Mold Allergy – Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors
Even though most allergic responses involve hay fever type symptoms and can be easily mistaken for the first signs of a cold or flu, people who are suffering from an allergy eventually notice that the persistent symptoms seem to elevate under specific circumstances or in the presence of certain irritants. In most cases, it is difficult to determine what exactly triggers the allergic reactions as the immune responses to different allergens are very similar to one another and include the same signs – coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, irritated skin, headache, etc.
Mold produces mycotoxins (a toxic chemical product) that are an irritant to humans. These toxins are carried by mold spores (seeds), that spread easily into the air and pose a serious health hazard to people with weaker immune systems – when inhaled, they cause a range of health reactions that can result in a number of medical problems and different allergic symptoms. The symptoms vary from one person to the next and can be very mild or extremely severe, depending on the type of mold that has triggered them and the extent of mold exposure.
Mold Allergy Symptoms
In order to recognize allergies to mold, so that you can take the necessary precautionary measures to avoid serious health issues, you need to be able to identify the signs of mold-triggered allergic reactions and learn how to alleviate them.
What Are The Symptoms of Mold Allergies?
The most common symptoms of mold exposure involve respiratory problems, neurological complaints, and irritations of the skin and the eyes.
1. Respiratory problems
Mold spores with mycotoxins usually enter the body through inhalation, so it is the respiratory system that is most affected by the harmful microorganisms. It’s been found that prolonged exposure to mold most often results in adverse respiratory symptoms:
• Runny, stuffy or itchy nose
• Sore throat
• Difficult breathing or shortness of breath
• Tightness in the chest
• Asthma attacks
Good to know: A number of investigations from around the world have clearly demonstrated that living in a mold-affected environment significantly increases the risk of developing and/or aggravating asthma symptoms. Inhaling mold spores triggers more frequent asthma attacks, while exposure to certain types of mold can considerably exacerbate chronic lung disease.
2. Skin irritation
In addition to the respiratory system, mold spores can also enter the human body through the skin. When mold mycotoxins come into contact with exposed skin, they can cause itching, rashes, dryness, scaliness, and various other skin problems.
3. Eye irritation
If mold spores get in the eyes, they can cause inflammation and vision problems:
• Itchy and/or watery eyes
• Red or bloodshot eyes
• Eye inflammation and soreness
• Blurry vision
4. Neurological symptoms
People who suffer from mold allergies can experience a variety of neurological problems as well:
• Confusion and disorientation
• Slowed reflexes
• Shortened attention span and memory problems
• Anxiety and depression
• Trembling or shaking
• Other symptoms of mold allergies include chronic fatigue, weakness, nausea, diarrhea and various body aches.
How dangerous are mold allergies?
Different people experience different types of allergic reactions to mold, depending on their sensitivity and overall health condition, the amount and the type of mold present in their surroundings, and the length of exposure. Some people have year-round symptoms, while others experience allergic reactions only during certain times of the year (when humidity is very high) or when in places with high concentrations of mold. People with weak immune systems – young children, elderly people, and individuals with chronic diseases – are most vulnerable to the negative effects of mold.
Have in mind though that the longer a person stays in a mold-affected environment, the more sensitive to the harmful microorganisms he/she becomes. In consequence, the resultant allergic reactions also become much more severe and the mold exposure symptoms aggravate considerably.
Even though they create a great deal of discomfort, most symptoms of mold allergies are not very serious. Prolonged exposure to certain types of mold (such as toxic black mold), however, can cause severe complications:
• Allergic fungal sinusitis
• Mold-induced asthma
• Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis
• Hypersensitivity pneumonitis and other dangerous inflammations of the lungs
To prevent such serious health issues, you need to take effective countermeasures at the first signs of mold allergies – use appropriate over-the-counter medications to alleviate the symptoms, use air dehumidifiers and allow plenty of fresh air inside to reduce the humidity in your living environment, do everything necessary to remove mold from your home (hiring professional mold removal and remediation services may be your best bet to restore the healthy living conditions in your home and get rid of mold for good), etc. If the mold allergy symptoms persist, you need to see a doctor.
Mold Allergy Causes
It is the response of an overly sensitive immune system to “foreign invaders” that triggers allergy symptoms.
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend your body against potentially harmful foreign particles or substances. When you inhale airborne mycotoxin laden mold spores, your immune system recognizes them as foreign invaders and develops antibodies to fight them and drive them out of your body. This “attack on the invaders”, however, triggers the release of substances such as histamine, which cause various irritations, inflammations and other allergy symptoms.
The allergic reaction fades away with time (when you are no longer exposed to mold), but your immune system “remembers” the invader, which means that any later contact with mold will result in the production of the same antibodies and will cause the same allergic symptoms.
Mold spores exist everywhere in the outdoor environment and can easily get indoors. Still, only five species of mold are commonly found in buildings – alternaria, aspergillus, cladosporium, penicillium and stachybotrys chartarum, the notorious “black mold”. Each of them triggers different responses from your body and being allergic to one type of mold doesn’t mean that you are allergic to another as well.
Risk Factors for Mold Allergies
A person can start experiencing mold exposure symptoms under different circumstances and at different points in life. The risk of developing a mold allergy, however, considerably increases when:
1) Having a family history of allergies. If allergies or asthma run in the family, you’re very likely to develop a mold allergy as well. According to recent studies 1 in every 4 people has genetic predisposition to mold illness – the so called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS).
2) Being exposed to mold for prolonged periods of time:
• Working in an occupation where mold exposure may be high, such as farming, winemaking, dairy work, greenhouse work, carpentry, and furniture repair
• Working or living in a building with water damage. Excess moisture from leaky pipes, leaky roofs, flooding, etc. provides favorable conditions for mold to develop in large amounts, compromising not only the structural integrity of the building, but the indoor air quality as well – which, in turn, may result in mold allergies or other health issues
• Living in a home with high humidity levels. Indoor humidity higher than 60 percent provides enough moisture for mold to grow. When all the right conditions are present – moisture, ample food (all kinds of organic materials, such as wood, paper, leather, fabric, insulation materials, etc.), and a temperature of 41 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, mold will start growing in your home and will spread quickly throughout the property
Good to know: Well-insulated homes trap moisture indoors, creating perfect conditions for mold growth. Therefore, living in a home with poor ventilation can also increase the chance of developing a mold allergy (or aggravate already existing mold allergy symptoms).
Mold can compromise the structural integrity of a home, decrease its value, and affect the health of its occupants. Therefore, it’s crucial that you watch out for the first signs of mold in your home and take quick and efficient measures to eliminate the problem – find the source of excessive moisture and fix it as soon as possible, remove the existing mold and restore the sustained damage (a job best left to the experienced mold remediation professionals), and make every effort to prevent mold growth in the future.
For professional mold removal services in Alexandria VA and Washington DC area, call the mold remediation experts of ServiceMaster NCR at 703-212-7000!
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