Humidity and Mold: A Potent Combination to Set off Allergies

Mold growing in a shower. Mold is especially common in perpetually damp areas..

Mold i is common in perpetually damp areas, such as this shower stall.

It’s been hot and humid this summer, especially along the east coast. This is the time of year that most allergists take their vacations because it is the dormant season for so many trees, grasses, and weeds. This SHOULD be a good period for allergy sufferers as well. But there is a segment of patients who still battle symptoms: mold allergy sufferers.

Mold allergens are abundant in the autumn when leaves on the ground spew off the decaying mold (as I mentioned in a previous post which you can read here.) Mold doesn’t mind the summer either, especially in humid environments. In fact, mold can be a real problem indoors during this time. If your home smells damp inside, you may be at risk for mold exposure. A recent article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2013;132:1099-1110) titled “Association of Indoor Dampness and Molds with Rhinitis Risk: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis,” supports the theory that that mold inside the home strongly influences allergic rhinitis flare-ups. Interestingly, the strongest predictor of mold exposure was the smell of mold in the home!

A few months ago I had lunch with Bill Sothern, a true mold sleuth. Bill’s company, Microecologies, visited New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina to help home-owners deal with the mold catastrophe resulting from the hurricane. More recently he was involved in helping victims of Hurricane Sandy in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. I learned from Bill that you can’t ignore the seriousness repercussions of a mold problem. The insidious symptoms can range from classic allergy symptoms of nasal congestion, eye irritation, and asthma, to headaches, fatigue and more serious neurological complications. If you suspect mold in your apartment or home, you should contact a reputable company to investigate. At a basic level mold is differentiated by color: Green mold is highly allergenic, while black mold is highly toxic.

A few key tips for management of potentially moldy situations:

  • Keep the humidity down by using air-conditioning when possible; mold hates dry and cold environments
  • Crack open a window for a few hours to bring in some outside air; indoor air is 10x more contaminated than outdoor air
  • Sanitize bathrooms frequently as they can be prone to mold growth

If you think you’re allergic to molds, ask your doctor to perform environmental allergy test that includes specific mold allergens. The good news is that, in conjunction with mold eradication efforts, allergy immunotherapy can be very effective at keeping symptoms at bay.

– Dr. Dean Mitchell

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