepts into the treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases in order to achieve better health and reduce the need for medications.