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What Is the Difference Between Mold Sensitivity and Mold Allergy

What Is the Difference Between Mold Sensitivity and Mold Allergy?

The scientific community has identified over 100,000 different species of mold — filamentous fungi — to date, and many hundreds of thousands of mold species could still remain undiscovered. The fact that mold is present all over nature, outside, does not usually pose a threat to human health. A subset of mold species can inflict numerous health complications when we are exposed to them over long periods of time, however, and that can become a huge problem in cases of indoor mold infestations.

You will undoubtedly have heard that mold can be dangerous — and you may know that molds are sometimes classified as allergenic, toxic, or pathogenic. If you were wondering how exactly mold exposure may make you ill, you will probably have come across terms like “mold allergy” and “mold sensitivity”. Here, we will examine what these terms mean, as well as what you can do to reduce your exposure to harmful molds.

What Is a Mold Allergy?

The immune system plays a crucial role in maintaining a person’s overall health by fighting dangerous pathogens it encounters. As the body starts fighting these foreign intruders, symptoms result. Allergies represent an overreaction on the part of the sufferer’s immune system. Although certain allergens, like tree pollen or dust mites, won’t provoke any particular reaction in some people, those who are allergic can experience symptoms that may range from fairly mild to extremely severe. A mold allergy is an allergic reaction to mold spores. People with a mold allergy will have the same symptoms other airborne allergens cause, often as soon as they are exposed to mold, and those can include:

  • Frequent sneezing.
  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose.
  • Swelling, particularly around the eyes.
  • Itching, both of the eyes and skin.
  • Skin rash.
  • Wheezing and breathing difficulties.

In people with allergic asthma, exposure to mold can additionally trigger an asthma attack.

Between six and 10 percent of the general population in the United States is believed to be sensitized to mold, meaning that they will experience at least some allergy symptoms when they enter moldy spaces.  One important factor to consider is that allergies develop and worsen over time. If you currently don’t experience any allergy symptoms when you are around mold, having a mold problem in your home may cause you to become sensitized over time as your immune system reacts increasingly strongly to the mold exposure. If you only experience mild mold allergy symptoms now, they may later become severe.

What Is Mold Sensitivity?

You may read the term “mold sensitivity” in a variety of places, especially online. In a clinical context, this term is primarily used to describe people who are allergic to mold, especially those who have asthma. In a broader sense, however, mold sensitivity is used to describe anyone who has any kind of reaction to mold. This may refer to non-allergic reactions, like health complications resulting from exposure to toxic molds. The term “mold sensitivity” is, however, not very precise, and it would be more productive to focus simply on the many known detrimental health consequences of exposure to various molds, which can also be called “mold sickness”.

How Can a Mold Infestation Affect Your Health?

The potential negative health impacts of mold exposure — and that does not necessarily mean exposure to all molds, but to specific harmful mold species — are subject to ongoing research. A thorough World Health Organization review (found in the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mold booklet) offers a look at the currently-recognized potential health consequences of mold exposure, however. The ways in which mold can affect your health include:

  • Mold can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma, and prolonged mold exposure may contribute to the development of asthma, especially in young children.
  • In people with a mold allergy, mold exposure will trigger allergy symptoms. Even people who are not allergic to mold may, however, suffer from respiratory problems such as chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath when they spend a lot of time in moldy spaces.
  • There is some evidence that mold can cause bronchitis and allergic rhinitis.
  • So-called toxic molds release mycotoxins, which have been linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers (including liver cancer and cancer of the salivary gland). In infants and very young children, these toxins, which are particularly emitted by molds species commonly called “black mold”, are also associated with pulmonary hemorrhage, a life-threatening condition.
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a lung condition caused by an overactive immune system, has also been linked to mold exposure.
  • Certain mold species, known as pathogenic molds, have the potential to cause systemic and extremely dangerous infections, particularly in vulnerable people with weakened immune systems. Aspergillus molds are the most likely culprit in these cases.
  • Some molds have been shown to lead to neurotoxic effects, causing symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.

In short, not all mold species are detrimental to human health, and not everyone reacts to mold exposure in the same way. However, long-term exposure to moldy conditions, such as by living in a home with a mold infestation or routinely being confronted with mold at work or at school, can have a negative impact on everyone’s health. We are, as such, all sensitive to certain types of mold.

What Can You Do to Limit Your Exposure to Mold?

Whether you have a mold allergy or are simply looking out for your general health, it is important to limit your exposure to harmful molds. The many molds that are naturally present in the environment outdoors, such as on decaying tree trunks or in compost heaps, are not typically a problem for people who do not have a mold allergy. When mold grows indoors, on the other hand, that can cause significant symptoms as well as long-term health complications.

You have the most control over the mold in your own home, of course, and steps homeowners can take to prevent a mold infestation include:

  • Maintaining healthy humidity levels in your home — meaning between 30 and 50 percent. If your home is humid, you can purchase a dehumidifier or use your HVAC system to lower the humidity. Are you unsure what the humidity levels in your home are like? Humidity meters offer an inexpensive way to check, and they are available at nearly all home improvement stores. Refraining from air drying your laundry indoors is an important step toward lowering excessive humidity on your property.
  • Increasing ventilation and improving air circulation in your home. Opening the windows frequently is an easy way to achieve this.
  • Having any leaks fixed as soon as possible.
  • Cleaning your bathroom with fungicidal agents, and opting to use an anti-mold paint when you are repainting.
  • Eliminating any soaked carpets from your home, whether after a flood or following a more serious spill, as mold can build up here quickly.

To raise the general quality of the air in your home, you could consider purchasing and using a suitable true HEPA air purifier. These air purifying systems filter out the majority of harmful particulates in a space, and that very much includes mold spores.

What Can You Do if You Believe Your Home Has a Mold Infestation?

It can be extremely obvious that a home has a mold problem — it is often possible to see mold growth, particularly in areas such as bathrooms, basements, kitchens, and around windows, and if you can’t see the mold, chances are that you will smell it. This is not, on the other hand, universally true.

Mold can also accumulate in places where you can neither see it nor smell it, or you may become so acclimatized to the smell that you no longer notice it. Areas like crawl spaces and dark and moist attics are two examples of hidden places where mold often builds up. If your pipes have microscopic cracks, or your roof has been leaking just enough for water to enter your home, mold can also easily take hold. In these cases, you may be vulnerable to the health risks associated with mold exposure without ever being aware that your home has mold.

If you believe — or know for sure — that your home has a mold infestation, MI&T can carry out a full independent mold inspection that equips you with the information you need to know what to do next. After a thorough visual mold inspection that includes the tricky hidden spots you may have missed, MI&T’s independent mold inspector takes air samples that are subsequently lab tested.

The major advantage of choosing an independent mold inspection only company over a mold remediation service for your inspection lies in the fact that independent mold inspectors have no vested interests. MI&T simply lets you know exactly what types of mold are present in your home and in what concentrations. If the mold in your home is not dangerous, we won’t hesitate to tell you that. Where desired, we can help you make a mold remediation plan, which will allow you to move forward as an informed consumer.

Homeowners who have recently had a mold remediation carried out can also benefit from MI&T’s clearance testing, which leaves no doubt about the success of the remediation.

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