Toxic Mold: Fact and Fiction - What are molds, mildew, and bacteria?

Mold (mildew) and bacteria are microscopic ingredients in the cycle of life and death of plants and animals. It is natures method of recycling dead organic materials and converting them into soil. Some humans have long been known to experience allergic responses when outside mold counts are high. Certain individuals have been recognized to experience symptoms when living or working in environments with excessive levels of mold and bacteria.

+What are the symptoms that may occur with high levels of mold and bacteria?

Most people (80%) exposed to a contamination in the home or workplace experience no symptoms. The common symptoms that occur are termed "nuisance-type" and may be eye symptoms of stinging, puffiness, itching and redness. Nasal symptoms are stuffiness, nose blowing, runny nose, and sinus pressure. Throat symptoms are those of voice clearing, soreness, and voice huskiness. Chest symptoms consist of a hacking to labored cough that may produce mucous, tightness, shortness of breath, chest rattles, and wheezing. Tiredness, fatigue, and decreased ability to concentrate may be accompanying symptoms.

+What are the common molds and bacteria identified indoors?

The same molds that are common outdoors are seen indoors: Cladosporium, Alternaria, Penicillium, Aspergillus species, and Fusarium are molds very commonly seen in the air inside homes. Stachybotrys may be seen with direct swabs of heavy mold growth, particularly on sheetrock, however it must be disturbed to become airborne. The most common bacteria are those that normally live on the skin of humans and animals.

+What causes high levels of inside mold?

For mold to grow to levels that may be harmful to one' s health there must be excessive moisture. The most common source of mold and bacteria is the central air conditioning system in the Texas area. Roof leaks, plumbing problems, mismanagement, pets and plants inside the home are other common factors that may lead to excessive moisture.

+How can one determine if the home is contaminated by mold or bacteria?

There is generally a "musty" smell to the home. An inspection around the areas of potential moisture in the home will usually reveal evidence of water damage and growth of mold. If one feels that their home or workplace is making them ill, consult with a physician.

+What should one do when mold is found in the home?

The cause of excessive moisture should be determined and repaired. All porous material, such as sheetrock, wood, carpet, pads, and insulation must be removed and replaced. If the air conditioning system is involved, replacement of the plenum and ducts may be necessary. Cleaning of ducts is usually not effective to remove a mold contamination. This work may be done by a general contractor. Remediation specialists are generally not needed unless complex problems are encountered.

+How does one know if mold contamination is causing an illness?
These are complex problems. Consult your physician.
+What about toxic reactions to mold?

Toxic reactions to mold occurs when humans or animals eat very moldy foods. Toxic reactions are serious and affect everyone eating a certain amount. Toxic reactions occurring from inhaling mold requires extreme contaminations and would affect all persons in the environment. Reactions occurring in almost all circumstances are not toxic but are unique to the sensitivities of individuals. Most of the reactions are of the "nuisance-type". There are rare disorders that may occur with intense and long-term exposure that may lead to death. These reactions progress slowly and take many months to years before there is danger of dying from such exposure. These type reactions are seen almost exclusively in older adults.

+Should one move from their home when mold is found?

This is rarely necessary. If you are experiencing symptoms felt to be caused by a mold problem, consult with your physician.

+If moving from the home during repairs, is it safe to take personal belongings?

Personal belongings rarely would have enough mold to cause problems outside the home. Unless mold growth can be grossly seen on items, they are safe to take.

The Texas Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society (TAAIS) is a group of more than 220 board-certified Allergists/Immunologists in Texas.

An Allergist/Immunologist is a physician, usually an Internist or Pediatrician, who has had special training and experience in the field of Allergy and Immunology and who is considered to be an expert in the diagnosis and management of immune system disorders such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), eczema, urticaria (hives), drug reactions, food allergies, immune deficiencies, and all general aspects of anaphylaxis.

A Board Certified Allergist/Immunologist is a physician who has passed the certifying examination of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. A list of Board Certified Allergists can be found here. Those with “ABAI” under Board Certification are Board Certified Allergists/Immunologist.