There is a hidden agent out there, often invisible and lurking in our homes, infecting the air we breathe, constantly challenging our immune systems and sometimes making us sick. This nefarious agent of disease is mold.
Mold is an ancient microorganism, adapted to moist environments, which digests decaying material. Neither plant nor animal, mold is a member of the fungus family. It reproduces through the formation of tiny particles known as spores, which are released into the air.
Want to try an experiment? Unseal a new package of cheese and leave it for 30 minutes on your kitchen counter then seal it back up. Put this and a sealed package of the same cheese in your refrigerator and watch. Within days you will begin to notice the characteristic green or gray spots developing more quickly on the cheese in the opened package. These developed from mold spores in the air of your home. Mold is everywhere.
Fortunately for most of us with a healthy immune system, the constant internal battle against the mold we ingest or inhale is a battle we can win. Very few people are sickened by it.
The most common physical ailments associated with mold are from allergy or sensitivity to mold exposure.
Allergy to mold often mimics hay fever. Common symptoms of mold allergy include nasal stuffiness, runny nose, scratchy throat, itchy and watery eyes, and sneezing.
For mold allergy sufferers, symptoms may be constant rather than the seasonal symptoms experienced by those allergic to pollens in the air (which vary based upon time of the year). These symptoms commonly are caused by unseen exposures in the home, particularly in constantly damp places where mold thrives.
Mold also can produce hypersensitivity reactions among those especially susceptible. Symptoms may include coughing and difficulty breathing.
People with weakened immune systems such as from AIDS, those who use certain medications that suppress the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis medications, the elderly and those with chronic diseases of the lungs including severe asthma and emphysema are at risk from mold infections.
Building conditions such as water leaks, flooding, high humidity (relative humidity levels higher than 40 to 60 percent), and condensation can lead to mold growth.
Examples of home conditions that promote mold growth include rainfall through leaky roofs, plumbing leaks, flooding damage, water collection in basements or crawl spaces and condensation from cooling devices. Homes should be inspected when these conditions exist, particularly if there is a musty smell. Visible molds should be removed.
Mold cleanup should be performed only by healthy people wearing appropriate protective equipment such as masks and gloves. Contaminated materials should be placed in a sealed container or bag before disposal. Nonabsorbent surfaces then should be cleaned with a
10 percent bleach solution (1½ cups bleach to 1 gallon of water) for 15 minutes, rinsed with water and allowed to dry.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a
board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Southern Ute Health Center in Ignacio.