The Sneeze

Understanding Mold Allergies

September 20, 2023

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Did you know mold spores can cause allergy and asthma symptoms just like pollen can?

The Fall season in Ohio can be a worse time for mold exposure due to increased dead organic material in the environment (fallen leaves, weed/grass clippings).

What is mold?

"Mold" is a general term for many types of fungi, which are plant-like organisms that

  1. Do not have chlorophyll
  2. Do not have leaves, flowers, or roots
  3. Consume organic nutrients
  4. Reproduce from spores

Examples of things that are considered "molds": yeast, smut, mushroom, mold.

-Molds are ubiquitous in the environment, indoors and outside and so they cannot be fully avoided.

-Molds grow in high humidity and low sunlight--think rainy days, musty basements, soil beds, forest floors, etc.

-Molds are an important part of the ecosystem as they "recycle" organic material like fallen leaves, grass clippings, dead animals, and more.

-Molds produce fruiting bodies called spores which are microscopic and can become airborne.  These mold spores can cause allergy symptoms, just like pollen, in people with mold allergy!

-Mold spores can settle onto a surface and produce branches or hyphae that helps it consume organic material from the surface. As a mold grows in this way, it can become visible to the naked eye. Molds can have a variety of colors, including colorless, white, gray, black, yellow, and green.
-As molds grow, they emit organic compounds and vapors that we can detect as a "musty" smell.

-Mold can cause medical problems including mold allergy (itchy/red eyes, nasal/sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing, ear congestion), asthma (chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, cough), and rarely infections.

Evaluation by an allergist can help determine if you have a mold allergy.

Measures that can reduce indoor mold exposure:

  1. Reduce relative humidity <50% (don't run a humidifier in the bedroom!)
  2. Repair water leaks quickly
  3. Treat washable surfaces with detergent and water and then allow to dry completely
  4. Remove any mold-contaminated carpet, wallpaper, and/or wood from the home

Measures for reducing outdoor mold exposure:

  1. Monitor mold/pollen counts and keep windows closed and turn air conditioning on when mold counts are high (typically when the weather is rainy or humid)
  2. Frequent dusting and vacuuming
  3. Minimize dead organic material around the home (fallen leaves for example)

Since molds cannot be fully avoided despite the above avoidance measures, one of the strongest treatments available for mold allergies and asthma is allergen immunotherapy.