Is Mold Dangerous to Breathe?
Normally when we come across mold – whether in our home or somewhere else – we recoil, perhaps gag and then set about getting rid of it or simply walking away. And whilst mold is, unarguably, a less-than-favorable sight to behold, the real concern can actually be a lot more serious, depending on the person and the type of mold found. So, what can breathing in mold actually do?
Mold produces allergens, irritants and sometimes, even, toxic substances, depending on the type. Some people are more sensitive to mold, for example, babies and the elderly, those with existing skin and respiratory conditions and those with a weakened immune system. For these people, breathing it in may cause a blocked nose, sore throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, skin itchiness, headaches, fatigue or eye irritation, according to a 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and others.
Other Mold Symptoms
Yet those with an actual mold allergy or other illnesses, such as asthma, sinusitis or lung disease, may have more severe reactions, as prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness can reduce lung function, possibly causing bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Pregnancy, AIDS and diabetes are other medical conditions that may also increase the likelihood of being affected by mold – and developing symptoms of mold sickness – due to their weakening of the immune system.
Whilst the IOM was careful to state that there was no evidence to substantiate all health-related claims associated with mold exposure, they found enough to identify indoor damp spaces as a public health hazard that must be addressed. As leading health entrepreneur, Sara Davenport, writes in her book, Reboot Your Health, “when your energy is low, mold exposure can weaken your body and change the way you think and feel. With ‘push me pull you’ tactics, mold spores overstimulate your immune system at the same time as blocking its ability to work properly, causing all kinds of physical and mental problems in the body.”
The real takeaway here is that breathing in mold spores – whether living or dead – can not only make sick people sicker, but also make otherwise healthy individuals suffer, and more prone to develop long-term conditions, such as asthma. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, a sizeable proportion of the 300 million childhood asthma cases worldwide can be attributed to indoor mold exposure, whilst other studies have even found a link between mold and depression. And because we spend an average of 16 hours a day at home, it is vital to ensure our houses are mold-free at all times.
“Mold is our worst enemy”, Philip Blair, owner of Emperor Roofing tells MoldBlogger. “The effects of continually breathing in mold are frightening, starting with a persistent cough, itchy skin and similar allergy symptoms. From there, it will only get worse – particularly for those that have existing respiratory issues and, also, children. In the very worst case, mold could even attack your immune system, and we always try and stress this point with our customers.
“The best thing you can do is to check there’s no moisture getting into the walls, and no leaks. We see a lot of mold caused by roof leaks, so try and check your roof, at least, twice a year. Likewise, inspect your home and try to identify any causes for concern. Mold can not only severely affect your health, but cost a lot to repair.”
“The last straw”
Personal stylist, Luisa Kearney, knows only too well the devastating effects living in a mold-infested home can create. “When I first moved into my new apartment, I had no idea about the mold issue that would later pursue”, she tells MoldBlogger. “I’d lived in the apartment for about a year when the problems rapidly started to develop. The mold was everywhere and it was a huge inconvenience to my life. Any food items (including tea bags and coffee) that couldn’t be kept in the fridge would quickly go moldy within just days after purchasing them. It got to the point where I had to wash every piece of clothing, as well as all my sheets and towels every couple of days because by this point they’d be very damp and smelling strongly of mold again. It didn’t matter whether I’d worn the items or not!
“The last straw”, she continues, “was when I developed a terrible chest infection, affecting the way I spoke and made breathing difficult. Despite being a healthy, non-smoker, I felt like there was something heavy pushing down on my chest! Fortunately, after moving out, my health returned to normal and I found a mold-free home!”
Black mold is by far the most concerning strain, and Stachybotrys chartarum, which grows on water-damaged building materials and produces toxic spores – known as mycotoxins – is the most infamous type. In 1994 ten children in Cleveland, Ohio suffered from idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis (bleeding from the lung) and one died, thought to be caused by exposure to this type of mold. On further review, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that the cause of this – and a similar cluster of cases in Chicago – remained unknown, In fact, although the health effects of mycotoxins are still not fully understood, it is possible that they may even cause cancer, infections and damage to both the liver, nervous and immune systems but, again, nothing is concrete. Read about black mold symptoms here.
Most experts agree that more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between mold and negative health-related effects – not least because different studies have reached a variety of different conclusions. After all, tests identify the presence of a mold as a snapshot, thereby indicating an uncertainty as to the exact time frame an individual was exposed to it, not to mention the fact that exposure doesn’t necessarily mean inhalation, either. But one thing’s for sure: ignoring the problem is not going to do you any good.
Have you suffered from mold-related illness? Have a read of what to do here.