A person’s reaction to mold exposure depends entirely on their health status. Those with pre-existing health issues could experience anything from chronic sinus infections to Candida to life-threatening myocarditis from exposure to toxic mold, while the most robust among us oftentimes experience nothing but a productive sneeze. Age is also a factor since human cells lose their regenerative abilities as we grow older. Needless to say, the elderly will certainly be at greater risk than the youth, but what about infants and toddlers? What are the black mold symptoms in babies?
What is Black Mold?
Black mold is a fungus whose Latin or scientific name is Stachybotrys chartarum. It is most commonly found in spaces that are damp or have experienced water damage. It consumes cellulose, which means that it can live on surfaces and materials such as wallpaper, drywall, wood, any paper-based products, and more. Basically, if it is organic and decaying, black mold is absolutely delighted to make its acquaintance.
Contrary to popular belief, black mold is more of a very dark green in color—but to the naked eye, it generally appears black.
Like most molds, black mold has a distinct musty smell, but the majority of encounters are described as “earthy,” “pungent,” “stifling,” “gag-worthy,” and “the equivalent of sweaty gym socks.” In high concentrations, the smell alone is capable of making someone throw up and/or develop a sudden and intense headache.
What’s more, black mold produces high quantities of mold spores which, in turn, produce mycotoxins. These mycotoxins are capable of inducing mild to severe to even deadly symptoms in people of all health statuses and ages.
Mold spores cannot be produced in mold growth that has not fully developed, which is why it’s important to prevent mold from not only growing, but reproductively maturing.
Preventing Black Mold Growth
While black mold is one of the toughest molds on the planet, it is rarely found out in nature. Instead, it is commonplace in homes and other buildings, especially when water damage, dampness, and high humidity is a factor.
Like any other mold, black mold relies heavily on moisture, a food source (decaying organic materials), warmer temperatures, a lack of direct sunlight, and adequate oxygen levels. To prevent black mold from growing, one simply has to control the environment and reduce the chance of fulfilling its needs.
Prevention will always involve regular cleaning and maintenance of the home’s spaces, as well as consistent evaluations of the status and durability of various parts of the home’s structure, such as the roof and plumbing. Aside from regular cleaning and consistent maintenance, controlling the temperature and humidity levels by way of the thermostat and the use of a dehumidifier is definitely one of the most beneficial preventative actions one can take overall.
Black Mold Symptoms in Humans
As stated earlier, black mold symptoms present differently from one individual to the next. A healthy immune system will easily thwart off the repercussions of a temporary and short-lived encounter with black mold. A low-functioning immune system, however, could present long-term exposure symptoms after only a short-term exposure. In the end, the severity of someone’s reaction still depends mainly on their health status.
That said, symptoms are generally consistent across the board in all age groups and can be broken down into two categories: short-term exposure symptoms and long-term exposure symptoms.
Short-Term Exposure to Black Mold Symptoms:
• a long, painful headache
• a tightening in the chest
• burning sensations in airways
• difficulty breathing
• fits of sneezing
• nose bleeds
• skin irritation
• stuffy nose
• watery or itchy eyes
Long-Term Exposure to Black Mold Symptoms:
• asthma-like symptoms
• autoimmune disease
• cold and flu
• emphysema-like disease
• memory loss
• migraine-like headaches
• muscle aches
• pulmonary hemorrhage
• rashes and dermatitis
• sore throat
• vomiting and diarrhea
• and more…
Black Mold Symptoms in Babies
While black mold symptoms in humans are generally the same in all age groups, there is some vital information one needs to know about mold and babies.
Babies Have Underdeveloped Lungs
A baby’s lungs, while fully functional, are not considered fully developed—even after a full-term delivery. During the first three years of life, the lungs continue to develop and mature to reach the structure and functionality of adult lungs. More specifically, the alveoli (small “sacs” that exchange air in the lungs) continue to form during this time, which eventually increases the amount of surface area in the lungs, making them stronger and more efficient.
All babies are susceptible to respiratory illness from mold inhalation, but the babies least at risk are those birthed full-term and breastfed. (See: “Breastfeeding and Lung Growth.”) Babies who were born premature will have weak and underdeveloped lungs, leaving them at the greatest risk for respiratory illness and long-term effects after inhaling mold. Babies born via c-section will be mainly at risk for the more serious respiratory response during the weeks directly following their birth. (This is because c-section babies do not experience that final “squeeze” that expels liquid from the lungs at birth. This makes them more susceptible to mold-instigated respiratory illness should they come in contact with it.)
The Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology once published a study regarding the subject of mold and asthma. While only an indirect link to asthma could be ascertained, the results suggested that there is a direct link between black mold symptoms in babies and chronic inflammation of the respiratory system throughout their lives (after the initial consistent exposure to black mold). This means that, even if the child recovers, they may have repeat respiratory conditions as a result and be significantly more susceptible to respiratory mold illness in the future.
What’s more, allergy season and asthma make it more difficult to know when to test a child for mold exposure. While mold can fully develop and spore at any time, it’s the more favorable weather conditions that will enable its reproductive maturity. This means that it is most likely to spore alongside the release of pollen, too, which can mask mold illness in infants because the parent and/or doctor will assume it is just seasonal allergies. Another potentially devastating masking of black mold symptoms in babies is if a child has pre-existing asthma. The mold spores may trigger an attack or exacerbate a flare up.
When a baby breathes in mycotoxins (the toxic substance produced by mold spores), the blood vessels in the baby’s lungs are weakened, potentially causing pulmonary hemorrhaging—bleeding within the baby’s lungs. The more exposure a baby has to mold, the more likely he or she will develop a chronic or even life-threatening condition. Evidence shows that when a baby survives a severe case of black mold toxicity within the lungs, that condition is likely to occur more easily again in the future and be a near and present danger all their lives. (See highlighted section above.) And, because black mold spores are common within many living situations, it is not a threat we should take lightly.
The sad truth: Vicki Lankarge, author of What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Mold (And What to Do About It), reported that mold inhalation cases in infants produce a 36% mortality rate.
Babies Have Sensitive Skin
A baby’s skin barrier is up to 30% thinner and twice as capable of drying out faster than an adult’s. Because it is so thin, it is more susceptible to temperature changes and skin irritants, too. In fact, it isn’t until after a few months that the baby skin develops more protection. (This is why vernix—the white sticky substance that covers a newborn’s skin—should be left to absorb naturally instead of being washed off. It is a natural moisturizer that also protects against infection for the first few days.)
Throughout the first month—or longer for premature babies—the baby skin matures and develops its own natural protective barrier. Before that, however, it is very fragile and prone to sensitivities. This is why babies get diaper rash easily. It’s also why one can expect to see red, bumpy rashes develop on their baby’s skin after certain types of mold exposure.
Sometimes, a rash resulting from black mold exposure will not present itself as cracks around the mouth or in the form of hives like you would normally see in an adult. An often-overlooked sign will actually be frequent diaper rashes or worsening diaper rashes—because the parent will assume it is the breastmilk/formula causing it or a delay in changings. It’s usually when these rashes start forming in other areas that alarm bells start going off.
It is common for such rashes to form in the warmest, dampest regions of the baby’s body, such as the armpits, neck folds, and diapered area. But, again: because these areas already facilitate the possibility of rashes, the development of mold-induced rashes are often overlooked as heat or friction rashes.
Babies Have Sensitive Digestive Systems
Older children and adults have a layer of mucus lining their gastrointestinal tract. This mucus acts as a shield that protects the digestive tract against microbes or contaminants that may have hitched a ride on any consumed solids or liquids. Babies, however, do not have a thick or strong layer of mucus lining their gastrointestinal tract. The lining will grow as your child does and his or her gut will eventually start developing its own antibodies. Until then, however, this puts babies and toddlers at a higher risk of developing various types of infections, especially if black mold is involved.
Again, this brings us back to the topic of breastmilk, which is the best source for a baby to derive the building materials necessary to accumulate a strong mucus lining and promote the colonization of beneficial bacteria.
After an infant is exposed to black mold, he or she might suffer gastrointestinal issues that may not always result in diarrhea and vomiting like an adult. What’s most common is an infant or toddler’s refusal to nurse, eat, or drink. They may also present typical colic symptoms, such as fussiness after eating or even acid reflux. The biggest issue this can cause, however, is dehydration, which should be avoided at all costs due to the sensitivity of their developing kidneys.
How to Treat Mold Exposure in Babies
If you encounter visible black mold or you suspect recent symptoms in you or your child are related to mold, immediately remove your child from the home—even if you’re the only one who seems affected. Whether it’s a hotel or a family member’s house, do not delay in separating your baby from the situation as soon as possible. As studies have already shown, the infant/toddler mortality rate can reach to 40% after exposure and there is a direct link between mold exposure in childhood and chronic health problems following later in youth and adulthood.
Once you have removed your baby, contact your landlord to begin the appropriate tenant process. (See: “How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix a Mold Problem?”) Or, if you’re a homeowner, contact mold remediation specialists. If you’ve exhibited symptoms but you’re not sure where the mold is located, you’ll need to have a mold inspection conducted. If you’re certain of where the mold is, you can move forward with the mold remediation specialists.
Once you have the paperwork presented to your landlord or you have the appointments set up for the mold inspection or mold removal services, take all household members to your family physician.
Do not let the doctor dismiss your complaints. Stand your ground and insist that you believe toxic mold is the culprit. Far too many victims have been misdiagnosed because mold inhalation sickness, gastrointestinal mold issues, and mold-instigated skin reactions often imitate other infections and disorders—or pre-existing conditions can mask their effects.
Do not let the fear of medical bills be a deterrent when it comes to the health of your child either. These problems can be settled at another time, especially if you are a renter and the mold infestation was not caused by your actions but by poor landlord maintenance of the property. Remember: You can always make more money, but you cannot replace your child.
There are also health maintenance and a few immediate health solutions here on MoldBlogger for you to consider for yourself and your child as you await medical help. Feel free to search through the list of articles, but please be aware that MoldBlogger is not responsible for the reader’s choice to take any advice here on the site or in the comments left by other readers. MoldBlogger does not claim to be the equivalent or a replacement to medical professionals.
Mold and Babies: Concluding Thoughts
While we cannot always choose how our babies will be born or fed, it is very important that we are aware of the levels of risk all precious little ones are at due to their level of lung maturity and overall strength of their young immune system. This is not to say that you should relax and be less vigilant if your baby or toddler was born full-term and breastfed. On the contrary, this is a loving reminder to stay alert and responsive when you note there is mold in the home or you observe black mold symptoms in babies that are under your care.
For more information regarding mold, mold prevention, and mold solutions, please check out the rest of MoldBlogger.com.
While it may be difficult to relive an experience, we do believe that any testimonies shared in the comments below regarding mold and babies have the potential to save precious little lives. If you are willing to share your story below, your contribution to the safety of others would undoubtedly be appreciated.