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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 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 nor always imply that toxins are being produced. Mold may not cause any health effects, or it may lead to 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
- runny nose,
- 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 irritate 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 those 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 the risk may also depend upon the extent and exact type of mold that is present.
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found 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), "A link between other adverse health effects, such as acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants, memory loss, or lethargy, and molds, including the mold Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), has not been proven."