Mold toxicity can occur when a person is exposed to mold spores in an indoor environment. Some people may be more sensitive than others to mold spores, and some mold types can produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. Mold toxicity can cause nasal stuffiness, sore throat, coughing, diarrhea and headaches. It also may cause allergic reactions such as asthma symptoms or skin rashes.
Symptoms of Mold Toxicity
Are you sensitive to mold? Does it smell very strongly, give you a headache when you know it is there or have a heightened allergic response such as sneezing, watery eyes, itchy skin or nose? These might be some of the more obvious symptoms when mold illness is present. Other symptoms can be less obvious:
- tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) and vertigo are very common
- burning lungs
- iron deficiency anemia
- cherry angiomas – small red spots on the skin
- excessive allergies to environment, food including histamine intolerance
- bacterial vaginosis is common
- exercise intolerance
- sleep maintenance insomnia
- brain fog
- skin rashes
- toenail infections
- hair loss
Reasons for Mold Exposure
It is estimated that up to 25% of buildings have mold growth and almost every finished basement has areas of mold. That makes many people exposed to mold! Obvious signs or events to create a water-damaged environment are leaks, floods and slow drips in poorly ventilated rooms. It takes only 24-48 hours of water damage to start mold colonization, so if the damage hasn’t started to be addressed ASAP, you are now in a high risk environment.
Mycotoxins and Spores
Mold species can vary depending on the medium grown. Dry wall, wood, concrete and material such as carpets, furniture and drapes will all provide environments for growth of different mold varieties. Not all mold is black, although the most risk to health is black mold. Red, brown, blue-tinged, and white are found in homes and buildings. Mold creates spores and toxins called mycotoxins. 1 square inch of mold contains 500 million spores! And getting even more microscopic are the spore fragments which are airborne and 1 spore contains about 500. So, we are talking millions upon millions of toxic particles because spores, fragments, mold excretions and mycotoxins all create harm to the body.
How Mold Creates Harm & Toxicity
All particles related to mold affect the body differently. Mycotoxins are tiny enough that every body system can have deposits. Spores are inhaled, so the first areas of inflammation are often the nasal passages, sinuses, trachea and lungs. Fragments of spores can get stuck into the tiny branches of the respiratory system and cause irritations. This in turn affects breathing to the point of developing a chronic cough and asthma. Our immune system recognizes the unwanted guests and creates an immune response to tissues overburdened, resulting in inflammation. Chronic inflammation weakens the immune response to these mucosal linings (respiratory, digestive tract, vaginal, urinary) and can lead to many symptoms including other secondary infections such as urinary tract infections, lung infections, IBS and others. Certain mycotoxins are specific to the neurological system and cause neuroinflammation leading to specific or non-specific pain, tingling, numbness, migraines and headaches. Mental health such as depression and anxiety may also be induced from mycotoxins. At the chronic and more serious levels, some mycotoxins are carcinogens, others are related to mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) or cyclical vomiting syndrome.
Signs, Symptoms and Testing for Mold Illness
Physical signs that can be observed during a physical exam are quite varied depending on the stage of exposure. Upon examination of the head, a physician may note sunken eyes with dark circles (also known as allergic shiners), puffy eyelids, redness and swelling of the nasal cavity lining, swollen gums and tongue and enlarged tonsils. Sometimes the ear’s tympanic membrane yields evidence such as white spotting or a textured appearance like an orange peel or even eczema in the outer ear canal. Throughout the body, rashes or eczema, puffiness/swelling and pronounced veins may be observed. Lung exams sometimes detect wheezing and blood pressure may be lower than expected.
Mold Illness Treatment
There is hope! Finding a practitioner that really knows about mold is the most important aspect to consider. Symptoms and signs can look like so many other conditions, yet when those conditions are treated conventionally, they don’t go away. That’s a huge clue to look further into mold. Since mold illness is a chronic condition, it takes time to resolve. Treatment can last anywhere from 6 months to a few years and a good amount of patience and compliance is required. A general outline of treatment can be described but keep in mind an individual plan is developed each time. A person’s severity of symptoms, ability to detoxify and other health conditions will all play a role. The first step is to ensure the detox pathways are moving well. This means liver and bile production, regular bowel movements and kidney filtration with urination. Mycotoxins can plug up these systems and if you can’t detoxify, you can’t remove the deep layers of mycotoxins. Anti-oxidants, fibre, and bile-supportive herbs are introduced and responsiveness to treatment is evaluated. Next comes binders, possible dietary modifications and saunas. Finally, the body is ready for anti-fungals and the elimination of mycotoxins through herbs and probable prescription medications. Each step is monitored and titration from a low dose to a higher dose is needed to prevent worsening of symptoms. So there you have it. Consider yourself mold-informed!
Testing for Mold Toxicity
Traditional testing through conventional labs offer small insights that might be picked up by a mold-literate practitioner. Iron-deficiency anemia, total low white blood cell count, low lymphocytes, elevated eosinophils, elevated liver enzymes, low kidney function, high C-reactive protein and even a positive anti-nuclear antibody might be found in a mold-toxic person’s blood work. Private testing is the best way to diagnose mold toxicity. To date, the most direct test is a urine mycotoxin test. The first morning collection is examined for about 10 of the most common mycotoxins found in water damaged buildings. This test is useful even years after exposure because the body is always trying to remove the stored away mycotoxins and there could be colonies derived from spores still reproducing somewhere. The only downside to this test is that it can show false negatives in those individuals that have troubles eliminating toxins and other excretory bi-products. For example, if liver detoxification is not optimal due to genetics, poor bile production, mycotoxins are recirculated and not excreted. The rule of thumb in this case is if all the signs and symptoms point to mold toxicity but a negative test result, treat anyways. Indirect testing can also be used if mycotoxin urine analysis isn’t available. In acute or current mold exposure, blood testing can be used for antibody levels. The organic acid test, also performed by urine analysis can show aspergillus exposure, candida, oxalates and candida which may mean toxicity.