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.
The symptoms of a mold allergy are like those of other nasal allergies -- sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Untreated mold allergy can sometimes lead to more serious health problems.
How Mold Causes Allergies
Mold is a fungus with a big job in the natural world, breaking down dead plant matter. It spreads through tiny spores that can cause an allergic reaction. Only a few types of mold actually cause allergies.
How to Tell You're Allergic
The only way you can know for sure you have a mold allergy is to see an allergist. He will ask about your symptoms and what seems to trigger them. If he thinks you have a mold allergy, he'll probably do allergy testing to confirm it.
When Mold Allergies Happen
Although mold allergies can happen any time of year, outside they can be worse in summer and fall. They can be especially bad when wet leaves sit around in piles.
Avoid mold as much as you can. Stay inside when mold counts are high.
Keep wet leaves away from your house. Clean gutters.
Take off your shoes at the door.
Get rid of standing water outside.
Clean your bathroom often and get rid of soap scum, which can harbor mold. When you shower, open a window or run an exhaust fan.
Fix any leaks right away. Drying wet areas within 48 hours usually prevents mold.
Run a dehumidifier in damp basements or other rooms.
Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
To Treat Symptoms
Try over-the-counter antihistamines, eye drops, or nasal sprays.
Talk to your doctor about prescription drugs, including nasal steroid sprays or allergy shots.