A Guide on Mold Allergies: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Author: Dr. Andrea Pinto, M.D.

Mold is a fungus that can grow practically everywhere, and breathing in mold particles can cause allergy symptoms. Mold allergies can affect you during any season, and they commonly occur after we unknowingly disturb a source of mold.

A mold allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to mold exposure. A mold allergy can cause symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. It can also trigger asthma attacks and cause skin problems.

Learning how to avoid mold is vital to manage a mold allergy properly. But in order to do so, we must understand what makes mold grow and where it usually accumulates.

What is “Mold”? How many different types of mold are out there?

Black mold in the corner of room wall

Mold is a type of fungus that grows nearly everywhere. Mold plays a vital role in nature, as it helps degrade dead leaves and plants. There are many different types of mold, but only a few dozen cause mold allergy symptoms.

The most common types of allergy-inducing mold include:

  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus
  • Aureobasidium
  • Cladosporium
  • Epicoccum
  • Fusarium
  • Helminthosporium
  • Mucor
  • Penicillium
  • Rhizopus

We’re exposing ourselves to small amounts of mold every day, but they don’t usually cause any health problems. Mold releases tiny spores into the air to reproduce. These spores can cause a mold allergy if you inhale a large amount of then, or if you’re particularly sensitive to mold.

Where does mold usually accumulate?

As stated above, mold can grow practically anywhere; however, it thrives in moist environments. Mold spores can attach to your clothing, shoes, accessories, and even pets. It can also enter your home through open windows and doorways, vents, heating, and air conditioning systems.

Once inside your home, mold can quickly accumulate and grow wherever there is moisture. It can grow in basements, walls, roofs, pipes, wallpaper, under tiles, drywall, upholstery, cardboard, carpet, and fabric, amongst others. It’s also common around leaks and in areas that were flooded in the past.

People who work specific jobs have a higher risk of being exposed to large amounts of mold, including:

  • Farmworkers
  • Bakers
  • Winemakers
  • Furniture repairers
  • Greenhouse employees
  • Carpenters
  • Mill workers

What are the symptoms of a mold allergy?

Mold allergy tends to cause respiratory symptoms. Research has linked indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals. Indoor mold exposure has seen an increased in asthma symptoms and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible patients.

Mold allergies tend to cause more significant symptoms during the warmer months, from June to early fall. However, indoor mold can cause allergy symptoms year-round. Mold doesn’t have to be present in your home; it can appear in your workplace, school, or any other place you visit.

Common symptoms of a mold allergy include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Eye irritation
  • Itchy throat
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • Asthma that worsens over time
  • Shortness of breath
  • Postnasal drip
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Skin rash
  • Itchy skin or dermatitis

Just like any other allergy, a mold allergy can result in symptoms which range from mild to severe.

How is a mold allergy diagnosed?

Man with mold allergy

If you’ve been suffering from persistent upper respiratory tract symptoms and suspect you may be suffering from a mold allergy, you should consider visiting an allergist. Keeping a log which details your symptoms and triggers could help your physician make a diagnosis.

Your doctor will perform skin and blood tests, and they’ll take a detailed history of your symptoms and other medical issues to give you an accurate mold allergy diagnosis and determine the source of your exposure.

How can a mold allergy be treated?

The most effective treatment for a mold allergy is to minimize your exposure to mold as much as possible. It’s nearly impossible to avoid mold altogether, but there are certain precautions that you can take to reduce your exposure.

Firstly, you’ll need to fix any leaks, moist areas, or filtrations inside your house. Get rid of old cardboard, newspapers, or mildewed books. An electric dehumidifier can help reduce moisture in some areas of your home, such as the basement. Using an air conditioning system with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter can be helpful too.

It’s vital to control mold invasions; otherwise, it will continue to grow back and affect your health. Wear a protective mask if you’re going to perform an activity which could lead to mold exposure, such as gardening or woodworking. You should also increase the airflow inside your home by keeping windows open whenever possible, and possibly avoiding outdoor activities when outdoor mold is high.

Over-the-counter antihistamine medications can help provide relief for mild mold allergies, along with eye drops or nasal sprays. Your allergist could prescribe immunotherapy or “allergy shots” for more severe or persistent symptoms, such as a rash. Mold allergy treatment can also include corticosteroids or Montelukast, which are medications that can provide long-term relief.

Mold is everywhere, and a mold allergy can undoubtedly cause many uncomfortable symptoms. But a combination of lifestyle changes, a clean and dry home, and certain medications can provide relief and allow you to lead a healthy life despite this condition.

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