If you have an allergy that never ends when seasons change, you may be allergic to the spores of molds or other fungi. Molds live everywhere, and disturbing a mold source can disperse the spores into the air.
WHAT IS MOLD ALLERGY?
Mold and mildew are fungi. They differ from plants or animals in how they reproduce and grow. The “seeds,” called spores, are spread by the wind outdoors and by air indoors. Some spores are released in dry, windy weather, while others are released with the fog or dew when humidity is high.
Inhaling the spores can cause allergic reactions in some people. Allergic symptoms from fungus spores are most common from July to late summer. But with fungi growing in so many places, allergic reactions can occur year round.
Many molds grow on rotting logs and fallen leaves, in compost piles, on grasses and grains. Unlike pollens, molds do not die with the first killing frost, or become dormant during the winter. In the spring they grow on plants killed by the cold. Indoors, fungi grow in damp areas, particularly in the bathroom, kitchen or basement.
WHO GETS ALLERGY?
It is common for people to get mold allergy if they or other family members are allergic to substances such as pollen or animal dander. People may become allergic to only mold or fungi or they may also have problems with dust mites, pollens and other spores. People in some occupations have more exposure to mold and are at greater risk of developing allergies. Farmers, dairymen, loggers, bakers, mill workers, carpenters, greenhouse employees, wine makers and furniture repairers are at increased risk. Fungi on houseplants can cause an allergic reaction, but this is only likely to happen if the soil is disturbed.
There is only weak evidence that allergic symptoms are caused by food fungi (e.g., mushrooms, dried fruit, food’s containing yeast, vinegar, or soy sauce). It is more likely that reactions to food fungi are caused by the food’s direct effect on blood vessels. For example, histamine may be present because of the fermentation of red wines.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The symptoms of mold allergy are very similar to the symptoms of other allergies, such as sneezing, itching, itchy eyes, nasal discharge, congestion, and dry, scaling skin. Some people with mold allergies may have allergy symptoms the entire summer because of outdoor molds or year-round if symptoms are due to indoor molds.
Mold spores can deposit on the lining of the nose and cause hay fever symptoms. They also can reach the lungs causing asthma or another serious illness called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis.
Sometimes the reaction is immediate, and sometimes the reaction is delayed if symptoms worsen in a damp or moldy room such as a basement; this may suggest mold allergy.
HOW IS MOLD ALLERGY TREATED?
As with most allergies, patients should avoid contact with the spores. Wear a dust mask when cutting grass, digging around plants, picking up leaves and disturbing other plant materials. Reduce the humidity to below 40% indoors to prevent fungi from growing. Take medications for nasal or other allergic symptoms. Antihistamines and decongestants can be prescribed. For moderate to severe allergy symptoms prescribe corticosteroid nasal sprays and possible immunization therapy may be necessary.
HOW CAN I PREVENT A REACTION TO MOLD?
Stay indoors during periods when the published mold count is high. This will lessen the amount you inhale. Mold spores are “counted” by collecting a sample of particulates in the air, then identifying and counting the mold spores in the sample. Use central air conditioning with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attachment. The goal is to keep humidity below 45 percent, and preferably about 35 percent. If humidifiers are necessary, scrub the fluid reservoirs at least twice a week to prevent mold growth with a vinegar and water or bleach and water combination. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can also be a source of mold and should be cleaned.
To prevent mold and mildew build-up inside the home, especially in bathrooms, basements and laundry areas, be aggressive about reducing dampness:
put an exhaust fan or open a window in the bathroom.
Quickly repair any plumbing leaks.
Remove bathroom carpeting where moisture is a concern.
Scour sinks and tubs at least monthly. Fungi thrive on soap and other films that coat tiles and grout.
For problem areas, use ordinary laundry bleach (1 ounce diluted in a quart of water).
Fungicides (chemicals that kill fungus) are less important than a good scrubbing. Fungicides may be added to paint, primer or wallpaper paste to slow fungus growth on treated areas, but this will have little effect if excess moisture remains.
Clean garbage pails frequently.
Clean refrigerator door gaskets and drip pans.
Repair basement plumbing leaks, blocked drains, poorly vented clothes dryers and water seepage through walls.
Use an electric dehumidifier to remove moisture from the basement. Be sure to drain the dehumidifier regularly and clean the condensation coils and collection bucket.
Raise the temperature in the basement to help lover humidity levels.
Small space heaters or a low-wattage light bulb may be useful in damp closets. Be careful where they are placed to avoid creating a fire hazard.
Polyurethane and rubber foams seem especially prone to fungus invasion. If bedding is made with these foams, it should be covered in plastic.
Throw away or recycle old books, newspapers, clothing or bedding.
Promote ground water drainage away from a house.
With fall here, and the leaves falling, it is important that we think of MOLD as one of the major causes of allergies.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please contact Dr. Schwartz’s office at 702.647.2900