Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Health Care and Household Mold

Have you ever noticed a musty smell in your bathroom, closet, or other areas of the house, especially in areas near water? Mold: it's as old as the Earth and it's everywhere- inside homes and out.  And under the right set of conditions, it can actually start to grow inside your house, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The NAHB reports that Mold is alive, but it is neither a plant nor an animal. Mold is a type of fungus. It is part of a group of living organisms that are very common and serve an important role in the environment. Penicillin, an antibiotic that has saved many lives, is a type of mold, as is yeast. However, mold can grow on bread and other types of food, making it unfit to eat. Mold can grow on the walls, floors and ceilings of your home as well as on your personal possessions. People often refer to some household molds as mildew, although the term also can apply to molds found outdoors.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), 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-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).
 
Allergic reactions to mold are common, according to the EPA. 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 non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold. Research on mold and health effects is ongoing. This brochure provides a brief overview; it does not describe all potential health effects related to mold exposure. For more detailed information consult a health professional. You may also wish to consult your state or local health department.

Mold spreads by creating reproductive cells called spores and sending them into the environment. Mold spores are too small to detect with the naked eye, according to the NAHB. They are everywhere around us and you cannot avoid being exposed to them. Mold spores travel in the air and attach to people's skin, clothing, shoes, shopping bags and belongings. Other ways spores can enter your home invisibly are:

--Through open doors and windows.
--Through your home's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
--On the fur of a pet.

Once spores enter, they can settle onto carpeting or other surfaces inside your home. You cannot keep spores out of your home, but regular home cleaning and maintenance often can prevent mold problems before they arise. More info can be found on the this subject on the NAHB site: http://www.moldtips.com/whatis.htm.

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, according to the EPA. 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, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back. Lots of detailed material can also be found on the EPA site: http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.html.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. The CDC does have precise information about how often Stachybotrys chartarum is found in buildings and homes. While it is less common than other mold species, it is not rare. And what about toxic mold? The term "toxic mold" is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.

A common-sense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes, according to the CDC. The common health concerns from molds include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the home.  Much more info can be found on the CDC site: http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm.

Household mold is certainly unsightly and inconvenient. However, unless you have immune deficiencies or serious allergies to mold for your health, there is not really any imminent danger. If you have concerns, talk with your medical provider or family physician.

Until next time.

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