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Mold Allergy Self-Defense

Mold allergies are more common in warm weather, but can be a year-round problem. Here’s what to do.
By David Freeman
WebMD Feature

Alternaria. Aspergillus. Cladosporium. Penicillium. Unless you have a special fondness for fungi, you’re probably not too familiar with these or any of the thousands of other common molds.

But if you’re among the estimated 5% of Americans who have mold allergies, you may be all too well acquainted with the itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, and other symptoms mold allergies can cause. Severe mold allergies can even trigger potentially dangerous asthma attacks.

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Mold allergies are more common in warm weather, but are essentially a year-round problem in some parts of the country.

Like other common allergies, mold allergies arise when the immune system mounts a vigorous reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance or organism -- in this case the microscopic spores that float in the air indoors and out. And as with other allergies, mild symptoms of mold allergies can often be controlled with over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants and prescription steroid nasal sprays. In severe cases, allergy shots are generally effective.

The Best Treatment for Mold Allergies: Prevention

But experts agree that mold allergy sufferers are better off avoiding mold in the first place.

That means steering clear of places where mold is likely to lurk: decomposing vegetation (think compost piles, decaying leaves, wooded areas, etc.) as well as antiques shops, flower shops, farms, summer cottages, greenhouses, saunas, and anyplace else where warm, damp conditions prevail.

Most important, it means taking steps to ensure that your home -- where the average American spends 90% of the time -- is a mold-free zone.

Does that mean you’ll have to give up the Stilton? Probably not. “Cheeses and other moldy foods can bother some people with mold allergies, but generally this isn’t a problem,” says James L. Sublett, MD, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Louisville, Ky., and vice-chairman of the indoor environments committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

Here are some other six strategies that can make a big difference in containing mold.

1. Look for Leaks

Periodically check your roof and the household plumbing. Look under sinks, inside showers, around windows and doors, and inside closets. If you have a basement, check the floor and walls for signs of water infiltration. If you find a leak, repair it right away. Sometimes pipes spring a leak within the walls or floors, so you may have to do a bit of searching to find them.

Just because you don’t see mold “doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the clear,” says Nathanael S. Horne, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla and an allergy specialist in private practice in New York City. “Even if you don’t see any mold, if you are experiencing unexplained symptoms and have eliminated other culprits, it could be mold.”

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