Asthma is a serious disease that affects your ability to breathe. Many people who suffer from asthma have symptoms with exposure to mold. Mold and mildew are fungi, a type of organism that reproduces via spores. Spores are airborne particles that grow in wet or damp environments. Mold can be found both indoors and outdoors. Outdoor mold is most common from July through the fall season. Indoor mold can occur year-round.
What Is Mold?
Mold is a type of living organism with spores that float through the air. It’s often compared to or described as “tiny fungi.” There are nearly a thousand different species of mold in the United States alone. While mold can be visible on surfaces if it accumulates in large enough quantities, it’s also possible that you could have mold in your workplace or home without seeing it because its spores are so small.
Any environment that is damp can attract mold, but what will keep it around is water, a humid temperature, air, and food. Mold doesn’t discriminate between indoor or outdoor environments, and will easily grow in both.
Mold Allergy Risk Factors
Not everyone who’s exposed to mold will develop a mold allergy. However, if you do have a mold allergy or develop one, there are a handful of risk factors that could increase your likelihood of experiencing symptoms.
Frequent or increased exposure to mold is one of the biggest risk factors. For example, if your home isn’t properly ventilated, then you’re inviting mold to grow. Mold prefers warm, humid environments, and kitchens and/or bathrooms with insufficient ventilation have both in spades. Always try to improve ventilation and dispel excess moisture with fans or dehumidifiers.
The same is true of other areas in your home if you maintain a very humid environment. To discourage mold, you should try to maintain humidity at no more than 50 percent. This goes for the whole home, as mold can develop anywhere that gets warm or moist enough, from carpets to walls.
The last two risk factors to keep in mind is your job and your family history. If you work in industries like furniture repair, winemaking, greenhouses, carpentry, millwork, baking, logging, dairy, and/or farming, you may be exposed to moldy conditions more often than the average person. A family background of asthma and/or allergies also increases your chances of getting a mold allergy and experiencing symptoms.
Can Mold Cause Asthma?
If you already have mold and mildew allergies, then you may wonder, does mold cause asthma as well? The ACAAI states that for some people with asthma, what starts their asthma attacks is coming into contact with an allergen. In this case, that allergen would be mold, but others include pollen or pet dander. In addition irritants such as smoke or perfumes can also be a problem.
Not only is breathing in these particles unhealthy for your airways, but it goes deeper than that. In the case of allergens, your immune system produces histamines and other chemicals which lead to an asthma attack.
Mold Allergy Symptoms and Causes
Mold is present both indoors and outdoors. It can also trigger both allergies and asthma attacks. If mold particles are floating through the air invisible to you, then you could inhale them as you go about your daily life without realizing.
Like other environmental allergens, mold spores can trigger hay fever-like symptoms such as:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy/watery eyes
In patients with both mold allergy and asthma, asthma symptoms may be triggered by mold exposure. Signs of an asthma attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Most allergy symptoms caused by mold are uncomfortable, but not serious. However, there are certain allergic conditions that can be more severe. These include:
- Allergic fungal sinusitis. This is a type of sinus infection caused by an inflammatory response to fungus in the sinuses. The sinuses get blocked up with fungal debris and thick mucus.
- Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis or mycosis: Aspergillus fumigatus is a mold found in soil. It can cause an inflammatory damage in the lungs, which is more common in patients with asthma or cystic fibrosis.
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: This rare immune system disorder which is triggered by airborne particles including mold spores. It causes swelling in the alveoli (air sacs) of your lung which make it more difficult for the oxygen to reach your bloodstream.
How to Reduce Exposure to Mold
If you or another family member suffers from a mold allergy, you’ll want to do what you can to avoid mold and asthma dangers. Here are some tips for doing just that:
- Consider using faux plants instead of real plants, as they have a higher likelihood of developing mold.
- If you must have real plants in the home, water them only when the soil gets mostly dry. Overwatering could cause mold to develop.
- Keep basements and bathrooms uncarpeted, as mold is more likely to grow in the rugs.
- If you spot mold in any carpets or upholstery, don’t try to clean them yourself. Have them professionally serviced or replace them to ensure mold is fully eliminated.
- For other surfaces that have been exposed to mold, use water and bleach, with one part bleach to 10 parts water. If mold gets too deep into the drywall, cleaning it may not be enough. You may need to get new drywall.
- Prioritize the maintenance of ventilation in your home, especially exhaust fans in rooms that get humid.
- Remember to check your humidity so it never exceeds 50 percent.
- Items like humidifiers and vaporizers can produce too much moisture and humidity. It’s recommended you try to limit your vaporizer use or even discontinue operating yours.
Mold requires moisture to grow. Therefore, common places to find indoor mold are bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Areas that have been exposed to leaks, floods, or poor ventilation are more susceptible to mold growth.
Heating & Air Conditioning
Utilize your heating & air conditioning system to help control mold. You should:
- Change your air conditioning and heating system filters frequently
- Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
Mold in the Bathroom
- Because bathrooms often harbor moisture, you should: Check your tubs and sinks. They should not have any drips or leaks. If they’re not dry, get the fixtures repaired or even replaced. If you notice your pipes leak condensation, also known as sweating, a layer of insulation can stop this problem.
- Run the bathroom exhaust fan while showering or bathing
- Squeegee shower and tub walls to remove water from them after use so they’re as dry as possible and don’t harbor mold
- Avoid leaving or wet clothes or towels in a basket or hamper in the bathroom, place them in a hamper in another room without as much moisture exposure instead
- Check your shower curtains and shower liner every few months and replace or clean shower curtains, especially when there is visible mold
Mold in the Basement
Basements are particularly susceptible to mold growth, but there are steps you can take to minimize it:
Monitor your basement for moisture and mold. Run a dehumidifier to keep basement air drier. Keeping humidity less than 30% to 50% is an excellent way to lessen mold growth.
Mold in the Kitchen
The kitchen is another room mold loves. When you’re cooking and generating a lot of steam, use your exhaust fans. You may want to open a nearby window or door as well so the air circulates. Check and clean any other exhaust vents in the kitchen regularly so they function effectively.
See Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center for Mold Allergies and Asthma Care
Mold can be a health risk even for adults and children, but it’s particularly problematic for people with known mold allergies and asthma. Along with the tasks you can do to manage mold yourself, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center can help you manage allergies and asthma with effective treatment plans.
The Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center was founded in 1952. Today, the center has expanded to 15 offices in the area Charlotte for your convenience. Our practice has 18 board-certified allergists providing patient care. Contact us for more information on how we can help with your mold allergy or asthma problems, or to schedule an appointment.