Toxic mold around the house

1) Dear Alice,

I was wondering how to tell if my children and I suffer from toxic mold. My kids always have green runny nose, headaches, raspy voice, and moodiness, among other things. I have talked to the doctor. She just says allergies, but of what, I don't know. Meds don't really help. I need to know how to find out and how to fix the problem. If you can help, it would really make me happy.

— Keisha

2) Dear Alice,

I would like to know more about black mold that is found in houses. I understand it causes flu-like symptoms and nose bleeds. I have these symptoms. Please send me information on this.

3) Dear Alice,

Where can I find information regarding mold in the home and how it affects the health of family members of various ages?

Dear Keisha and Readers 2 and 3,

Believe it or not the term “toxic mold” is a bit of a misnomer. Mold is a fungus that reproduces by releasing spores into the air; some strains produce mycotoxins, which are toxigenic, but the mold itself generally doesn't cause harm. In fact, it’s very common, grows in damp environments, and can be found in many household materials. There are few links between mycotoxins and health risks, but they’ve been found to potentially cause symptoms similar to hayfever. However, there’s an increased risk and sensitivity for people who have allergies, chronic respiratory disease, or immune suppression disorders.

Effects of mold in the household can vary and are influenced by several factors, including the type of mold, the metabolic by-product of the mold, as well as the type and length of exposure. Age also plays a role — children are much more susceptible to mold than adults, with studies suggesting a connection between mold in the home and respiratory infections and asthma in children. For those sensitive to mold, the most common effects are:

  • Respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Burning, watery, reddened eyes
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Shortness of breath or lung disease
  • Skin irritation
  • Fever

If you’re experiencing these symptoms due to mold, they’ll likely disappear once it’s been removed. If your symptoms persist after the mold is removed, it’s best to talk with your health care provider to explore other causes. In Keisha's children's case, it’s also possible to be tested for specific allergens if their symptoms persist.

If you’re able to see or smell that your living environment has mold, you can treat it with a simple chlorine bleach solution, soap and water, or specialized cleaning products. While cleaning, it’s best to wear gloves, eye protection, and a carbon filter respirator to prevent breathing in spores. While cleaning larger areas are best left to professional treatment, getting hands-on with some scrubbing is an effective treatment for smaller patches of mold.

If you don't have mold now, but are worried about it growing in your home, here are some handy tips to prevent it from darkening your door in the first place:

  • Fix leaky or broken pipes right away.
  • Check and repair the seals on windows and doors.
  • Keep indoor humidity below 50 percent by using a dehumidifier or air conditioning during humid months.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paint before using.
  • Clean bathrooms with anti-mold products.
  • Try not to carpet moist indoor areas, such as basements and bathrooms.
  • Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery.
  • Maintain a clean and dry environment.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation.

For more information, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's mold website.

Last updated Nov 16, 2018
Originally published Feb 01, 2002

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