Sometimes you can smell or see mold in your home. Many times you cannot. It may be growing in your home, and could be the reason you feel sick. There are the familiar common mold allergies many struggle with to varying degrees, and then there is mold illness. Mold illness, also known as mold toxicity, is much more serious and is the focus of this article.
Chances are, your regular doctor will not consider mold as a possible source of significant health issues. Conventional medicine doesn’t really believe that mold exposure can cause many health issues beyond common allergies and asthma.
Molds are multiple types of fungi that grow in filaments and reproduce by forming tiny spores that sprout and dissipate in the air. These spores are much too small to be seen by the naked eye. Mold grows in damp, warm, and humid locations, inside and out. Even those living in arid climates such as Arizona and Nevada can have a mold problem if there are water leaks, poorly ventilated bathrooms, or floods.
Mold commonly grows in bathrooms, in the showerhead, and in shower corners, especially if the room is not well ventilated. Leaks behind walls often cause mold to grow, which may go undetected. Mold spores can attach to your shoes, pets, clothes, carpets, papers, books, and furniture. It can circulate in your air system, especially if you do not change your air filters every one to three months. I also recommend having your HVAC duct system professionally cleaned every two to three years.
Water-damaged buildings create a complicated mix of mold, resulting in a toxic chemical “stew.” Mold has the ability to produce mycotoxins. These are present on spores and fragments of mold released into the air. No single toxin is responsible for all mold illness.
It is estimated that about half of the buildings in the United States have been water damaged at some point. The most common cause is water intrusion due to plumbing or roof leaks. How many times have you been in a place of business and noticed ceiling tiles stained from water leaks? Given that most of us spend a significant time at home and indoor workspace, there is a good chance you have been exposed to water damage and mold.
When buying a home or commercial property, I recommend having the property inspected for mold through both air sampling and infrared thermography. An infrared thermogram can see through walls to evaluate for any leaks or moisture problems. After all, a property can be “staged” to look good. A closer inspection using these methods is likely to reveal any underlying mold issues. This does not add much cost to a home inspection. This video gives you an example of what is frequently found behind walls during building inspections:
Mold toxicity falls under the category of biotoxin illness. This is also known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). Ritchie Shoemaker, MD is the author of eight books, including Surviving Mold: Life In The Era of Dangerous Buildings. Here’s how he defines CIRS: “It is an acute and chronic, systemic inflammatory response acquired following exposure to the interior of a water-damaged building with resident toxigenic organisms, including, but not limited to fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, and mycobacterium as well as inflammagens….”
Dr. Shoemaker also goes on to write: “24 percent of people cannot make adequate antibody responses, and they are the ones that comprise over 95 percent of people who have an illness from water-damaged buildings.” This explains why so many have varying degrees of illness to the same mycotoxin.
As Dr. Shoemaker stated, about 24 percent of the population is genetically vulnerable to mold toxicity. These individuals have a mold response gene (HLA-DR). Those with mold susceptibility genes are far more likely to have an adverse reaction to mold when exposed to a sufficient quantity. Ninety-five percent of mold illness occurs in this subgroup. If you are not in this susceptible group, your chances of suffering with mold toxicity are much lower.
Those who are genetically mold susceptible have immune systems that are not able to recognize specific toxins, such as mold, and the toxins get re-circulated in their bodies. As a result, these toxins trigger a persistent inflammatory response. The vast majority of these individuals don’t know that they have a genetic susceptibility.
Remember, mold illness from water-damaged buildings is a very serious health problem. It’s vastly different than allergies to mold. It is a state of chronic inflammation caused by an immune system that has malfunctioned. CIRS does not heal on its own, and will continue to cause illness unless it is treated.
Symptoms of Mold Illness
The possible symptoms of mold illness are many, so it is commonly misdiagnosed or not recognized as the underlying cause of a patient’s condition:
- Brain fog, memory problems, difficulty with concentration
- Weakness, fatigue
- Muscle cramps, aches and pains, joint pain without inflammatory arthritis, persistent nerve pain.
- Numbness and tingling
- Light sensitivity, red eyes, blurred vision
- Sinus congestion, recurrent sinus infection, cough, shortness of breath
- Nerve Pain
- Nausea, diarrhea, appetite changes, abdominal pain
- Metallic taste
- Weight gain despite sufficient effort
- Night sweats
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- “ice pick” pain or “shocks”
Plan of Action
If you suspect that you have mold illness, I recommend you start by reading Dr. Shoemaker’s book, Surviving Mold.
It is wise to have your home tested for mold. One of the better tests is an ERMI. You can do this test yourself, but it may be better to call an environmental professional, who will also be able to do a visual inspection and infrared thermogram.
Consider having your doctor order the genetic susceptibility test for mold, which can be performed by Labcorp. The panel number is # 167120.
For my patients who have mold illness, I have a natural detoxification protocol I have recommended for several years. Many have found it quite effective, and I will be discussing it next week.