Do you wonder if mold in your home is causing your sinus problems? Is there a musty or damp smell somewhere in your home? Perhaps you see a patch of mold on a wall or an A/C duct?
Summer with its high humidity and heat is finally here. Air conditioners have been turned on for the first time in months. Mold thrives in heat and moisture, so this is a time when mold can grow rapidly in buildings, and even cause health problems.
Mold is all around us – in the air, in the wind, and soil. Mold, of which there are many kinds, are actually fungi. We breathe in some fungi (mold) every day, and normally our bodies and immune systems can handle the mold that we’re exposed to in the environment.
But sometimes people are exposed to large amounts of mold, for long periods of time, and this is when health problems can occur. For example, central air conditioning systems that drain incorrectly can have hidden mold problems, and when the A/C is turned on – large quantities of mold spores blow out through the vents and are inhaled by the people breathing the air.
Mold can grow on or behind walls in buildings with water leaks, whether from pipes, around windows, or from the roof. It grows well in high moisture or damp areas without proper ventilation. Mold can rapidly multiply and take over buildings after flooding from a storm recedes.
Health Effects From Mold
There can be a variety of health effects from exposure to large amounts of ordinary or common molds, especially when it’s chronic exposure. The large amounts of mold can act as “irritants and allergens” to the body. Common molds can trigger inflammatory reactions, respiratory symptoms, coughs, congestion, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, immunological reactions, and sinusitis.
Reactions to molds can vary, with some people having more intense reactions, while others have minimal or no effects. Unfortunately, some people find that health problems (such as chronic sinusitis) can continue for years, even after mold exposure has ended. This could be due to a continued imbalance in the sinus microbiome (community of microbes).
But some species of mold are more harmful to humans than the common molds. These varieties send mycotoxins (toxins produced by molds) into the air, and they can sicken anyone inhaling them. These molds are sometimes referred to in the media as “toxic black molds”. Professor Joan Bennett, who studies fungal toxins, believes that gases produced by fungi can even cause neurological symptoms if there is exposure to large amounts of these molds (e.g. in a water damaged house after flooding).
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, molds took over many houses to the point where they could not be lived in anymore. People described the smell from the molds as an overpowering and unpleasant odor, and reported feeling ill in the houses. Similar mold problems were reported after Hurricane Sandy in parts of New York City.
In 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a document that discussed “microbial pollution” from excessive mold as indoor air pollution. They stated: “It is caused by hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi, in particular filamentous fungi (mold), growing indoors when sufficient moisture is available.” The report pointed out that there can be a wide array of “inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms isolated from damp buildings, including their spores, metabolites, and components”, which are generally allergic responses, asthma, respiratory symptoms, and respiratory infections.
However, when it comes to the issue of more serious health conditions from mold exposure, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out that there are very few case reports of toxigenic molds (molds that release toxins) causing severe and rare health conditions such as memory loss or pulmonary hemorrhage. A European medical guideline has similar conclusions as the WHO report and CDC, saying that there is “inadequate or insufficient evidence” for more serious health conditions (e.g. COPD, pulmonary hemorrhage in children).
What should I do if there is mold in my home?
Mold growth indicates there is a problem with water or moisture. The most important thing is to remove the mold, and correct the conditions causing mold growth. This may involve making repairs, such as fixing roof leaks. It also means cleaning and replacing anything (e.g. rugs, upholstery, drywall, wallpaper) contaminated with mold. And do this as soon as possible!
Sometimes a mold problem that is making people ill (e.g. respiratory symptoms and infections) can be hard to find. This can happen if there is extensive mold growth in an air conditioning unit. If a central air conditioning system is not draining properly and has mold in it, then the affected unit and all ducts have to be replaced, and drainage issues corrected. Once this is done, the mold problem is gone.
After finding mold in their homes, people may wonder if their blood can be tested for mold. According to the CDC, the answer is no - there is no blood test for mold, only allergy testing for allergies to mold.
The CDC instead stresses that the focus should be on removing the mold and correcting the conditions causing the mold growth. They also state there is no need to test to find out the type of mold growing in the home. Their position is that no matter what mold is there, it should be removed. “Since the effect of mold on people can vary greatly, either because of the amount or type of mold, you cannot rely on sampling and culturing to know your health risk.”
How do I remove mold?
Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup (8 ounces) of bleach in 1 gallon of water to kill mold on surfaces. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. [See CDC guidelines]
If there is an extensive amount of mold, you may want to contact a professional who has experience in cleaning mold in buildings and homes. Larger areas, such as walls and furniture, may need replacement. Repairs may need to be done, and the source of any water leaks fixed.
Ways to Control Mold Growth
The most important way to prevent mold growth (and any possible health effects from mold) is to keep moisture and dampness down inside the home. Rooms that feel damp or have water damage are places where mold can easily grow, especially if there is inadequate ventilation.
Some ways to control mold growth in your home:
- Keep humidity levels as low as possible – preferably between 30 and 50% (e.g. with a dehumidifier or air conditioner)
- Promptly fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes,
- Ventilate shower and cooking areas (e.g. use fans which vent to outside)
- The clothes dryer should vent to the outside
- Thoroughly cleaning and drying after flooding
- Open windows occasionally to ventilate your home
Summer Sinus Infections
For the last 3 years, we at Lanto Health have noticed a surge in people ordering Lanto Sinus at the onset of hot and humid weather, precisely when air conditioners are turned on for the summer.
If you suspect that your sinus infections are due to mold exposure, be prepared to find the source of the problem and do necessary repairs and cleaning. The sinus infections will keep occurring and the sinuses will not improve until the mold issue is resolved. Lanto Sinus, with beneficial Lactobacillus sakei, can help with the sinus infections.
Enjoy the summer, and remember to check your air conditioner!