This is part two of a three-part series. If you missed the first article you can read it here:
From Mold Illness to Mindfully Healed, Part I: Discovery
Mold toxicity vs. mold allergy
Though misunderstood by many—even in the medical field—there is a difference between mold toxicity and a mold allergy. A mold allergy is what my husband experienced when we pulled off the door frames and found ourselves face-to-face with Stachybotrys, often referred to as “black mold." (There are, however many other “black looking molds"). An allergy elicits an immune response that usually manifests with symptoms in the sinuses and lungs. This response is typically an acute one (at least on the surface) that subsides when a person removes himself from the proximity of mold.
Mold toxicity is primarily caused by the toxins produced by the mold. Some molds produce mycotoxins and some molds do not. It is not only the mycotoxins we need to be aware of, but the cell fragments associated with desiccated mold spores are biotoxins to mold-sensitive individuals that will never show up in a standard mold test. Not only do biotoxins lead to a myriad of symptoms in those with CIRS, but these poisons damage your DNA and ravage your brain cells.[3,4,5] They can enter the body through the lungs, skin, or digestive tract and can affect any part of the body from the immune system to your hormones (and, as I’ve eluded to several times - the brain!)
To take it a step further, many people with CIRS, or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (aka Mold Illness), have trouble getting better as long as they’re exposed to dead mold fragments that can linger for years after the active mold is removed. These fragments, like mold spores, can harbor biotoxins.
If you suffer from “mystery” symptoms of illness that haven’t improved as much as you hoped with medications, dietary protocols, supplements, or holistic treatments, then ongoing exposure to mold could be at the root. If you have a sense that it’s present in your living or work environment then it would be worth exploring further. The following symptoms are just a few of the many dozens that can present with prolonged exposure:
• Fatigue that isn’t remedied with ample sleep
• A hungover feeling absent of alcohol
• Brain fog
• Emotional outbursts, mood swings
• Joint pain and inflammation
• Metal taste
• Vertigo and dizziness
• Memory loss, difficulty focusing, confusion
• Excess urination
• Unusual skin sensations, tingling and numbness
• Small temperature tolerance window
Wrong turns and right moves
When we first suspected mold in our home, we didn’t know where to begin. Plenty of wrong turns and a few right moves over a period of 18 months and our house was finally free of the kryptonite that plagued me.
As I was preparing for this 3-part mold series, I stumbled across an online article targeting realtors concerned that the presence of mold could ruin their commission. While this mold removal company appears to offer some solid and credible advice, their continued emphasis on the lack of sophisticated research to link mold exposure to adverse health effects beyond acute allergies doesn’t mean that living in a moldy home won’t negatively impact the health of those living in it. A deficiency in costly mainstream research doesn’t equal an absence of harm. There is mounting evidence to support this worrisome connection [1,2,3,4,5]. It seems as though this company, and undoubtedly many other mold “specialists” in the U.S., would rather gain business by being the hero who placates the fears of those faced with mold. In downplaying the potential health implications and coming in to save the day, everyone wins, right?
Unfortunately, no. There is a growing number of people challenged with “mystery” illnesses that manifest in symptoms of hypersensitivity to environmental toxins. The basic, and now outdated, mold testing and removal methods just aren’t cutting it for this population.
Just cut out the moldy spot and bleach it.
Fortunately, this method of removal is becoming increasingly discouraged. There are many safer and more effective ways to address mold contamination. While contractors and homeowners may still reach for the Clorox in many cases, it should be reserved for hard surfaces like bathtubs and tiles. One part bleach to 10 parts water is all you need to kill surface mold growth. Remember, bleach is corrosive and toxic - definitely not something those with chemical sensitivities or mystery illnesses should be inhaling. If that’s not enough, the EPA and OSHA specifically advise against using bleach for mold remediation. If bleach is mixed with ammonia it can create a deadly cocktail capable of overwhelming anyone in close proximity.
All mold is bad.
Mold is a natural organism ever-present in our environment. It breaks down dead leaves, aids in the making of certain types of cheeses (and chocolate!), and is the basis of modern antibiotics like Penicillin. Additionally, outdoor mold spores compete with the varieties found inside homes, essentially helping to keep them under control. When building practices began to change in the 70s and 80s with the addition of HVAC systems and air-tight construction, homes lost the benefits that came along with indoor-outdoor air flow. Trapped unfiltered air, increased humidity, and a surge in building materials conducive to mold growth over the past few decades have led to a mold epidemic the magnitude of which we’re only just beginning to uncover. This article goes into further detail: http://moldfreeliving.com/2017/12/01/indoor-vs-outdoor-mold/
Air-sampling will indicate the presence of mold and safety of the environment.
Air-sampling will indicate the presence of mold and safety of the environment. Standard mold testing counts mold spores. Mold sensitive clients with biotoxin illness require a deeper level of testing. The spore trap mold testing method is often a waste of money for mold sensitive individuals. There are just too many variables involved including, time and place of the testing and the sample size collected. Simply turning on or off a fan in the midst of these short-term measurements can impact the results! If mold is physically detected, then it needs to be investigated and removed, regardless of the results of a five minute snapshot air-sampling test. Those with biotoxin illness should request a qPCR DNA level of mold testing. There are environmental consultants skilled in these levels of diagnostics available throughout the country.
An easier route to removal
Which brings me to my personal recommendation for assessing and removing mold in your home. Of course, every situation is different, but if we had understood the insidious and persistent nature of mold better from the start, we could have saved a great deal of time and money. This course of action would have been our most streamlined and effective route.
- you notice a musty odor that you’re unable to pinpoint
- someone in your family is suffering from symptoms of “mystery” illness and possible mold exposure
- you’re aware of previous or current water damage - often this can be related to the AC, associated with bathroom or kitchen plumbing, or intrusions from exterior sources
- you’ve seen signs of water intrusion such as buckling floors or baseboards, staining on the ceiling or walls, or ongoing water leaks
- you’ve smelled the musty odor in specific locations - places to check include inside outlets, inside AC vents, under bathroom and kitchen cabinets, behind refrigerators, basements, etc.
Then, here are some steps to consider...
1. Assess the humidity inside your home. Inexpensive humidity gauges are available on Amazon. Placing dehumidifiers in damp rooms, such as basements and bathrooms, may be necessary until any water damage is thoroughly cleaned up and humidity levels are managed. (See #7 for an additional recommendation).
2. Speaking of basements, Jennifer Robins of Predominantly Paleo suggests waterproofing basements (something most of us in Florida don’t have) since they tend to collect ground and rainwater around and even in them. Water repellent paint applied to the interior of the basement - even unfinished basements - can help push back on moisture trying to enter the living space. Local waterproofers can offer recommendations and assistance. This may work in many situations, however if the static pressure of moisture moving through the basement foundation wall is greater than the ability of the waterproofing paint to resist the pressure, blisters may appear and water intrusion may occur. Often a dehumidifier in the basement will suffice to remove the moisture to an acceptable humidity level. Typically, a 70 pint dehumidifier can handle about 1,000 square feet of area with an eight foot ceiling.
3. If you’re unable to pinpoint the location, but you notice an odor or someone is suffering from symptoms, then a professional AC duct cleaning is an excellent place to start. *If mold is found in the ducts then further investigation into the cause of the water intrusion (or condensation) and necessary repairs, as well as follow-up by a mold specialist may be warranted. A properly functioning AC system should not support mold growth.
4. Hire an Indoor Air Quality Inspector (preferably with a history of helping individuals with chronic health concerns and environmental sensitivities) to perform a thorough investigation of your home with multiple sampling strategies along with an interview and building history. Once you’ve found a trustworthy and well-respected indoor air quality inspector, they will be able to support you in taking the appropriate measures to remediate the home properly.
5. DIY testing is affordable and effective. The HERTSMI-2 and (the more comprehensive) ERMI tests require a simple dust sample to help homeowners sensitive to mold fragments determine if their living space is safe for occupancy. They can both be ordered here: http://www.mycometrics.com/, and test results can be scored using the instructions found here: http://www.survivingmold.com/diagnosis/hertsmi-2
6. In addition to dehumidifiers, high-quality room air purifiers are beneficial to have around, especially if you’re unable to find alternate living arrangements while investigating and remediating mold. We opted for AllerAir due to the metal housing (instead of plastic), but have read excellent reviews for IQ Air and Austin Air as well. We found the folks at Modern Alchemy to be very knowledgeable and courteous. Remember, that a HEPA filter is only as good as the filter seal. Filter bypass on less expensive filters can be significant.
7. Mold thrives in moist environments. Our indoor air quality inspector recommended the installation of a whole-house Ultra-Aire dehumidifier. It was a significant investment, but one that we certainly don’t regret. Fresh ventilated air is continuously filtered and brought into our home while keeping humidity under 50%. Attempting to control humidity by merely lowering your AC can actually lead to condensation which causes mold!
8. There is some evidence to show that diffusing Thieves® oil is an effective method of combating mold spores (even dead ones). Dr. Edward R Close offers information on his website, Nature’s Mold Rx. We chose to use a cold diffuser to disseminate the essential oil during and after the professional remediation. Cold diffusers go through quite a bit of oil quickly, so I opted to create my own mixture after purchasing various individual ones in bulk from Rose Mountain Herbs.
Once the remediation is complete, and your living environment is clean, your body can more easily heal. In Part III of this series, I share a few different healing paths to explore, and the one that single-handedly made the most impact on my recovery.
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 Jedrychowski W, Maugeri U, Perera F, Stigter L, Jankowski J, Butscher M, Mroz E, Flak E, Skarupa A, Sowa A. (Jul 8, 2011). Cognitive Function of 6-Year Old Children Exposed to Mold-Contaminated Homes in Early Postnatal Period. Prospective birth cohort study in Poland. Physiol Behav. 2011 Oct 24;104(5):989-95. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.06.019.
 Shenassa, E. D., Daskalakis, C., Liebhaber, A., Braubach, M., & Brown, M. (2007). Dampness and Mold in the Home and Depression: An Examination of Mold-Related Illness and Perceived Control of One’s Home as Possible Depression Pathways. American Journal of Public Health, 97(10), 1893–1899. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2006.093773
 Bennett, J. W., & Klich, M. (2003). Mycotoxins. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 16(3), 497–516. http://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.16.3.497-516.2003