However, when indoor mold reaches high concentrations, it can cause health problems for even the healthiest people. Children, however, are particularly vulnerable to this problem.
The General Health Risks of MoldWhile mold is found all through the environment, exposure to large amounts of mold, or more specifically, large amount of mold spores, can create significant issues for people young and old. The health effects of mold may not affect everyone. Yet, many people will experience stuffy noses, irritated throats, coughing, and wheezing when they are exposed to mold. The effects can even include skin irritation.
The Center for Disease Control says that there is “sufficient evidence” to connect indoor mold exposure with symptoms in the upper respiratory tract. In otherwise healthy people, mold can cause coughing and wheezing. People with hypersensitivity are especially vulnerable to problems from mold.
There is also evidence that damp environments, which tend to harbor mold, to have an increase of respiratory problems.
Respiratory symptoms are likely the most common issue, but in some cases mold can cause neurological problems, including confusion, slowed reflexes, numbness, and headaches. It’s believed these symptoms are caused by trichothecene mycotoxins, which are produced by some forms of mold. These mycotoxins can kill neurons, impairing the brain and its ability to connect with the rest of the body.
Mold AllergiesIf you or a family member has mold allergies, there is a particular concern for mold exposure. When someone with a mold allergy is exposed to mold, it can cause a wide variety of conditions, including itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Watery eyes, a runny nose, and dry skin are all symptoms of mold allergies.
The combination of mold allergies and asthma can be particularly tough. If someone has both, symptoms can be triggered by exposure to mold spores, and exposure can cause an asthma attack that is particularly severe.
Mold and the Development of Childhood Respiratory ConditionsThe main problem from mold stems from the spores, which are released in the air to help the mold reproduce in different areas. Mold floats on the air and can be inhaled, causing significant problems in large concentrations. They can cause immune system responses, allergic reactions, and far-ranging symptoms.
Mold is a significant problem for people of all ages, but it appears that children are particularly vulnerable to this problem. And, it can cause a wide range of respiratory issues, including allergies and asthma.
Here is a summary of the health effects:First, air pollution in general is more harmful to children than healthy adults. This is because a child’s airways are smaller, so a reduction in airways creates a more significant loss in the overall ability of the child to breathe.
As described by the World Health Organization (WHO), an adult that loses a millimeter of diameter in their airway loses about 19% of airway diameter. The same loss restricts a child’s airway by 56%. Children’s airways and lungs are also still in development, so they can be more vulnerable to air pollution, airborne allergies, or asthma. The WHO report points out that by age eight, a child has roughly 300 million alveoli, which are the tiny sacs that help move oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. However, at birth, the number of alveoli is only ten million, meaning an infant’s ability to breath in much more vulnerable to outside influences.
Children can also be more vulnerable because their immune system is still developing. When born, a child does not have a fully-functional, powerful immune system like adults. Because of the immune system’s weakness, any disturbance or foreign substance can increase the chances of an abnormal reaction, such as allergens, asthma, or even inflammation.
According to a report from the National Institutes of Health about how mold causes asthma development, there are three species of mold that are particularly common in the homes of babies who later developed asthma. Their report states that six million children in the United States have asthma, and there is a strong link between indoor mold resulting from damp conditions and moisture problems from water leaks or basement seepage. While genes and other factors play a role in the development of asthma, it appears that the home environment is a significant, yet controllable, factor in the development of childhood allergies.
The report from the National Institutes of Health cited a study conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati. The team conducted dust sampling in 289 homes with infants and immediately tested the dust for 36 different types of mold and tested the children for allergies and asthma. By analyzing and comparing the two data points (initial dust samples and child testing), the researchers found a “statistically significant increase in asthma risk” when mold was high. The study found a significant connection between asthma and three specific types of mold: aspergillus ochraceus, aspergillus unguis, and penicillium. The final conclusion held that exposure during infancy to these types of mold, which are common in water-damaged buildings, are associated with the development of asthma among young children.
Another study, this one from the Mayo Clinic, found that the cause of “most chronic sinus infections (is) an immune system response to fungus.” Researchers studied 210 patients with chronic sinusitis, collecting mucus samples from the nose. They discovered that fungus was present in a staggering 96% of the patients’ mucus, and they identified a total of 40 different kinds of fungus. Each patient had an average of 2.7 types.
In the scientific community, however, you need a large amount of data to make a conclusion. Two studies, however definitive, are not enough data to make a significant statement one way or another.
Fortunately, a report from Environmental Health Perspectives about indoor mold and children’s health discusses 30 different studies. They are from all over the globe and make a connection between damp homes or homes with obvious mold growth and the development of respiratory issues in children. Some of these studies demonstrate a relationship between mold and the reduction of lung function; and it’s not just the airways and breathing, as studies have shown that mold can be connected to symptoms including fatigue, headaches, and even problems with the central nervous system.
Knowledge of mold exposure and health conditions, the report says, is not widespread. In some countries, people may not be aware that mold exposure, rooted in damp conditions, can cause problems, especially problems for children.
Looking for Signs of Mold ExposureThere’s no doubt about it: mold exposure can be a serious problem for children and prevention should be a priority for parents.
But how can you tell if mold is causing the problem?
After all, the symptoms are similar to many other respiratory conditions. So how can you tell if the problem is caused by mold, another substance, or an internal condition?
Generally, you will find that by looking at the symptoms, the child’s risk factors, and the environment, they can tell if a child is experiencing mold exposure.
The first step is to look at the symptoms that are giving a child trouble. As we discussed above, a child can have many respiratory symptoms that resemble other issues, including coughing, a runny nose, wheezing, itchy skin, watery eyes, and trouble breathing.
Next, you should consider your child’s risk factors. If your child has a history of allergies or asthma, it’s more likely that when exposed to mold spores they are having significant trouble.
Also, if there is a history of mold allergies in the family, your child’s risk for the condition is increased. See if anyone on either side of your family has mold allergies. If so, it’s possible you child could be suffering because of the condition.
Now take a look at the places where your child spends most of his or her time. Does the school or your home have mold? Even the cleanest, neatest home can have moisture and humidity problems, which could lead to mold in the house. You will want to keep moisture levels around 50% or less so consider running an air conditioner or dehumidifier.
Poor ventilation can also contribute to mold growth, so be sure to increase air flow, especially in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.
While you can make educated guesses about mold exposure, final diagnosis should be left to a doctor. If, after investigating the symptoms, risk factors, and environment, you still suspect mold exposure, contact the child’s doctor for an appointment.
Treatments for Mold ExposureIf a child has been exposed, it can be difficult to find the right treatment. But through a little guidance from your doctor and a basic knowledge of the most common forms of treatment, you will likely be able to find relief for your child.
Antihistamines, for example, are a common way to fight the symptoms of mold allergies. Antihistamines provide relief by blocking the histamines that attack the allergen, which in this case is the mold spores. Antihistamines are available in over-the-counter or prescription forms, and the difference in almost all cases is strength. You should, however, be able to find relief from an antihistamine that does not require a prescription.
Decongestants can also be used to clean up nasal passages, which can bring a lot of comfort to anyone who is having trouble with mold. Decongestants make breathing easier and can even come in the form of a nasal spray for fast-acting relief. Oral decongestants can be effective as well, and there are even high-strength prescription drugs for treating congestion.
To help with nasal problems, your doctor could recommend a nasal lavage, which is a saltwater rinse of the nasal passage. This treatment uses a specially-designed bottle to remove irritants such as mold spores from the nose.
There are also tablets called montelukast that block immune system chemicals. These are effective if mold is causing allergy problems and can also be used to treat allergic asthma.
Causes of Mold in the HomeLike all living things, mold needs food, water, and a comfortable place to live. If it has these conditions, it can thrive in areas for a long time and can reproduce at rapid rates. To fully prevent mold, it helps to understand how mold grows, survives, and thrives.
Mold lives off a food source, and this incredibly resilient life form can feed off of items that wouldn’t seem like food. Sources of nutrients for mold can include wood, drywall, cotton, and many other household materials. Outside the home, sources of food for mold include leaves, dirt, fallen trees, grass clippings, and more.
Mold also needs a source of water, but it is amazingly resourceful when it comes to obtaining water. Leaky pipes and seepage in the foundation of a home can often provide plenty of water for mold, but even if there is not standing water, mold can still stay hydrated. Moisture in the air is enough for mold, so even if leaks are not present, mold can get enough water from the air around it. For this reason, mold can often grow in bathrooms, living off the water that is evaporated into the air.
Mold also needs an ideal living space that is not to cold. Mold generally can’t survive in freezing temperatures, so it thrives best in warm locations and usually enjoys the same temperatures that we find comfortable. However, it also needs darkness because mold and the spores it releases are unable to survive under UV light.
Preventing Mold for a Health HomeIf you understand how mold thrives, you can start to make efforts to reduce its potential in the home. Mold is most common in damp areas, so the most effective measure for most locations is to start by controlling moisture levels.
Start by searching for and eliminating any sources of leakage in the home. This can include leaky pipes, dripping faucets, or leaks in the basement walls. Obviously, some projects are easier than others, but if you can stop any leaks from adding water to the home environment, you’ll go a long way towards preventing future mold growth.
You can also reduce the humidity levels in your home. For many of the most common mold types, humidity only needs to be over 55% for mold to grow.
Dehumidification and ventilation are often the best solutions for controlling humidity in the home. It’s especially important that rooms with high moisture levels, the bathroom and kitchen specifically, are well ventilated. Exhaust fans can help to remove moisture and circulate the air.
If mold is present in your home, you may have to take steps to remove it. Mold cleanup can include scrubbing or even the use of an air purifier.