Indoor Air Quality Program

Mold in the Home

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Health Effects of Mold

How am I exposed to indoor molds?
Mold is found everywhere, indoors and outdoors. It is common to find mold spores in the air of homes and growing on damp surfaces. Much of the mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources. Therefore, everyone is exposed to some mold on a daily basis without evident harm. Mold spores primarily cause health problems when they enter the air and are inhaled in large numbers. People can also be exposed to mold through skin contact and eating.

How much mold can make me sick?
It depends. For some people, a relatively small number of mold spores can cause health problems. For other people, it may take many more. The basic rule is, if you can see or smell it, take steps to eliminate the excess moisture, and to cleanup and remove the mold.

Who is at greater risk when exposed to mold?
Exposure to mold is not healthy for anyone inside buildings. It is important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before health problems develop. The following individuals appear to be at higher risk for adverse health effects of molds:

  • infants and children
  • elderly
  • immune compromised patients (people with HIV infection, cancer chemotherapy, liver disease, etc.)
  • pregnant women
  • individuals with existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, and asthma

People with these special concerns should consult a physician if they are having health problems.

What symptoms are common?
Allergic reactions may be the most common health problem of mold exposure. Typical symptoms reported (alone or in combination) include:

  • respiratory problems, such as wheezing, and difficulty in breathing
  • nasal and sinus congestion
  • eyes-burning, watery, reddened, blurry vision, light sensitivity
  • dry, hacking cough
  • sore throat nose and throat irritation
  • shortness of breath
  • skin irritation
  • central nervous system problems (constant headaches, memory problems, and mood changes)
  • aches and pains
  • possible fever

Are some molds more hazardous than others?
Allergic persons vary in their sensitivities to mold, both as to amount and type needed to cause reactions. In addition, certain types of molds can produce toxins, called mycotoxins, that the mold uses to inhibit or prevent the growth of other organisms. Mycotoxins are found in both living and dead mold spores.

Materials permeated with mold need to be removed, even after they are disinfected with cleaning solutions. Allergic and toxic effects can remain in dead spores. Exposure to mycotoxins may present a greater hazard than that of allergenic or irritative molds. Mycotoxins have been found in homes, agricultural settings, food, and office buildings.