How to Deal With Exposure to Potentially Toxic Mold

Three Parts:Recognizing Potential Mold ProblemsTreating Respiratory ProblemsGetting Rid of Mold in Your Home

There has been a lot of media buzz about the potential side effects of exposure to mold. The terms "deadly mold" and "toxic mold" are actually inaccurate, as molds themselves are not deadly or toxic. Some molds can produce toxins, and may cause respiratory problems under certain conditions.[1] Although the scientific community has not reached a consensus about the effects of exposure to mold, if you are worried about exposure to mold in your home, school, or workplace, there are some ways to monitor yourself for potential side effects and get rid of the mold.

Part 1
Recognizing Potential Mold Problems

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    Determine if harmful mold is present. Mold is present everywhere, including in the air we breathe, and it is usually harmless. Only certain types of mold are potentially hazardous to your health. These types produce "mycotoxins," which have been linked to respiratory symptoms similar to hay fever.[2]
    • Common species of mold that grow in the home include Cladosporium, Alternaria, Epicoccum, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus.[3][4]
    • Since mold is present everywhere, just seeing mold in your home is not necessarily cause for concern. Large mold damage in a home or other building usually produces a tale-tell smell, which is musky and damp.
    • Look for mold in areas of the building that have exposure to moisture and humidity, such as tiles in the bathroom, warm air humidifiers, or ceiling panels that might get wet from a leaky roof. Mold tends to grow best on materials that have a high cellulose (paper) content, like fiberboard, paper, and lint.[5]
    • While some people say that dangerous molds tend to be black or dark green in color, it is impossible to tell if a mold is dangerous or not by just looking at it. The Center for Disease Control recommends that all indoor mold damage be treated as potentially hazardous.[6] Don't touch mold with your bare hands, and if you feel that you are becoming ill because of exposure to mold, you may need to take steps to get rid of the mold.
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    Identify possible symptoms of exposure to mold toxins. Only certain respiratory symptoms have been linked to indoor mold. Keep in mind that while mold may be causing your symptoms, these symptoms can also be caused by other problems with indoor air quality like dust, smoke, and animal dander, or by seasonal allergens like pollen and ragweed.[7][8]
    • Scientific studies have linked asthma-like symptoms like cough, wheeze, and upper respiratory tract infections to indoor exposure to mold. Early exposure to mold in children can also make children more susceptible to developing asthma.[9]
    • Severe reactions might include a fever and shortness of breath, but these types of reactions usually only occur when a very large amount of mold is present (such as among farm workers working with very moldy hay).[10]
    • There have been some reports of very rare effects like memory loss or pulmonary hemorrhage, but there have been no studies that have shown a link between these rare conditions and mold.[11]
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    Identify any risk factors in people exposed to molds. Most molds are harmless, and even molds that produce toxins don’t typically bother otherwise healthy people with strong immune systems.[12] However, some molds do cause respiratory symptoms, especially among people who are already vulnerable to respiratory infection:
    • Mold may be more dangerous to people with suppressed immune systems, cancer, or HIV.
    • People with other allergies, such as a sensitivity to dust or pollen, may also be more susceptible to mold allergies.[13]
    • If you have chronic respiratory disease, you may be susceptible to difficulty breathing.[14]
    • People who have suppressed immune systems, either from using certain medications or from specific medical conditions, may have a greater risk of infection from molds, as may people with lung disease.[15]
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    Treat the symptoms, and eliminate the mold. If you are having respiratory or other symptoms and feel that mold is the culprit, you can treat your symptoms for relief, but you will also need to eliminate the source of mold. Otherwise, treating your symptoms will most likely be ineffective, since more exposure to the mold will only bring back the symptoms.
    • See a doctor for en evaluation and tests to find out if mold is to blame for your illness.Your doctor can perform skin and blood tests to find out if you are suffering from some sort of infection caused by your exposure to mold.
    • You will need to have your home evaluated if you find out that you have an illness caused by mold. Call a professional to deal with extensive mold damage. Search your local area for experts who deal with water damage or environmental hazards. They can advise you on the best way to eliminate the mold in your home or other building.

Part 2
Treating Respiratory Problems

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    Call your doctor. If you are experiencing any strange symptoms, you should always contact a doctor first before trying to treat it on your own. A doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms, and provide medical support as you work to eliminate the cause and treat the symptoms.
    • A doctor will also be able to monitor your symptoms to see if they worsen and identify any potential underlying causes not associated with mold, such as the flu, hay fever, or other issues.
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    Try an antihistamine. The most common symptoms people report from exposure to mold are the same symptoms you might experience if you have bad seasonal allergies, since people can be allergic to the spores.[16] If you think you might be allergic to mold, you should see an allergist if you can. Antihistamines can help relieve the symptoms of itching, sneezing, and runny noses, but they won't treat the underlying cause.[17]
    • You can get loratadine (Claritin or Alavert) or cetirizine (sold as Zyrtec) over the counter, or ask your doctor for a prescription if you need a higher strength. These come in kid-friendly chewable tablets, liquid, and pill form.[18]
    • You can also use antihistamines that come in a nasal spray, such as azelastine (Astepro) or olopatadine (Patanase). These are only available with a prescription.[19]
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    Consider a nasal corticosteroid for congestion.[20] Exposure to mold may lead to symptoms of congestion, such as a runny nose and clogged sinuses. Nasal corticosteroids can be used to decrease the congestion in your nose and sinuses.
    • Be aware of the possibility of developing "rebound symptoms" (symptoms that return) when you stop using the medication. This sometimes occurs following heavy or repeated use of nasal corticosteroids.[21]
    • Remember that nasal corticosteroids do not treat the mold itself; rather, they simply work to alleviate symptoms commonly associated with mold toxicity.
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    Try an antifungal medication.[22] To treat exposure to mold toxins, physicians sometimes prescribe oral antifungals. These work "systemically" (throughout your body) to attack any fungi (mold) that may be present.[23]
    • The downside to antifungal medications is that, in addition to killing off any fungi (or mold), they can also be damaging to human cells if taken over a long period of time. They can cause liver and kidney damage, so most doctors will want to monitor your use of antifungals and discontinue it after a short period of time.

Part 3
Getting Rid of Mold in Your Home

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    Call a professional. If you believe you have toxic mold in your home, do not try to rip it out or clean it yourself. A professional has the right equipment and knowledge to safely remove damaged areas of ceiling, wall, or tile without further exposing you to more spores from the mold.[24]
    • You can do an internet search with your city's name and the words "mold removal" or "water damage repair" to find professional repair workers in your area. Ask your friends and family for recommendations, or search for online reviews to find a reputable company.
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    Have an initial inspection. Generally, after you've called a professional, they will come to your residence or other location to inspect for mold.
    • They will provide an assessment of the damage and let you know if the mold requires removal or repair. Then, they will schedule a time to repair the mold damage. If the problem is very severe, be sure they schedule repairs soon. If they don't have any openings, you may want to find another company to do the actual repairs.
    • In the case that you have to wait for repairs, consider staying in a hotel or with a friend if you are concerned about more exposure to the mold. At the very least, close the doors to the affected area and avoid going in there until the mold is repaired.
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    Repair the mold damage. Professionals will bring in equipment to cut out the area of wall, ceiling, or tile that is affected.
    • Sometimes, this repair process can leave a big hole in your ceiling, wall, or floor, and you may need to either repair it yourself or call in another expert to fix this damage.
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    Address the source of water. If you have a real mold problem in your home, it is being fed by excess moisture. You may need to fix your air filtration system in your home, repair a leaky roof, or otherwise eliminate that source of humidity or water that is creating a mold problem.
    • These repairs may be expensive, and in some cases you can file for an insurance claim to pay for repairs to your home. You may also be able to take out a home improvement loan from your bank if you are unable to pay for the repairs outright.

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