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Mold

What kinds of health risks may be linked to mold? What are symptoms and signs of mold allergy?

Molds produce irritating substances that may act as allergy causing substances (allergens) in sensitive individuals. Furthermore, some molds produce toxic substances known as mycotoxins, but mold itself is not poisonous or toxic. The term "toxic mold," therefore, refers to the fact that certain kinds of mold can produce mycotoxins. The conditions under which some molds produce toxins are poorly understood, and the presence of mold, even a mold that is capable of producing toxins, does not always imply that toxins are being produced or that a health risk or problem is present. Mold may not cause any health problems, or it may lead to allergy or other symptoms in people, including adults and children, who are sensitive to molds.

Allergic reactions to mold are the most common health effects of mold and are therefore the greatest health risk related to mold. Allergic reactions may happen immediately or develop after a period of time following exposure. Both growing mold and mold spores may lead to allergic reactions. Symptoms and signs of mold allergy may include

  • sneezing,
  • runny nose,
  • coughing,
  • wheezing,
  • watery eyes,
  • redness of the eyes,
  • itchy eyes,
  • skin irritation or rash.

Asthma attacks may be caused by mold or mold spores in people who have asthma and are allergic to mold. Even in some nonallergic individuals, mold can cause symptoms of irritation in the eyes, skin, and airways. For example, the "black mold" Stachybotrys, along with some other types of mold, produces toxins known as mycotoxins that can cause irritation of the skin and airways in susceptible individuals.

Sometimes, people may develop severe reactions to mold exposure. Symptoms of severe reactions, which are uncommon, include fever and difficulty breathing. People with compromised immune systems or patients with chronic lung disease can develop serious infections of the lungs due to molds.

It is not possible to predict the degree of severity of the health risks associated with mold in the home. Allergic individuals vary in their degree of susceptibility to mold, and any symptoms and health risk may also depend upon the extent and exact type of mold that is present.

In 2004 guidelines update in 2009, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people. Mold also was linked to the worsening of asthma symptoms in people who have asthma. Mold was also reported to be linked to hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to this immunologic condition. This uncommon disease is similar to pneumonia and can develop in susceptible individuals after brief or prolonged exposure to mold.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven."

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Reviewed on 5/30/2017

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