Still on Mold: The Hidden Allergy Problem
In this final article on mold and the allergy problem, there are quite a few things we need to take really seriously and act upon:
Take Symptoms Seriously
You may brush off your child’s sniffles at this time of year as a bit of hay fever, but pay attention to whether he reacts in specific locations, like the basement or outside after you’ve mowed, and also if his symptoms persist beyond spring pollen season (generally March to June). If your pediatrician thinks that mold may be the culprit, she’ll probably refer you to an allergist for testing. The allergist will lightly prick your child’s skin with a needle containing common allergens and watch for a hive-like reaction. “The skin test is the gold standard for identifying allergies and finding the treatment that is the most effective,” according to Stuart Abramson, MD, PhD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
When your child is mildly allergic, avoiding exposure may be the only treatment she needs. Check your local newspaper or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau (aaaai.org/nab) for outdoor mold-spore levels in your area, and try to stay indoors when levels are high. If your child’s allergy is severe, a combination of an over-the-counter antihistamine, like Claritin or Zyrtec, and a prescription inhaled nasal steroid, such as Flonase or Nasonex, should help. Immunotherapy shots against mold are available, but experts say they aren’t always effective. During our own cleanup after the hurricane, we sealed our daughters’ bedroom door to keep the mold spores contained, and then we tore out the wet Sheetrock and carpet. Within days, Emily’s wheezing subsided, and I’d learned a valuable lesson: If you can’t prevent mold, get rid of it as fast as possible.
Although older houses may be more prone to leaks, new ones are also vulnerable to mold because energy-efficient windows and doors can keep moisture trapped inside. Follow these tips to reduce your risk.
- Repair any leaks quickly. If you notice a moldy odor in a room, look for hidden leaks.
- Use exhaust fans, which vent outside of the home, in the bathroom and kitchen.
- In bathrooms, use washable throw rugs instead of carpet.
- Keep indoor humidity levels at 40 to 60 percent (check them with a small digital humidity monitor). Set up a dehumidifier if necessary, especially in a damp basement.
- Use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter to remove spores in the air, and change the filter regularly. If you don’t have AC, close windows when it’s humid.
If you find mold in your home, don’t panic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you usually don’t need an air-quality test. The tests are expensive, there are no federal standards for safe mold levels, and knowing the type of mold won’t change how you handle it. The most important thing is to take these steps to remove the mold — and correct the water problem that caused it.
- Wash clothing, stuffed animals, and other washable cloth items in hot, soapy water. Dry clean or throw out cloth items that can’t be washed.
- Wipe hard-surfaced objects like countertops and toys with a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water and let them dry thoroughly.
- For large areas of mold contamination, consult a professional trained in mold remediation (visit iicrc.org to find one near you). Ask your doctor if your family should leave while the mold is being removed.
The Truth About Toxic Mold
You may have heard news reports about “toxic” molds like Stachybotrys chartarum, which has been blamed for everything from runny noses to potentially fatal pulmonary hemorrhage during the past decade. A few molds do produce chemical toxins called mycotoxins, but you’d need to swallow them to get sick. “In order for inhaled mold to pose a serious health risk from mycotoxins, you would have to be in a very, very heavily contaminated building,” says Dr. Stuart Abramson.
But the CDC is still urging caution. According to its comprehensive study, any type of mold can cause symptoms if you’re exposed to large quantities of it for long periods of time, even if it’s not considered to be “toxic.” Children and adults who suffer from mold allergies or lung diseases are the most vulnerable.