Concern about the health effects of exposure to mold is one of the most common type of calls and clinic visits we address. So it’s high time we posted an article on it.
What is Mold?
Mold is a type of fungus. It is a living group of cells that grows in the presence of moisture. As it grows, mold can digest the structures that it is growing on. In the outdoors, this can be a great benefit as mold can digest fallen trees and leaves. In the home, mold can damage wooden furniture or drywall as well as causing health concerns.
Molds enter homes as spores floating in from outdoor air. These spores are relatively harmless but if they encounter moisture, they can settle and grow. Molds can be black or white in color, and both colors are potentially hazardous. Molds tend to have a foul odor because they release microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). This odor has unknown health effects and is usually your first tip that you have mold growth in your home.
The Hazards of Mold
In addition to damaging the appearance and structural integrity of your home and furniture, mold can cause allergic reactions from breathing in mold-contaminated air or from skin contact. Symptoms can include runny nose, redness and itching of the eyes, skin rash, and headaches. Mold can also precipitate asthma attacks in people who are allergic to mold. Mold can rarely cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis which is a pneumonia-like condition that can cause permanent scarring in the lungs. Finally, the conditions in a home which allow mold to grow are also likely to encourage bacteria, insects and rodents which bring many more health dangers.
Many people think mold can cause other health issues like memory loss, tremor, fatigue, dizziness, or even cancer. There is no evidence that mold growth in the home causes any of these problems.
Preventing and Removing Mold Growth
The key to mold growth is moisture. Damp environments in the home provide a great place for mold spores to settle and grow. The key to preventing mold growth is to address sources of water entry into the home. These include roofs, windows, doors, and especially basements, as well as from water pipes and leaking fixtures. If you find sources of moisture, clean and dry them before mold has a chance to grow.
You can clean up moldy areas yourself if the area is easily accessible and less than 3 square feet. Because you may be allergic to mold, you should use an N-95 respirator mask, safety goggles and waterproof gloves, all of which you can get from your hardware store. The first step is to address the source of moisture and stop the leakage. Then scrub surfaces with 10% bleach/water mixture and dry completely. Be sure to do this before painting since painting over a moldy surface will eventually cause the paint to peel. Porous material that has been damaged or has rotted will need to be replaced.
If the mold-affected area is large, you may choose to hire a contractor. If your heating/ventilation/air conditioning system (HVAC) is involved, consider calling a professional for cleanup.
US Environmental Protection Agency – http://www.epa.gov/iedmold1/moldguide.html
Center for Disease Control Guide to Cleaning up Mold – http://www.cdc.gov/mold/cleanup.htm
Mold in the Workplace – https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html
This post was written in March 2014 by Kunal Patel, Medical Student at University of Illinois College of Medicine. [edited by Susan Buchanan]