What is Black Mold?
Stachybotrys, otherwise known as “black mold,” has a rather notorious—and nefarious—reputation worldwide, but what makes black mold so dangerous and unique from other molds? And, why is it so important that you learn how to recognize the signs of black mold in your home or the black mold symptoms within your body? Is there truly a need for such elevated alarm or is the hype regarding black mold unnecessary and exaggerated? Let’s find out!
Black Mold Facts
How Does Black Mold Grow?
Like any other mold, black mold growth is the result of a mold spore (or millions) landing and taking root in an accommodating environment—damp, dark, and full of decaying organic material (which it uses for nourishment).
While black mold is satisfied with the bare minimum requirements, it prefers spaces that are absolutely saturated with moisture. This is why black mold is more commonly found among soaked materials in humid climates and, though it can take root in almost any material, it favors those made of cellulose (i.e. cardboard, hay, paper, wicker, wood).
Mold spores somewhat mimic plant seeds in that, after they reach an environment conducive to growth, materials extend from the spore itself for both the gathering of sustenance and the establishment of supportive roots and a main body above the surface that makes further reproduction possible. (This is why mold was so often confused for a species of plant for many years.)
First, the threadlike structures of the hyphae (similar to plant roots) are spread out atop (and within) the surface where they can secrete enzymes for the purpose of breaking down the organic matter for nutrient-absorption. When nourishment is assured and obtained, the mold then has the energy needed to begin growth of the mycelium, which is the visible portion of the mold that can look moss-like or even hairy due to its fibrous networking of materials. After that, the mold develops reproductively, creating mold spores that can be released on the air current or through physical contact with an animal or person. And, with each spore, the cycle begins anew.
What Does Black Mold Look Like?
To start, what does black mold look like? What you might find interesting is the fact that, for a mold so infamously described as “black,” it’s actually a dark green color, but it’s a dark enough shade that it can resemble black to the distant and naked eye. Not to mention, there are already a vast array of green molds with varying levels of toxicity, so stachybotrys couldn’t rightly be referred to as the “green mold.” It needed a common, but unforgettable name in order to signify its distinction from the rest, as well as the implication that it is deadly and worthy of fear—not unlike the term “black death” or “black plague.”
What Makes the Color of Black Mold so Important?
Does the color of black mold matter? Well, actually, it does. Those who have had the misfortune of playing host to black mold and the severe black mold symptoms that inevitably follow, can attest to the difficulty of killing and removing it from their homes, as well as the long-term effects it has on their health.
This is because the more melanin a mold produces—which determines its hue—the stronger and more resilient it is. The stronger and more resilient a mold is, the more likely it is to become a long-lasting nuisance to your health and a permanent guest in your home. In other words, yes, the color is an indication that not much can interfere with black mold’s ability to mature quickly, spread rapidly, and release millions of mycotoxins into the air that have the potential to inflict deadly responses in the body.
Why is Black Mold So Dangerous?
While all molds have the potential to be dangerous—depending on the amount (and length) of exposure and the sensitivity of the person—black mold provides a threefold threat to human health that far exceeds what other molds are capable of.
There are three levels of harm that determine the potential threat of a mold:
- Allergenic: Molds that can cause allergies and allergic reactions, such as asthma attacks.
- Pathogenic: Molds that can cause disease, especially in those already suffering from an acute illness or who have a compromised immune system.
- Toxigenic: Molds that produce toxic substances (i.e. mycotoxins, aflatoxins, etc.) that can cause deadly health issues. Otherwise known as “toxic mold.”
Black mold can afflict all three levels of harm, which certainly makes it a mold worth discussing and watching out for.
Symptoms of Black Mold
Mental and Neurological Symptoms of Black Mold
What makes black mold so uniquely dangerous is that it produces trichothecene mycotoxins, which are amongst the most toxic substances on the planet. Trichothecene mycotoxins are neurotoxins. Neurotoxins negatively affect the brain and nervous system. They have the capacity to destroy neurons in the brain, impair mental ability, cause nervous disorders (such as tremors), and cause changes in personality.
Frightening Fact #1: Trichothecene mycotoxins are the only mycotoxins that have been used as biological weapons. This is because they are highly stable in the air, they don’t degrade under ultraviolet light, they’re able to withstand high heat, they reproduce rapidly, and they absorb through the skin and air passages quickly and efficiently.
- Brain fog
- Changes in personality
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired learning ability
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
- Poor short-term memory
- Shortened attention span
- Shortened temper
- Slowed reflexes
Respiratory (and Oral) Symptoms of Black Mold
Every mold affects the respiratory system. Black mold is certainly no exception. Not only are the lungs affected, but the air passages and mucous membranes of the nose and mouth fall victim, as well.
- Bleeding gums
- Burning sensation of the mouth
- Difficulty breathing (breathlessness or shortness of breath)
- Itchy nose
- Nose bleeds
- Pulmonary edema (swelling of the lungs)
- Pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs)
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
Circulatory Symptoms of Black Mold
Because the spores and mycotoxins of black mold can be breathed in, absorbed through the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth), ingested, or even absorbed through the skin, the toxins have easy access to the blood. With enough exposure (or if a person is particularly sensitive), this can lead to heart damage, as well as problems with blood clotting and hemorrhaging (both internal and external).
- Bleeding in the brain (and other organs)
- Bleeding tendency
- Bone marrow disruption
- Damage to heart
- Delayed blood clotting issues
- Heart inflammation
- Hemorrhage (internal bleeding)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Vomiting up blood
Vision and Eye Symptoms of Black Mold
Eyes are especially susceptible to black mold’s cytotoxic mycotoxins because of the vulnerability of their mucous membranes. Inflammation (watery, itchy, red eyes) is usually the first sign of exposure. Prolonged exposure can cause problems with vision.
- Blurry vision and vision worsening
- Eye damage
- Eye inflammation and soreness
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes)
- Red eyes (bloodshot)
Skin Symptoms of Black Mold
Skin is the largest organ of the human body. It may not be as vulnerable as the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, or nose, but, along with respiratory problems, symptoms of black mold tend to show up immediately in the skin in the form of rashes, inexplicable sensations, and discoloration.
- Crawling skin
- Dermatitis (i.e. blisters, itchiness, rash, skin inflammation, etc.)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
Immune System Symptoms of Black Mold
Black mold is pathogenic, which means it produces chemicals that suppress or overly-sensitize the immune system. This means that victims of black mold exposure may be more prone to illness, experience delayed healing, or be ultra-sensitive to stimuli (i.e. stress, certain foods, etc.).
Frightening Fact #2: Many immunosuppressive drugs are created from toxic molds.
- Immunosuppression (dysfunction of the immune system)
- Reoccurring infections
Reproductive System Symptoms of Black Mold
Black mold mycotoxins are also teratogenic, which means they can cause damage, developmental issues, and even birth defects to unborn babies in the womb. Not only are they teratogenic, but they’re also cytotoxic (damaging to cells), mutagenic (causing mutation to cells), and they inhibit protein synthesis of DNA and RNA. In other words, exposure to black mold is very concerning news if you’re pregnant or want to have children in the future.
- Fetal development issues
General Symptoms of Black Mold
In an effort to slow down the effects of black mold and protect your bodily systems, your immune system produces chloral hydrate (a sedative). This is why many victims complain of chronic fatigue or exhaustion. Another common complaint is a general feeling of being unwell or aches and pains that have no clear indication of “why” or “how”.
- Abdominal pain
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Cold- or flu-like symptoms (i.e. recurring colds)
- Joint pain
- Malaise (general discomfort or feelings of being unwell)
- Muscle pain
Commonly Misdiagnosed Symptoms of Black Mold
- Hair loss
- Hearing loss (also: tinnitus—buzzing or ringing in ears)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Increased appetite
- Liver disease
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
Who is Most Susceptible to Black Mold?
Toxic black mold affects different people in different ways. Some people won’t experience symptoms as severe as what others experience. Children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are usually the most susceptible. Death from black mold exposure is more common among these types, as well.
Are you having trouble identifying whether or not your symptoms are due to black mold exposure?
First-time exposure may only produce the following symptoms:
- watering, irritated eyes
- runny nose
- burning sensations in airways
- a tightening in the chest
- a long, painful headache
In the case of frequent exposure, black mold will cause:
- similar, but more frequent (and sometimes more intense), symptoms as first-time exposure
- even further difficulty (and discomfort) in breathing
- chronic fatigue
- dull, relentless aches in joints and sinuses
- sudden onset of depression
- neurological issues (especially in children)
- pulmonary bleeding (especially in infants)
Once a person is no longer exposed to toxic black mold, most of their symptoms should gradually decrease. Some of the health problems caused by toxic black mold are permanent, though. For example, after a person has been exposed for a good amount of time, their immune system most-likely won’t be as strong as it once was, and they’ll be more sensitive to mold and mycotoxins in the future.
This is why it’s imperative for potential victims of black mold to speak up to their healthcare providers if they believe they’ve come in contact with mold of any kind. Not all medical professionals are trained to recognize these symptoms as evidence for black mold exposure. In most cases, individual symptoms are treated while the patient still lives and works in a mold-infested environment simply because their doctor did not ask the right questions. As symptoms worsen, the dosages of their medications are often increased or new medicines are introduced, which only masks the problem.
How to Get Rid of Black Mold
I’ve written on how to clean black mold before in an article titled “Symptoms of Black Mold,” which I highly suggest you read (as it contains even more information you’ll need if you suspect black mold exposure). I will borrow from there a few points about black mold clean up:
The first step in any situation involving any type of mold, is to find it and eliminate it or remove yourself from the affected home or work space entirely. It isn’t always necessary to identify the specific type of mold because all molds pose health risks, whether they are the “milder” allergenic molds or the “more potent” pathogenic molds, such as black mold. However, certain legal scenarios may require the use of a mold test kit or hiring a professional mold remediation team to do the testing for you, especially if you are a renter or a landlord. In addition, some patients are unable to receive the treatment they’re convinced they need because their doctors are unaware of the ins and outs of black mold health risks. Identifying the mold in their home may come in handy when confronting medical professionals about misdiagnosis, especially since a lot of the medical decisions are based on insurance coverage and patients are unable to go to the right specialists without formal referrals from their current doctors.
If black mold is suspect (or any highly-dangerous mold, for that matter), it is wiser to hire a professional mold remediation company to locate and clean up the mold. This is because black mold, especially, is a very hardy mold. It can survive even the harshest of environments and, unless its roots are destroyed, it will merely lie dormant until conditions are favorable again for regrowth. Also, most supplies available at reasonable prices to the public (gloves, breathing masks, etc.) do not adequately protect against infiltration from mold spores and mycotoxins. Furthermore, commercial mold-cleaning solutions can be both ineffective (if bleach-based) and sometimes more harmful to the skin, mucous membranes, and lungs than the mold itself. If remediation is not possible based on the severity of the mold growth, the budget of the victim(s), or the consent and willingness of the landlords, then it is best to move (or seek legal counsel).
The second step (after the mold is removed) is to commit to preventative measures in the home. All molds thrive in dark, damp, and relatively unclean areas. Keep the home bright with as much natural light as possible, dry (a dehumidifier may be necessary), and clear of dirt, dust, and food particles. Keep up with household maintenance (updates and filter-changes) on all appliances, water pipes, and HVAC systems.
The third step is to confront any health issues and begin a regimen of detox and natural healing. Mold and yeast thrive in bodies that are malnourished by diets high in sugar and processed foods. In order to detox your body from mold, you must first begin by cutting out sugars, fruits, processed foods, fried and greasy foods, dairy, meat, grains, mushrooms, and nuts that are well-known for their mold content, such as pistachios and peanuts. Adopt a habit of eating dark leafy greens in abundance, as well as plenty of garlic and other anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal foods. Allow a period of five to six hours between each meal and never eat just before bed. This permits the digestive tract to rest and the body to focus on healing instead of digestion. Consider anti-fungal supplements, such as Myco-ZX, as well. Lastly, increase sweat-inducing exercise, water intake, and sleep.
Understand that black mold’s mycotoxins are some of the most durable and resilient toxins on the planet. Ultraviolet light does not destroy them, nor do freezing temperatures. They are also not soluble in water. In a normal environment—like any average home—these mycotoxins can remain toxic for years. It would take temperatures as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit (for 30 minutes or more) in order to destroy trichothecene mycotoxins, which is why many professionals advise victims to destroy any and all items that came in contact with black mold in order to make remediation successful.
In other words, if you have black mold, you have a very serious problem. The way you go about cleaning and removing it should be equally serious.
Please consider the following links before taking further black mold removal steps:
Suggested Mold Test Kits:
Suggested Commercial Cleaner for Black Mold Removal:
Suggested Natural Remedies for How to Clean Black Mold:
Suggested Mold Remediation Information:
Article by Amanda Demsky from the Moldblogger team.