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Winter Sniffles

Could Mold Be the Culprit?

Allergy image

Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and dead trees. But indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on wet surfaces. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.

Can mold cause health problems?
Molds do have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay-fever-like symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed.

Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and nonallergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold.

How do I get rid of mold?
It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. However, the mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don’t fix the water problem, the mold problem will most likely come back.

Allergic reactions to mold are common. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.

When cleaning moldy areas, avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. In order to limit your exposure to airborne mold, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores. (They cost about $12 to $25.) Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust-mask with a nozzle on the front; others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap most of the mold spores and keep them from entering. In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator.

Wear gloves and goggles when cleaning up mold. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves may be used. If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC. Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended. Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands, and avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.

The following are tips to help rid your home of mold and moisture:

  • When water leaks or spills occur indoors, act quickly. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried within 24 to 48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.
  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
  • Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
  • Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 percent and 50 percent) relative humidity. Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter (a small, inexpensive instrument available at many hardware stores).
  • If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls, or pipes, act quickly to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture or water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
  • Reduce the humidity in your home.
  • Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters, to the outside where possible. (Combustion appliances, such as stoves and kerosene heaters, produce water vapor and will increase the humidity unless vented to the outside.)
  • Use air conditioners and dehumidifiers when needed.
  • Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering. Use exhaust fans or open windows when cooking, running the dishwasher, or dishwashing.
  • Increase ventilation or air movement by opening doors and windows when practical. Use fans as needed.
  • Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation.
  • Increase the air temperature within your home.
 

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2010-2011.