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could it be mold?

mold illness Aug 19, 2022

We live in an increasingly toxic world. There are harmful substances in the food we eat, water we drink, the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, and the products we use. Because of this increased toxicity, our bodies are unable to take on the additional burden of mold and mycotoxins, and more people across the country are developing mold illness than ever before.


So what is mold? Where is it found?

Mold is a fungus that can be found both indoors & outdoors. Outdoor mold spores are found floating in the air, land on our clothing, and are usually harmless on their own. For the spores to grow into mold, they must land on something wet, such as any area of a building with water damage. Water damage can occur as a result of flooding, leaks, improper drainage, poor ventilation, and excess humidity.


The Pacific Northwest has a moist climate, making it a prime candidate for water-damaged buildings and subsequent mold illness. However, mold can also be a problem in the desert. It loves to grow on the condensation formed by air-conditioning units.


A survey from OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) found that over 1/4 of all buildings in the United States have some type of water-damage. Mold that grows in the shower or on bathroom tiles is often not concerning, as it’s on a surface that’s easy to clean. Mold is problematic when it’s found somewhere that should usually be dry (ceiling tiles, dry wall, etc).


Why is mold problematic to our health?

Most mold is non-poisonous. Outdoor mold spores are found floating in the air, land on our clothing, and are usually harmless on their own. When these spores land on something wet (like a water-damaged area of a building), they can set up shop and grow. Some types of mold release mycotoxins - products that have significant health effects. Mycotoxins are invisible and odorless - they can be present even if you don’t smell or see mold!


Common species of toxic molds include: Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Fusarium, Penicillium, Stachybotrys (“black mold”).


Toxic molds can trigger many disease processes - asthma, autoimmunity, cancer, inflammation, insomnia, histamine dysregulation, mood issues (especially anxiety), and respiratory infections. 

Mycotoxin exposure can:

  •  Increase systemic inflammation (inflammation in the body - joint pain, impaired organ function)
  •  Cause neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain - cognitive issues, anxiety)
  •  Disrupt the gut microbiome
  •  Block detoxification pathways, leading to increased toxic burden in the body
  •  Deplete our antioxidant stores, causing more damage by free radicals


How do I know if I have mold illness?

Signs and symptoms of mold illness are varied and can seem vague and unrelated, making mold diagnosis tricky! Patients suffering from mold illness are often diagnosed with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, mental illness, asthma, or allergies… when really the underlying cause is mold. The good news is that when the mold is identified and treated - people feel so. much. better! 


Common signs and symptoms of mold illness include:

  •  Sinus congestion
  •  Respiratory/allergy symptoms: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  •  Headaches
  •  Brain fog
  •  Rashes
  •  With chronic exposure to toxic mold:
    •  Memory issues (forgetfulness, difficulty with word recall)
    •  Difficulty concentrating
    •  Numbness/tingling in arms and legs
    •  Gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea or constipation)
    •  Sensitivity to lights and sound
    •  Body pain: aching joints, zapping pains
    •  Hair loss
    •  Dizziness/lightheadedness
    •  Increased thirst
    •  Urinary frequency


Some people are more susceptible to mold illness than others. About 20% of the population have genetic mutations that prevent the body from being able to recognize and eliminate these toxins, allowing them to build up in the body and cause symptoms.


How do I know if my home is moldy?

Some things to evaluate include: moist areas, visible mold growth, musty smells, bathroom fans venting to the attic, wallpaper, carpets, bubbling paint, any area that has had a flood or leak, and if the humidity is > 60%.

I must emphasize the importance of working with a mold-literate home inspector or building biologist. This is someone who understands the health implications of toxic mold, not just identifying moldy areas of a building. Finding and removing the source of mold is important. It’s also necessary to ensure that mold spores and mycotoxins have not disseminated throughout the house, as they can get into the HVAC system and continue to impair your health.

Also, keep in mind that mold exposure can also occur out of the house - office buildings, schools, churches, etc.


What do I do if I think I've been exposed to toxic mold?

Working with a mold-literate healthcare provider is essential. Mold detoxification is complicated and, if done incorrectly, can make you sicker! I'm a firm believer in the importance of individualized medicine - this is especially important when working with mold. 


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