Have you experienced itchy eyes and sneezing after looking through boxes of old newspapers, or when staying in a damp dirty house? Do you find your allergy symptoms worsen after raking- up old leaves? If so you could be suffering from mold allergy. Mold is a type of fungus. Unlike plants, fungi do not have seeds. Instead they reproduce by releasing tiny particles called spores into the air. These spores are harmless to most people, but the bodies of people with mold allergy mistake these spores as harmful and react to them, causing a range of unpleasant symptoms.
People who suffer from mold allergy may experience symptoms throughout the year as mold can be present throughout the seasons. However, symptoms are usually at their worst in the fall/autumn, or at other times when it is mild and damp.
Mold spores which cause particular problems
There are many different types of mold. Not all of them cause allergy symptoms. The following molds are the ones most likely to trigger a reaction:
Cladosporium Herbarum is the main trigger for mold allergy. It can be present in poorly ventilated houses, and is found on damp window frames and dirty refrigerators-particularly around the door seal.
Penicillium Notatum is found in rotting leaves and vegetables which have gone off. It is also found on mouldy bread and in soil.
Aspergillus Fumigatus can trigger asthma attacks in some allergy sufferers. It is found in soils, decomposing plants and vegetables and in bird droppings.
Alternaria Alternata is generally found outside, in rotting woodpiles and bird’s nests. It forms the black spots sometimes found on tomatoes.
Symptoms of mould allergy
The symptoms of mold allergy tend to be similar to those of other respiratory allergies such as hay fever. Whilst the severity of symptoms varies from person to person they often include:
- A runny nose
- Itchy eyes, throat or nose
- Coughing, wheezing and other breathing problems
In some cases exposure to mold spores can be the trigger for an asthma attack.
Symptoms can be present all year round or just at times when the concentration of spores in the atmosphere is particularly high.
If you suffer from these symptoms on a regular basis or suspect that you may be suffering from mold allergy then it is worth making an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor will most likely ask you questions about your symptoms and about whether you or any of your relatives have a history of allergies. They may decide to refer you to an allergist for tests. An allergist may do a skin-prick test to help with the diagnosis. During this procedure a tiny amount of allergen is placed on the skin which is then pricked or scraped with a needle. A skin reaction may possibly indicate an allergy to that particular substance. It is also possible, but less likely, that you may be referred for blood tests.
Neither test is 100% accurate, so results have to be interpreted in the context of your full case history.
Management of the condition
If you are diagnosed with an allergy to mold the best way to prevent symptoms is to limit your exposure to mold. Your first priority should be to keep your home as mold-free as possible.
Molds tend to congregate in dark and damp areas such as basements, bathrooms and behind kitchen appliances. Keep the house well ventilated. Open windows, particularly after cooking or after taking a bath or shower. Get rid of old, damp carpets. Regularly clean out your refrigerator and make sure that your tumble drier vent does not release vapour into the house. If an internal wall is damp you should strip away any wallpaper. Do not leave wet clothes to dry inside the home. Throw away moldy food and stale bread immediately. Look out for mold forming on the surface of the soil of indoor plants.
Wash your bathroom walls and windows and shower curtain regularly. You may find anti-mold sprays, which can be bought in most supermarkets, helpful in managing the formation of indoor mold.
If you are the allergy sufferer it might be best, if possible, to get somebody who is allergy-free to clean any mold whilst you are out of the house, rather than doing it yourself, as cleaning the mold away is likely to release spores into the air.
Mould can also be found outside, in piles of rotting leaves, wood and roots, in soil and in garden sheds, compost heaps and anywhere where there are bird droppings. For those with severe mold allergy it may be best to try to stay indoors if possible when the weather is wet, particularly during the fall. Some people find it helpful to wear a mask when raking leaves or mowing the lawn.
Unfortunately, mold is very widespread and it may be impossible to completely avoid it. Even those who take all the recommended measures to limit their exposure to mold spores are likely to suffer occasional symptoms. Speak to your doctor about medications to alleviate symptoms when an allergic reaction does occur. A wide variety of products are available, such as anti-histamines, nasal sprays and eye-drops. Some sufferers find it helps to regularly rinse out the inside of the nose with warm water in which a small amount of salt has been dissolved.