What’s making you sneeze and your eyes water, nose run, and throat tickle? Pollen is the usual culprit, and gets much of the blame. But mold, seen and unseen, may be playing a bigger role in your allergy suffering than you realize. Here’s what you need to know about mold allergies.
- know the different between mold allergies and season allergies
- know that there is a direct connection between mold and asthma
- take the following steps to reduce household mold
- realize that mold in schools and work environments could also be affecting your allergies
- learn how to manage mold allergy symptoms
- assume your allergies are from pollen
- forget that outdoor allergies shouldn’t bother you indoors
- rule out black mold or toxic mold exposure
- forget to check your air conditioning units and HVAC systems for mold
- expect that medication alone will help your allergies
How do you know if you have a cold, seasonal allergies, or a mold allergy? Truth is, you don’t always know, as many of the symptoms are the same, unless you undergo allergy testing. But chances are, if you are indoors with the windows closed and you still feel awful, or if you only experience these symptoms in a certain location, such as your home or office, then mold could be the culprit. Signs of a mold allergy and symptoms of mold exposure include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Cough and postnasal drip
- Watery eyes
- Dry, scaly skin
If you are allergic to mold and also have asthma, your asthma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to mold spores, and can sometimes be severe. In addition to the usual symptoms, you may experience acute coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. To reduce asthma attacks caused by mold, have your home or office environment tested for mold to see if your indoor environment is the cause. Also, speak with your doctor about managing your condition.
There are certain things you can do to help reduce household mold in your home, and therefore mold allergies.
- Remove organic debris from your gutters and yard – especially if it is decomposing. Dead branches and leaves are prime growth spots for mold.
- Clean bathrooms, and especially bathtub and shower areas, windowsills and shower curtains with a bleach or disinfectant mixture at least once a month to prevent mold growth.
- Use an exhaust fan in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms to vent excess moisture. Be sure they vent to the outside of the home. Also, make sure the exhaust fan is cleaned every 3 months.
- Use a dehumidifier – especially in damp areas of your home. Keep the dehumidifier set at 50% humidity. Any more than that will encourage mold growth.
- Try to keep your home dry and ventilated.
- Keep your basement carpet-free to avoid moisture build up and mold growth.
- Regularly check under sinks for leaks. Mold can grow quickly where there’s moisture.
- Keep wet shoes or damp clothing outside of your closets. Let them dry fully first to avoid mold growth.
Schools, classrooms, hallways, offices, and building corridors often harbor mold and dust mites, as do their ventilation systems. If you are allergic to mold and work in an office building, or are a parent with children who are allergic to mold, you should find out how often the school or building cleans their vents, and if they use high-efficiency air filters to remove mold, pollen, and other particles from the air. This may help to alleviate some of your mold allergy symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for a mold allergy, but there are ways to reduce the symptoms. While a change in diet and simple over–the-counter drugs can help relieve your suffering, it is important to try and avoid mold whenever possible. Indoor environments may contain high levels of mold, and since we spend 90% of our time indoors, we are very susceptible to it.
Most people assume that their symptoms are caused by pollen and ragweed, so they diligently close windows and turn up the air conditioning. You may be so focused on the allergens outdoors, however, that you could be missing equally troublesome irritants, like mold and mildew, inside.
Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, indicate that indoor air pollution is at least twice as high as outdoor air pollution. As indoor ventilation tends to be limited, allergens like mold can wreak havoc. If you are taking allergy medication and keeping your windows closed, yet are still suffering from symptoms generally caused by allergens, you should consider having your home tested for mold and indoor air quality.
Although allergies to mold are common, some molds, like black mold or toxic mold, can cause illness and serious health issues without an allergic reaction. These molds can cause a host of problems, ranging from skin infections and rashes to pneumonia and flu-like symptoms. In addition to mold allergy symptoms and eye and skin irritations from black mold, you may also experience headaches, increased severe breathing troubles, fever, dizziness, nervousness, extreme fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
If your air conditioner or HVAC system contains mold, you may be making your allergies much worse by spreading it through your home. Look for signs of mold in your unit or system, starting with a musty smell or odor. Also check filters, windowsills, air ducts, intake vents, cooling coils, and drip pans for signs of visible mold. If you can’t see any signs of mold, but still smell a mildew-like odor, call in a professional to check the rest of your HVAC system, as it may be hidden in air ducts or other parts.
If you are having problems with allergies and medication doesn’t seem to be clearing it up, have your home tested by an independent professional to see if mold may be the culprit. Once the source of mold is pinpointed, they can help you devise a remediation plan. It is important that the testing company does not also do remediation because of the inherent conflict of interest. In such a case, you may be setting yourself up for inflated bills and unnecessary repairs.
Mold allergies have many of the same symptoms of other allergies, so it can often be difficult to diagnose. If you suspect your allergies may be more significant than seasonal allergies and allergy medication is not helping, have your home, office or school tested for mold by an independent professional, who only tests and does not remediate. Obviously you cannot avoid mold altogether, but removing it from your home or work environment is a huge leap in the right direction.