A few days ago, I reached into the cupboard to grab a bag of sourdough bread, and instead pulled out a furry green and black creature. It always freaks me out a little bit, even though I know that is probably not the only mold in the house. All molds are fungi, and experts can only estimate the number of species that exist, some say tens of thousands, others guess the number is much higher, closer to three hundred thousand. Though mold is more common in warm, damp, and humid areas, their spores can survive in arid conditions. Mold is everywhere and is generally not a big concern for healthy people.
People who have compromised immune systems or existing health problems may be sensitive to exposure to mold. People with asthma often find their symptoms aggravated by mold. Those with allergies can experience symptoms such as skin rash and itching, sniffles, itchy eyes, congestion, and cough. Respiratory infections are a concern for those with lung diseases or immune issues.
I spent my adult life living and working on boats and yachts, which are all perfect hosts for mold. It was a constant battle against mold growing in the air conditioning system and on most surfaces.
I had respiratory infections at least once a year during that time and usually attributed it to the dust I was breathing at the motocross track. Still, a more likely culprit was the mold I was continually breathing.
Severe reactions to mold exposure have been reported by people exposed to large amounts of mold over long periods of time, like in the case of farmworkers handling moldy hay. Some symptoms attributed to mold are dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds, diarrhea, vomiting, even liver damage.
Some varieties of mold are more dangerous because they produce toxins called mycotoxins. They are mainly a defense against other fungi and bacteria but can also cause toxic effects in people.
Exposure to mycotoxins can cause respiratory problems, fatigue, nausea, headaches, and eye irritation. The most common of these is the black mold that gets a lot of press attention when it is found in homes, schools, or public buildings.
Avoiding Mold Exposure
If you are sensitive to mold, you should keep the humidity level in your home between 40% and 60%. In more humid months, run a dehumidifier or air conditioner. Avoid fresh-cut grass, compost, wooded areas, farms, flower shops, antique shops, greenhouses. All of these places are guaranteed to have large amounts of mold. In your home, you can kill mold in bathrooms and windowsills with a solution of bleach and water. Always make sure to open windows, use gloves, and eye protection when cleaning with bleach.
Watch for plumbing leaks. If water saturates carpet or wood, mold growth is sure to follow. It’s easy enough to clean hard surfaces, but fabric and wood are much more difficult, so it’s essential to dry them quickly and entirely and watch for signs of mold. Check basement storage areas frequently. Books and old paperwork stored in a humid area will get moldy, and once this happens, they are ruined.