Black mold has become an increasing health risk in our society as more and more people are exposed to its effects. In fact a 1999 Mayo Clinic Study showed that almost all chronic sinus infections resulted from an exposure to molds and a 1999 USA Today Cover Story reported that the asthma rate has increased almost 300% due to molds.
Black mold, known by its scientific name Stachybotrys chartarum, is a toxic fungus that occurs naturally and is capable of growing both indoors and out. When growing outdoors it is relatively benign growing in moist soils, rotting wood and manure. Inside it will grow in a wide variety of materials that absorb moisture including drywall, plaster lathe, carpet, cellulose insulation, wood framing and flooring, among others.
Mold that grows indoors poses an increasing health risk due to the poor ventilation found in older buildings and the increasing energy efficiency (tight building practices) found in newer buildings and homes. Anywhere excess moisture occurs, particularly after floods or some other form of water damage, Stachybotrys fungi will thrive.
The most common health risk to black mold is an allergic reaction. These are normally hay-fever type reactions that make sufferers miserable but aren’t that serious. Unfortunately there are certain allergic reactions to mold that are much more serious.
• Mold Induced Asthma – People with mold allergies can have an asthma attack if they breathe in airborne spores. These attacks can be much more severe then a “normal” asthma attack and those who are susceptible to them need to have an emergency plan in place if and when they occur.
• Allergic Fungal Sinusitis – This happens when fungal spores get stuck in the sinus cavities and begin to grow creating a fungal ball that in some instances can only be removed through surgery.
• Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis – Those who suffer from asthma or cystic fibrosis are prone to getting this type of fungal infection in their lungs.
• Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis – Although rare this condition, in which the lungs become inflamed, can be caused by exposure to mold spores and other airborne particles.
Other health risks posed by black mold also include infections, and irritant and toxic reactions called mycotoxicosis.
Infections, or invasive diseases, caused by mold exposure can cause a number of symptoms. These include flu-like symptoms, skin infections, and in severe cases pneumonia. Most often infectious mold diseases are limited to infants, the young, and the elderly. Those with compromised immune systems from auto-immune disorders and those receiving immunosuppressive drugs for transplants or chemotherapy are also at a high risk for these types of infections.
Irritation and toxic reactions are caused by substances known as mycotoxins which are secondary metabolites (toxins) produced by molds. Different molds produce different mycotoxins but in most cases these substances are toxic chemicals that cause adverse reactions in other living organisms, including humans. Most often they cause irritation and reactions in the central nervous system and mucous membranes. Symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, a cough, and headache and skin irritations. In more extreme cases you may have trouble concentrating, experience dizziness or nervousness, and have severe fatigue.
There are a myriad of black mold health risks, some more serious then others. If you think you have a toxic mold problem it is important to get you home or building tested. This can be done by professionals or you can find do-it-yourself kits by doing an online search or at your local big box store. The best way to combat the health risks associated with mold is to remove it and prevent its re-growth.