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Mold and Allergies: 10 Ways to Reduce Symptoms

Black Mold: Toxic or Not? continued...

It may be hard to get a mold allergy correctly diagnosed. "Very often, the root of the problem isn't identified correctly," Martyny says. "People have these symptoms, but they don't realize they have a moisture and mold problem at home. If you get rid of the allergens -- the mold -- people get better, and they get better pretty fast."

In some cases, mold exposure can cause serious respiratory problems, with symptoms like chest tightness and difficulty breathing. "Some people who are exposed to high levels of any mold for a long time develop lung hypersensitivity -- which leads to scar tissue in the lungs," Martyny explains. "Some people recover when the mold source is removed. But if they've been exposed for a long time, they may never recover."

Coughing, wheezing, runny nose, irritated eyes or throat -- these are all signs of mold allergy. Mold allergies can also trigger an asthma attack, with symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. If you have these symptoms, see an allergist for skin testing or a blood test to diagnose mold allergy.

Do You Have Mold?

Older homes are prime habitats for mold, which thrives in a dark, damp, warm environment. If you have water damage, water leaks, a leaky roof, a washing machine that overflows frequently, that moisture can give mold a toehold.

In winter months, indoor heat inside the house will pull air from the crawl space into the living space, says Martyny. That’s one reason a mold allergy may get worse in winter.

"In some instances, it can be hard to see the water damage," he adds. "You may have to have a professional with a moisture meter and infrared cameras see if anything is leaking."

So what can you do to reduce your exposure to mold? Attack mold on two fronts -- removal and prevention:

  • Get your house tested for mold. A moisture meter test will help. Also, a dust sample from your carpet can show whether mold spores are in your home. Check with your state health department about mold testing. Or look in the yellow pages for environmental testing, Martyny suggests.
  • Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. If you have mold in your crawl space or basement, locate the source and stop the water from coming in.
  • If your crawl space has mold, call an environmental service to get rid of it. If a small area is moldy, you can try cleaning it yourself.
  • Check inside drywall for mold inside the wall. You can usually smell mold even if you can't see it. Moldy drywall must be cut out and replaced. Moldy insulation also must be removed and replaced.
  • Wash mold off hard surfaces. You don’t have to use chlorine bleach; soap and water, combined with scrubbing from a stiff brush, works to remove mold. Some people also recommend vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Non-toxic cleaners are also available. Allow areas to dry completely.
  • Dry water-damaged areas and items (like carpeting) within 24 to 48 hours of flooding. Don't install carpeting in areas where there is a moisture problem.
  • If ceiling tiles or carpet have become moldy, they must be replaced. Throw out all wet, moldy tiles and carpeting.
  • Reduce indoor humidity by venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources. Exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens can help. If you don’t have exhaust fans, crack a window in the kitchen when you're cooking or in the bathroom when you're bathing.
  • Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers inside your home. Change filters regularly. Use a dehumidifier to get rid of dampness in basements.
  • Add insulation to windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors where there is potential for condensation on cold surfaces.

If you're working in a moldy area, always wear a filtered face mask so you won't inhale mold spores.

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Reviewed on December 19, 2008

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