If someone has a mold allergy, their immune system overreacts when they breathe in mold spores, triggering a number of reactions that lead to allergic symptoms. As with other allergies, a mold allergy might make a person cough, make their eyes itch, as well as causing additional symptoms that make them miserable. In some people, mold allergy is linked to asthma and exposure causes restricted breathing and other airway symptoms.
Mold, or mould, is defined as a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae, some types of mold are known as mildew. Molds are considered to be microbes and do not form a specific taxonomic or phylogenetic grouping. When mold spores are present in large quantities, they can present a health hazard to humans, potentially causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems. People with mold allergies may have a reaction if exposed to too much of the fungus. If you have a mold allergy, your immune system overreacts when you breathe in mold spores. This triggers a cascade of reactions that lead to allergic symptoms. Like other allergies, a mold allergy can make you cough, make your eyes itch and cause other symptoms.
If you experience a mold allergy, the best defense is to cut your exposure to the types of mold that cause your symptoms. While it is not always possible to avoid mold allergy triggers, medications might help to keep mold allergy symptoms under control.
Symptoms of Mold Allergies
Mold allergy causes the same signs and symptoms that happen in other types of upper respiratory allergies. Mold allergy symptoms might include the following:
- Watery eyes
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Postnasal drip and cough
- Itchy nose, throat and eyes
Mold allergy symptoms differ among people and range from mild to severe. You might have symptoms year-round, or symptoms which flare up only during certain times of the year. You may notice symptoms when the weather is damp, or when you are outside or inside spaces with high concentrations of mold.
If you have asthma or a mold allergy, the symptoms of asthma might be triggered by exposure to mold spores. In some people, exposure to certain molds may cause a severe asthma attack. Signs and symptoms of asthma include the following:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Causes of Mold Allergies
Like any allergy, mold allergy symptoms are triggered by an overly sensitive immune system response. When a person inhales tiny, airborne mold spores, their body recognizes them as foreign invaders and develops allergy-causing antibodies to fight them.
After the exposure has passed, a person will still produce antibodies that remember the invader so any later contact with mold causes the person's immune system to react. The reaction triggers the release of substances such as histamine which cause:
- Runny nose
- Itchy and watering eyes
- Additional mold allergy symptoms
Molds are very common - both inside and outside. There are many types of molds, yet only certain kinds of mold cause allergies. Being allergic to one type of mold does not necessarily mean a person will be allergic to another type. Some of the most common molds that cause allergies include:
Although a mold allergy is the most common issue caused by mold exposure, mold may cause illness without an allergic reaction. Mold can also cause irritant and toxic reactions or infections. Infections caused by mold might lead to a number of issues from skin infections, flu-like symptoms and pneumonia. An irritant reaction is caused when substances from molds called, 'volatile organic compounds,' irritate a person's mucus membranes. Symptoms of an irritant reaction are similar to an allergy and include:
- Runny nose
- Eye irritation
- Skin irritation
Risk Factors for Mold Allergies
Several factors may make a person more likely to develop a mold allergy, or worsen their existing mold allergy symptoms. Some of these factors include the following:
- A Family History of Allergies: If asthma and allergies run in a person's family, they are more likely to develop a mold allergy.
- Occupational Exposure: Occupations where mold exposure may be high include dairy work, farming, baking, logging, greenhouse work, carpentry, furniture repair and winemaking.
- Living or Working in a Building Exposed to Excess Moisture: Examples include water seepage during flood damage or rainstorms, or leaky pipes. At some point, almost every building has some kind of excessive moisture, which may allow mold to flourish.
- Living in a Home with Poor Ventilation: Tight door seals and window seals may trap moisture indoors and prevent appropriate ventilation, creating conditions that are ideal for the growth of molds. Damp areas such as kitchens, basements and bathrooms are most vulnerable.
- A Home with High Humidity: If a person's indoor humidity is greater than sixty-percent, they might have increased exposure to mold in their home. Mold can grow almost anywhere if the conditions are right; in basements, on soap-coated grout, behind walls in framing, in carpet pads or carpeting, as well as on damp surfaces. Exposure to high levels of household mold might trigger mold allergy symptoms.
Complications of Mold Allergies
The majority of allergic responses to mold involve hay fever-type symptoms that might make a person miserable, yet are not serious. Certain allergic conditions caused by mold are; however, more severe. More serious conditions associated with mold exposure may include:
- Allergic Fungal Sinusitis: Allergic fungal sinusitis results from an inflammatory reaction to fungus in the sinuses.
- Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis: Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis is a reaction to fungus in a person's lungs and may happen in people with cystic fibrosis or asthma.
- Mold-Induced Asthma: In people who are allergic to mold, breathing in spores might trigger an asthma flare-up. If you experience a mold allergy and asthma, make sure you have an emergency plan in place in case of a severe asthma attack.
- Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis: Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare condition that happens when exposure to airborne particles such as mold spores cause a person's lungs to become inflamed. It may be triggered by exposure to allergy-causing dust in a work environment.
Other than allergens, mold might pose additional health risks in people who are susceptible. For example; mold might cause infections of a person's mucus membranes or skin. In general; however, mold does not cause systemic infections except for those with impaired immune systems – such as people with HIV/AIDS, or who are taking immunosuppressant medication. Exposure to mold may also irritate a person's skin, eyes, throat and nose. Other potential mold reactions are the subject of continuing research.
Mold Allergies, Tests and Diagnosis
A doctor will want to know a person's signs and symptoms and might want to conduct a physical examination in order to identify or exclude other medical issues. A doctor may also recommend one or more blood or skin tests to find out if the person has an allergy that can be identified. The tests include the following:
- Skin Prick Test: The test uses diluted amounts of suspected or common allergens such as mold found in the local area. During the test, theses substances are applied to the skin in a person's back or arm with tiny punctures. If the person is allergic, they develop a raised bump or hive at the location of the test on their skin.
- Blood Test: A blood test can measure a person's immune system response to mold by measuring the amount of certain antibodies in their bloodstream known as, 'immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.' A blood sample is sent to a medical laboratory where it can be tested for evidence of sensitivity to particular types of mold.
Treating Mold Allergies
The best treatment for any allergy is to take steps to avoid exposure to triggers. Molds are common; however, and a person cannot avoid them entirely. While there is no certain way to cure a mold allergy, several medications might ease someone's symptoms. The medications may include the following:
- Nasal Lavage: A doctor might recommend that a person rinse their nose on a daily basis with salt water. Nasal lavage can help to keep the person's nose free of irritants.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy involves a series of allergy shots and can be highly effective for some allergies such as hay fever. Allergy shots are used only for certain types of mold allergy.
- Decongestant Nasal Sprays: Do not use these medications for more than three or four days because they might cause congestion to return with even worse symptoms when you stop using them. Additional side-effects include nervousness and headache.
- Oral Decongestants: Oral decongestants may raise a person's blood pressure – they should be avoided if a person has high blood pressure. Potential side-effects include insomnia, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, restlessness and anxiety.
- Nasal Corticosteroids: Nasal corticosteroid nasal sprays help to prevent and treat the inflammation caused by an upper respiratory mold allergy. For many people they are the most effective allergy medication and they are often the first medication a doctor will prescribe. Nasal dryness and nosebleeds are the most common side-effects of nasal corticosteroids, which are safe for long-term use in general.
- Montelukast: Montelukast is a tablet taken to block the action of leukotrienes, immune system chemicals that cause allergy symptoms such as excessive mucus. It has proven to be effective in the treatment of allergic asthma and is also effective in treating mold allergy. As with antihistamines, the medication is not as effective as inhaled corticosteroids. It is often times used when nasal sprays cannot be tolerated by the person, or when mild asthma is present.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines can help with itching, runny nose and sneezing. They work by blocking histamine, which is an inflammatory chemical released by the person's immune system during an allergic reaction. The medications cause little to no dry mouth or drowsiness. Older antihistamines work well, although they can make a person drowsy, cause dry mouth, or affect the person's school or work performance. Side-effects of antihistamine nasal sprays might include nasal dryness and/or a bitter taste in the person's mouth.