Mold spores are everywhere. Unfortunately, certain types of mold growth can have serious impacts on your health and increase your risk for developing a multitude of issues.
However, people who suffer from the effects of mold are often misdiagnosed or mistreated since the toxicity resulting from mold exposure can present itself in complex ways with various symptoms.
It is important to learn about the pervasive dangers of mold and the risk they pose to your health so you can seek the medical help you may need.
We have all had run-ins with mold. Whether it be the old carton of milk that was left in the fridge, a shower that went a little too long without being cleaned, or a damp window sill in the attic, mold seems to creep up in damp spaces we have forgotten to maintain or that are hidden from our sight. Mold spores occur naturally, and they often enter your house through open windows or doors, heating, and air conditioning systems, or by attaching themselves to people or animals. When mold spores land in damp spaces, such as walls, roofs, or potted plants, they begin to grow. However, simply wiping down that window sill may not be enough to rid you of your mold problem, it’s possible that you will need a more thorough remediation of your living space. Water damage to buildings is the greatest threat for exposure to toxic mold and therefore any water damage in your home should be further evaluated for toxic mold spores and growth. Learning the causes and symptoms of toxic mold and how to make changes to protect your health is important for all of us, but is particularly important for the 25% of the population that have a genetic predisposition for a chronic inflammatory response from toxic mold exposure.
What is Toxic Mold?
While there are numerous types of mold, the most common strains found indoors are Penicillium, Alternaria, Cladosporium, Aspergillus. Perhaps the most well-known and feared mold is Stachybotrys chartarum or toxic black mold. Toxic black mold ranges in color from green to black and grows in circular patterns on household surfaces that have been exposed to water damage or high levels of moisture. Generally, it grows on surfaces with a large amount of cellulose. This includes wood, fiberboard, paper, lint, or dust. The mold itself is not poisonous. Rather, the danger with these types of molds is that they all emit mycotoxins (myco=mold). These are toxins known to cause disease or death in both humans and animals. Mycotoxins are the reason that exposure to mold triggers inflammation, allergies, immune system dysfunction, and a myriad of serious health problems in animals and humans alike.
On a basic level, mycotoxins are allergenic. Most allergens, like pollen, dust mites, or certain foods, trigger allergic reactions by the immune system. The immune system recognizes the allergen as detrimental, and then it works to eliminate it from the body. Wheezing, hives and watery eyes are the immune system’s response to an allergic substance, such as mycotoxins. However, mycotoxins can be both allergenic and toxigenic. Whether the immune response is simply allergenic or full-blown inflammatory largely depends on both the extent and scope of your exposure to mold and your underlying genetics. Over time, if your exposure to mold is chronic, the harmful effects of this exposure can compound. That means that the symptoms of the initial allergic reaction to the mold become chronic and can worsen as your exposure lengthens and your immune system weakens. In fact, over a long period of time, or if you are exposed to an extreme amount of mycotoxins, you become more and more likely to develop severe health problems.
One popular estimate states that over 25% of all buildings in the United States have some degree of water damage. This means that it is likely that you have been in a building infested with mold at some point. Due to mold’s symptoms and widespread occurrence, it is important to be aware of any water damage or excess moisture in your home, as well as symptoms of mold sickness.
Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment of Mold Sickness
At first, the symptoms of toxic mold sickness often show up as a generally innocuous illness. It may present as a chronic runny nose, allergies, or sinusitis. Symptoms may also include joint pain, GI problems, skin rashes, headaches, or muscle and joint pain. Sudden flare-ups or onset of asthma or other respiratory disease and dysfunction can also be symptoms that your body is trying to fight off mycotoxins. Some doctors are even starting to see connections between mycotoxins and neuropsychological or cognitive issues. Depending on your genetic predisposition and other environmental factors, your immune system will react to mold in a variety of ways. Many people are able to cope with mold sickness and live functional lives. Unfortunately, this often means that they will not keep seeking medical attention for their symptoms, such as a persistent cough or newly developed allergies.
While information about mold sickness is becoming more mainstream, most traditional medical practitioners will not think to consider mold, pesticides, or other environmental toxins as a possible root cause of chronic health problems. This is especially true in the case of mold because the symptoms largely resemble common health issues that are diagnosed and medicated without addressing the root cause of the illness. This is why integrative health practitioners are intentional about addressing environmental stressors, as well. Functional medicine practitioners are aware of how important it is to treat you and your bodily ecosystem both individually and holistically. This means taking into consideration your symptoms, lifestyle, and environmental factors, like potential environmental toxins such as mold. If environmental factors are not considered, your doctor may treat your headaches or chronic cough without ever considering that toxic mold may be the root cause of those symptoms. Meanwhile, mold in your workplace or home will continue to flourish while your symptoms persist.
Even if your symptoms allow you to maintain a relatively functional life, it is important to make changes to protect your health. Over an extended period of time, inhalation of mold spores will increase your toxic burden, further weakening your immune system. Your quality of life will decrease, and you will become more susceptible to long-term, potentially life-threatening illnesses. It is important to both remove the mold from your environment and seek professional medical help to address mold sickness.
Although water damage is a tell-tale sign of potential mold, mold can develop in buildings with an average humidity that is over 50-60%. Using a dehumidifier and addressing water-damaged areas is important for preventing mold growth. If a mold infestation has already occurred, the Center for Disease Control recommends completely removing the damaged materials from your home and replacing them. Most often it is recommended that you hire professionals who are trained in mold removal to clean up water-damaged building materials because the removal process can be harmful to your health if you are not properly equipped. Removing the source of mold from your home is the first step in the detoxification process.
Simply reducing your toxic burden by ridding your home or business of mold will help you experience fewer symptoms. However, your functional medicine practitioner will partner with you to help treat the health problems caused by mold exposure. Since the symptoms and effects of mold exposure vary so widely, your practitioner can help develop a personalized, effective treatment plan that will address the origin of your symptoms. If you think mold exposure may be at the root of your health problems, it is essential to consult a doctor that will take into consideration your symptoms, environment, and lifestyle factors, rather than merely attempting to medicate your symptoms away. Let the functional medical experts at Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine be partners and resources on your way toward health!
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Dr. Lundquist is Board Certified in Family Medicine with ABFM and he is sub-specialized with the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABoIM). He has also has received a certification from the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABIHM).
Dr. Lundquist has a special interest in Integrative and Holistic medicine. He is currently the founder and medical director for the Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine specializing in all aspects of Functional Medicine. He is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association as well as the Institute of Functional Medicine. He specializes in endocrine disorders especially thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, cardio metabolic disorders, and chronic pain.