Unlike pollens, molds are present year-round. Consequently, molds can be the culprit causing year-round symptoms. Mold allergies however, do have a peak season outdoors – from the time of early spring rains to the first hard frost. The mold population is significantly reduced after snow has been on the ground for five days of longer. Indoors, mold can be a very significant factor in allergic illness on a year-round basis, with basements and crawl spaces being the single greatest source of indoor mold. A particularly virulent blackish-green mold, stachybotrys, grows well on dry wall with its high cellulose content, and exposure to it has been linked to severe immune system dysfunction.
What Are Mold Allergies?
For someone with mold allergies, inhaling mold spores can cause cascade of reactions presenting as allergy symptoms. In some people, mold allergies triggers asthma resulting in respiratory problems. Other common allergy symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, burning and itchy eyes and skin rash.
After the exposure has passed, you still produce antibodies that “remember” this invader, so that any later contact with the mold causes your immune system to react. This reaction triggers the release of substances such as histamine, which cause itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and other mold allergy symptoms.
Symptoms of Mold Allergies:
Mold allergy symptoms cover a wide spectrum of reactions, from barely perceptible to severe. Symptoms may appear on a daily basis or could show up seasonally. Symptoms can flare up in damp weather and will likely present when exposed to high concentrations of mold. Symptoms of mold allergies are known to include:
- Itchy, sore and red eyes
- Difficulty breathing
- Sinus congestion, sinus infections or sinusitis
- Skin rashes
- Runny Nose or nasal congestion
- Cough and/or sneezing
- Burning sensation in throat like acid indigestion
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth (like dirt or metal)
- Nose bleeds
Mold Allergies and Asthma
For those with mold allergies and asthma, exposure to some strains of mold spores can trigger an asthma attack. In some cases medical attention may be required.
Which Types of Molds Cause Allergies?
There are hundreds of varieties of mold but only certain species will cause allergies. One type of mold may cause severe allergic reactions, while another may be perfectly harmless. Here is a list of some of the better known allergy-causing mold strains:
- Alternaria– Spores cause severe reactions and is often growing indoors on carpets, textiles and window sills.
- Aspergillus – causes not only allergies but several allergy related diseases (including fibrosis or permanent lung damage.
- Aureobasidium (Pullularia) – causes allergies and is often growing on caulk or window frames in bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens.
- Cladosporium (Hormodendrum) – causes skin rashes and irritation to the upper and lower respiratory tract as well as extrinsic (immediate onset) asthma.
- Epicoccum - causes upper respiratory tract irritation and allergic reactions.
- Fusarium – causes sinusitis as well as other serious diseases and can affect the central nervous system.
- Helmin thosporium – causes upper respiratory tract irritation and allergic reactions.
- Mucor – causes skin rashes and lower respiratory tract irritation. Also has been reported to enter the body through open cuts.
- Penicillium – causes allergies as well as other diseases like mucorosis when the spores are concentrated in an indoor environment.
- Rhizopus – causes allergies as well as infections and is growing most often in old food, fruit, nuts and house dust.
Complications from Mold Allergies
Severe allergic reactions to mold and complications from mold allergies may include:
- Allergic fungal sinusitis; This can happen when funghi lodges in the sinuses. A tightly packed ”fungal ball” infection can result that ultimately may require removal by surgery in extreme circumstances.
- Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis; A reaction to a certain type of fungus in your airways. People with chronic lung conditions, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma can be affected.
- Mold-induced asthma; Asthma attacks can be brought on by mold allergies, sometime extreme enough to require medical attention.
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis; An inflammation of the alveoli within the lung caused by hypersensitivity to inhaled organic dusts containing mold.
Who is Prone to Mold Allergies?
There are a few main factors that determine whether a person will be prone to developing mold spore allergies:
- Your home has high humidity. When your home’s relative humidity is above 55 percent, you have increased chance of having mold in your crawl-space or basement, in carpets and even behind walls.
- You live or work in a building that has excessive moisture. Flood damage, water seepage or leaking pipes can create a high enough humidity for mold to become a problem.
- Hereditary: If allergies and asthma run in your family, you’re more likely to develop a mold allergy.:
- Your work exposes you to mold. Farming, logging, millwork, and greenhouse work can have higher than normal exposures
- Your home or work building has poor ventilation. Moisture can become trapped indoors because of improper ventilation giving mold the perfect conditions to flourish.
- Age: Young children are most susceptible developing mold allergies due to exposure. Elderly people can suffer from more severe onsets of symptoms than younger adults.
Prevention of Mold Allergies
Eliminate Damp Areas: The one essential element that mold needs to grow inside your home is moisture – so if you remove the source of moisture, you will keep mold from gaining a foothold. Make sure that there are no leaks in plumbing or around chalk, grout or bath and kitchen fixtures. See Understanding Home Moisture.
Install a sub pump in your basement if storms cause even minor flooding.
Ventilate your bathroom while you are taking a shower and up to 30 minutes afterwards.
Close you shower curtain when you’re done to make sure that it dries completely. A closed shower curtain stores moisture in all the folds of the plastic and is one of the first places you will see mold. Lastly, run a dehumidifier to take excess moisture out of the air. The less available moisture, the less hospitable your home is to mold!
Clean bathroom and basement wall surfaces regularly with a bleach solution.
Use HEPA Filters: HEPA filters are recommended by allergists and doctors as the most effective method of removing airborne allergens before they reach your nose and lungs.
Use an air conditioner, and consider installing central air conditioning with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter attachment. The HEPA filter can trap mold spores from outdoor air before they’re circulated inside your home.
Use a dehumidifier in any area of your home that smells musty or damp. Keep your humidity levels below 50 percent. Remember to clean the collection bucket and condensation coils regularly. See How to Control Humidity.
Change filters on your furnace and air conditioners regularly. Have forced air heating ducts inspected and if necessary, cleaned.
Promote groundwater drainage away from your house by removing leaves and vegetation from around the foundation and cleaning out rain gutters frequently.