When you’re cleaning, it’s a great feeling to get rid of clutter, refresh your home, and start fresh. However, we often forget about an uninvited guest that tends to be well hidden: mold! Allergies to mold are more common than one would think and often remain untested leading to non-stop cold-like symptoms.
What is mold?
I’m sure we all are familiar with the fuzzy-looking substance that grows on expired items in the fridge, but are we aware of the unseen mold particles drifting through the air? These tiny particles are called mold spores. Mold is a subgroup in the fungi kingdom which includes yeasts, molds, and mushrooms. Mold spores are the small reproductive cells that spread through the air and may cause allergies. These spores can be found in diverse conditions, making this allergen difficult to tame. Mold spores can survive in dry environments, but they favor warm and damp environments (both indoors or outdoors).
Mold can be defined as a fungal growth prone to growing on organic matter, a common example being wood. They grow all year round and have many different species. Conditions such as moisture and dampness help molds thrive, and the environment plays a significant role in how molds reproduce. Exposure to mold can happen indoors and outdoors and are essentially unavoidable. You can find mold outside in the form of birch and pollen, while indoor mold can range from house dust (yes, house dust!) to black mold.
Why are we allergic to mold?
Mold exposure usually happens via inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion. According to some physicians, the toxins that mold produces (known as mycotoxins) have various effects and are believed to induce negative neurological symptoms. Molds have different levels of toxicity and may trigger various allergic reactions. The reason why every mold has a different level of toxicity is because of its amino acid sequence. Amino acids are proteins, and depending on the mold’s protein sequence, this determines how it will function- particularly how it will be involved in the host’s immune system. Mold releases spores which is what may trigger an immune response in the human body. This response can be immediate (IgE) or delayed (IgG/IgA).
Why should we test for mold?
Knowing if you are allergic to mold can be informative in symptom management, informing how to best clean your home, and even can help pick future locations to live in. Risk factors that may prompt one to get tested include houses with high humidity, poor ventilation, or excess moisture. Typically, mold allergy symptoms occur in the upper respiratory tract and consist of sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, cough, postnasal drip, itchy or watery eyes, irritated throat, and dry skin. People who have asthma are at greater risk because this allergy can trigger a severe asthma attack. These symptoms affect the lower respiratory tract and include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
Which tests are effective for mold?
Alletess’ mold panel tests various antibodies (IgE, IgA, and IgG) to provide the most accurate picture. IgE is used for acute reactions whereas IgA and IgG are used for delayed reactions.
If you suspect you have a mold allergy, or think you have been exposed, reach out to your doctor about ordering a Mold Immunoreactivity Panel to confirm exposure, allergy, and sensitivity.
What can you do after your tests come back positive?
While it can be frustrating to receive positive results on a mold allergy panel, here are some things you can do to limit your exposure. When outside, avoid fallen leaves, compost piles, wooded areas, and cut grass. Mold tends to thrive in these areas because of the dead plant matter. Additionally, limit outdoor activities when it is a windy or rainy day, as mold spores favor damp environments and can easily be transported in the air.
Mold spores can thrive inside as well, but indoor precautions can be made to prevent mold from growing in the home. Mold favors damp environments, so keep humidity levels below 50%. This can be done with a dehumidifier, but make sure to clean and empty it regularly. Also, use a HEPA filter attachment in your air conditioning system to trap mold spores and prevent them from circulating indoors. Be sure to keep all bathrooms well-ventilated. After running the shower, turn on the ventilation fan or open the door to let the moisture in the air dry.
Mold Elimination Plan:
If you look at the figure above, you will see that this patient tested positive for a few different molds, for both acute (IgE) and delayed (IgG/IgA) reactions. Since this patient has a positive result to mold, they will receive a mold elimination plan, which will guide them through common sources of mold, mold prevention and removal tips, descriptions of molds tested, and more.
Once this patient has received their mold elimination plan, they start implementing small changes into their routine such as checking the humidity levels in their home, cleaning air vents, removing houseplants, and more. They also avoid foods that naturally contain mold, such as cheese, smoked meats, sour cream, and others.
Although mold is impossible to avoid all together, with the help of this patient’s test results and the guidance with the mold elimination plan, they were able to manage their symptoms better and avoid environments that they now know are likely to have high mold counts.
This patient has seen a decrease in their cold-like symptoms, and a noticeable increase in their energy levels and duration of sleep.