Mold Symptoms? Start Here
Written by Carolyn Willbanks
Are you sick and suspect it might be from mold? Determining if mold exposure is making you ill is not easy.
Mold illness is often mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses. Many people suffering from mold illness struggle to receive a proper diagnosis. Finding treatment can be even more difficult. After all, why do some people get sick, while others in the same surroundings seem to be OK. Since symptoms differ from person to person, they may not be quickly associated by doctors with mold exposure.
There can be multiple causes, including physical (your ancestry and history), environmental (chemicals in our air, water and food) and biological contaminants (mold’s nasty friends – viruses, parasites, VOCs, heavy metals, etc.). These factors impact the type and severity of symptoms.
Mold plus these additional causes = the total toxicity in your body, also called Total Body Burden.¹ ²
The combination of these toxins in a moldy environment creates a huge variety of symptoms, even among family members. Understanding toxicity helps you figure out what is making you sick. It also gives you a much better chance of asking the right questions of your doctor, your mold remediator (company that investigates and cleans up mold), your contractor (handles repairs to your home) and your lawyer, if it comes to that.
When is an Environment Considered ‘Moldy’?
When mold measured indoors exceed the mold count outdoors, your environment is considered contaminated. Of course, there are millions of different mold types and fungal species on our earth.
Some people say that there are only a few species that actually cause illness. Certainly, there are the prime suspects – stachybotrys, aspergillus, penicillium – in all their ‘flavors’. But some people are so susceptible that even a small contact with almost any mold makes them ill.
How Mold Causes People to Become Sick
The truth is that it’s almost impossible to avoid mold. It spreads with spores that are present all around us, both indoor and outdoor. Spores float through the air, and attach to your clothes and shoes, spread around your house or office and grow whenever they find a humid surface. Mold reproduces by spreading spores which are often invisible to our eyes.
- If you are allergic to molds, your immune system overreacts when you breathe spores. Mold allergy symptoms can include sinusitis, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, cough, postnasal drip, itchy and watery eyes.
- Spores can also get swallowed, and affect the digestive system.
- Exposure to mold has been linked to a wide variety of issues with the lungs. Mold is known to trigger severe asthma attacks in both adults and children. People are 40% more likely to experience asthma symptoms when living in a damp and moldy building.
Mold Fragments (Particles or Nano Particulates)
- Mold and spores can become fragmented and blow around in the air. They combine with your household dust, contaminating your belongings and all the surfaces in your home. Some fragments are so small, they stay suspended in the air, settling on your skin or entering your body as you breathe. These fragments are called micro or nano particles, and they also cause an immune response. Tiny bits of cell walls and mold byproducts (including mycotoxins) are generally more dangerous than spores, because they are responsible for redistributing and multiplying mold when disturbed.
According to a study done by Jack Thrasher, toxicologist, in his study called Fungi, Bacteria, Nano-particulates, Mycotoxins and Human Health in Water-Damaged Indoor Environments
“Particulates shed from molds include spores, fragments of mycelia [branching, thread-like filamentous structures of fungus that are the main mode of growth] and some nano-particulates…Field studies of water-damaged homes have shown concentrations of micro-particulates in indoor dust that are at least 1000 times or greater than the indoor air mold spore counts. These particulates contain 1, 3-beta glucans, a variety of fungal proteins [found in the cell walls of fungi] that include substrate enzymes as well as mycotoxins.”
Important Note: According to the Mold-Free Living website, “Since micro-particulates are bits and pieces of cell walls and by-products of mold, they are key pieces of the inflammation puzzle that many remediators miss.
“Unfortunately, because of this, they are easily dispersed and made airborne throughout a home via such things as the HVAC system, during demolition when mold is exposed, or during other mold clean-up processes when proper physical containment isn’t employed.
“The research suggests that 1000 micro-particulates might be present for each identifiable mold spore. Thus, most mirco-particulates are not able to be removed through conventional remediation methods with HEPA-vacuums, air scrubbers, or negative air machines, because they are just too small to be captured with the usual filtration equipment. (Even the highest-quality HEPA filters sometimes cannot capture particulates smaller than .1 microns).”
- Fungal balls are clumps of mold that exist in a body cavity such as a sinus or an organ such as a lung. Once mold spores and fragments settle in a cavity and are able to grow free because the immune system isn’t able to control the invasion. They multiple and form balls, which can also include dead tissue, mucus and other debris.
- Fungal balls have been known to invade into a blood vessel, which can result in bleeding. They can also find their way into the ear canal and even heart valves. Treatment usually involves surgery and/or antifungal medications.
Mold Toxicity – Mold’s Chemical Weapon
Mycotoxins are secondary chemicals produced by microscopic fungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals at low concentrations. You can’t see them, like you can see mold. But mycotoxins can wreak havoc on essentially any system in your body, leading to a confusing malaise of chronic symptoms. (Keep in mind that there are hundreds of mold toxins, each with many possible effects.)
In other words, molds threaten humans and animals with chemical warfare if they sense they are in danger. Human exposure to mycotoxins is generally through diet, skin and inhalation. For more in-depth information on mycotoxins, read The Toxic Effects of Fungal Exposure, and other articles in the ‘Fungal Infections’ category under Mold Basics in the main menu.
Moldy Food as a Poison
Some molds make people sick when eaten. Food molds live on plant and animal matter. When spores fall on a piece of damp food, they grow into mold. Mold feeds itself by producing chemicals that break down food and make it start to rot. As the food matter rots, the mold grows.
If you watch a moldy piece of food for a few days, it will generally turn black. Those tiny black dots are spores. These spores can be spread by air, water, insects, animals and people to food opportunities.
Mycotoxins are a big problem in food. These poisonous substances are found primarily in grain and nut crops, but are also known to be on celery, grapes (including juice and wine), apples, berries and other produce.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 25% of the world’s food crops are affected by mycotoxins³, of which the worst are aflatoxins. Aflatoxin is a cancer-causing poison produced by certain mold in or on foods and feeds, especially in corn, peanuts, livestock.
They are also found in domestic animals and humans throughout the world. The U.S. (along with many other countries) tries to limit exposure to aflatoxin by regulating and monitoring it presence in food and feed.
The prevention of aflatoxin is probably the most pressing toxicology issues today. In addition, mold can grow in the harshest of conditions. It prefers a nice warm environment, but it can live in your refrigerator and on your dishcloths and cleaning utensils.
Although boiling (140 degrees F or higher) may kill the mold, the mycotoxins may not be totally destroyed., or freezing. The best choice – don’t eat moldy foods. Click here for more details on eating and preparing food.
We also recommend you read the Mold-Help Diet to help individuals with mold sensitives and illnesses to choose appropriate mold-free foods.
Remove the Source!
If you are experiencing symptoms that you cannot explain and you cannot figure out why, you may be suffering from mold sickness. Although you cannot avoid molds outside, limiting your exposure inside is the first step (consider both home and work!). With high, cumulative exposure to the most potent mycotoxins, everyone gets sick. Remove the mold source!