While many things may cause runny noses and itchy eyes, if you’re experiencing them chronically in your home or another place you frequent, you may have a mold allergy.
Mold spores occur naturally in the environment and don’t cause problems for everyone. But some people are especially sensitive to certain types of mold and may experience allergic responses when they encounter them.
Like other allergies, mold allergies result from an overactive immune response to mold spores, which the body perceives as dangerous invaders. In trying to defend itself from these invaders, the immune system releases chemicals that can cause itching, congestion or other responses typical of allergies.
Mold allergy symptoms to know
It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a mold allergy from other types of allergies
, especially since some types of outdoor mold fluctuate with the seasons. Many weather apps include outdoor mold forecasts that may help you pinpoint the sources of your symptoms.
Mold allergies may cause symptoms very similar to the common cold
, such as a runny nose, congestion, coughing, or sneezing. Mold allergy symptoms can also include watery or itchy eyes or itchy nose, lips, or skin. Mold allergies may also trigger asthma.
People sensitive to mold may experience symptoms outdoors when mold counts are higher, or indoors if excess moisture has led to mold growth.
The CDC reports that
early exposure to mold may be linked to the development of childhood asthma. According to the CDC, there isn’t sufficient evidence to demonstrate that mold exposure causes more severe health problems in otherwise healthy people. In rare instances, mold spores in the lungs can cause inflammation requiring medical treatment. Such severe reactions to mold tend to occur primarily in those with suppressed immune function or cystic fibrosis.
Sources of mold that may provoke allergies & what to do about them
There are thousands of types of mold in the environment, and only some cause allergies. Mold is most likely to bring on allergy symptoms in people sensitive to it when naturally-occurring spores multiply in moist environments.
Indoor humidity levels above 50% can encourage mold growth. In winter, running a humidifier or not ventilating bathrooms after showers can lead to higher-than-optimal humidity levels. Moist summer air can also create indoor humidity levels that encourage mold growth. Use an inexpensive humidity monitor called a hygrometer to keep tabs on indoor humidity and adjust it as necessary.
In fall, accumulating leaves are a common source of mold, so let someone who isn’t sensitive to the mold they harbor do the raking. If outdoor mold exposure is the problem, washing clothes and taking a shower when you come in from outside can help lessen the amount of mold (as well as other allergens) you’re exposed to.
At the holidays, live Christmas trees that have been stored for several months may have mold that can aggravate a mold allergy. Finding a tree that has been harvested recently or cutting one yourself may reduce the opportunity for mold to grow.
Controlling mold growth in your home
Your first step in addressing mold allergies is preventing mold from growing in the first place. If mold is caused by moisture coming from a leak in your pipes or roof, you’ll need to deal with those problems first, and then hire professionals to remediate any mold that has grown in those areas. If any area of your home has flooded, it’s important to get it cleaned up quickly, before mold has the opportunity to start growing, ideally within 24 to 48 hours.
For living areas prone to mold buildup, such as a bathroom, making sure you have a quality exhaust fan to remove moist air is step number one. If humidity remains a problem, consider a dehumidifier, which can also help in chronically moist areas, like basements.
Once you’ve addressed the sources of mold-promoting moisture, removing visible mold is the next step. For areas smaller than ten square feet, the EPA
says homeowners can tackle the project themselves, but for larger areas they suggest hiring a professional.
using detergent and water to scrub mold from hard surfaces. White vinegar
and tea tree oil may help kill some kinds of mold
. Porous materials like carpeting or ceiling tile may need to be removed, as cleaning the mold growing inside may not be possible.
One other source of moisture that’s less well understood by the average homeowner: household humidity in winter. Those of us who live in cold climates have to deal with dry skin
from heated indoor air and often humidify our living spaces in order to combat it. However, when we do this during the colder months, the moist air from inside our homes condenses on windows and in wall cavities, which can cause mold to grow, even when we’re keeping humidity levels below the recommended 50%. To limit mold growth, the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America
suggests keeping indoor humidity below 35%, which should also help with condensation in the building envelope.
Ways to alleviate mold allergy symptoms
After addressing sources of mold and controlling humidity, some simple home solutions like lozenges
can help soothe common symptoms like congestion and coughing.
Because allergies are caused by histamine reactions, antihistamines will help stop the response. Many natural allergy remedies
, including some that target mold sensitivities
, may be worth trying as well.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what precisely you’re allergic to. A quality air purifier
with a hepa filter can help remove not only mold spores, but other allergens in your home, such as pet dander or dust
If mold allergies continue to bother you, consider consulting an allergy specialist for treatment options.