Mold and Your Health: What You Need to Know
Most people think of mold as that unsightly black stuff that appears on their shower curtains or that slick orange stuff that forms around your kitchen or bathroom drains. While that may seem like an annoyance to clean up and a possible road block for anyone looking to sell their residence, mold also represents a dangerous health hazard that can have lingering effects for people who don’t take it seriously.
If you have allergies or asthma, mold can be especially troubling. However, even if you aren’t allergic, mold can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. Furthermore, some of the more pernicious types of mold are invisible. As a result, they can release toxins in the air that may go undetected causing further health problems and could even kill you.
Fortunately, there are a number of remedies to combat this sneaky but often harmful fungus. Understanding the signs and symptoms of mold is the first step towards taking action that will protect your home and family.
What is It?
Mold is a type of fungus that can be found nearly everywhere. In addition to the well-known black variety, it can be orange, green, white or even purple. In our environment, mold is helpful because it breaks down dead plants and trees. Moisture helps to reproduce the microscopic mold spores that travel through the air in which we are exposed daily. Normally, this exposure poses little problem for humans. However, when these spores find a nice, damp spot in your home, problems can happen as they reproduce, and people inhale many more spores on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, these tiny spores cause the greatest problem because so many of them can be found in relatively small spaces inside your house. To give you an idea, as many as 20 million spores could fit on a postage stamp. In addition, mold spores can endure conditions that regular mold cannot, such as dry surfaces. Indeed, spores can remain dormant for decades until the right conditions bring them back to life.
Categories of Mold
Mold usually breaks down into three distinct categories.
- Pathogenic Mold: these kinds cause an infection. They are especially harmful to those who may have a compromised immune system and can lead to things like lung infections.
- Allergenic Mold: these types cause problems for those who are allergic or who have asthma. Children often have difficulties with mold allergies.
- Toxigenic Mold: these molds are injurious because they produce mycotoxins, which can adversely affect almost anyone. Some of their ill effects include cancer and immunosuppression.
Symptoms of a mold problem can be as varied as skin rashes, trouble breathing, headaches, depression and many more conditions. Indeed, research from the Mayo Clinic in the 1990s indicates that almost all sinusitis and nasal congestion result from a fungus rather than bacteria. Unfortunately, people usually treat it as bacteria and take antibiotics with little success.
Common Mold Habitats
People often complain about mildew, which is mold in a white or grayish color that is usually found in bathrooms. Essentially, any environment in which moisture and oxygen exist is a spawning ground for mold. Prime locations include bathrooms, kitchens, basements, crawl spaces, and areas around plumbing pipes. Mold can easily enter your home through an open door or window, or it can be carried in on someone’s clothing or by pets. Usually the first sign of mold is a musty odor but other signs include water stains on the wall, unusual black or green spots, or discolored carpeting.
Treatment and Prevention
While it isn’t possible to eliminate all the mold or the spores in your house, cutting down on moisture areas can prevent or severely reduce the amount of mold growth in your home.
A good place to start is by using air conditioners and dehumidifiers during humid times of the year to keep moisture away. It’s important to maintain good ventilation and to keep any areas of water leakage clean and dry as soon as possible after a problem arises.
Adding insulation to cold surfaces, such as outside walls and windows, is also important because it helps to reduce condensation.
Hiring a Professional Mold Remediator
One of the pitfalls of eliminating mold is the temptation to remove it yourself. This can be especially dangerous if you’re already experiencing mold-related health problems. The cleanup process can actually make things worse for you because it usually stirs up thousands of spores, which are easily inhaled.
If you have a serious problem, you are better off hiring a professional mold remediator. Spending money on a professional now can save thousands of dollars in cleanup costs later. An experienced remediator can not only protect you from further exposure during the removal process, but he can also help you with mold prevention for the future.
While people with allergies or asthma need to be especially vigilant about mold in their household, mold can be dangerous to anyone if it accumulates in large enough quantities. Anyone sensing a problem should take extra precautions to minimize moisture areas in their home. The crucial thing is to take action before the problem gets out of hand. And, more importantly, don’t be hesitant to bring in a professional if you have a serious problem.