Is Mould Dangerous?

Mould is a potentially dangerous organism that could be harmful to your health, depending on a few different factors.

If you’re allergic to mould, or you have a compromised immune system, you should definitely get rid of any sources of mould in your home. Even if you’re relatively healthy, it’s still a good idea to make sure you live in a mould-free environment.

Read on to find out more about mould, what it can do to your body, how to get rid of it and how to treat mould illness.

What is mould?

Mould is a family of living organisms (also known as fungi) that exist almost everywhere, indoors and outdoors. It usually looks like green, grey, brown or black spots and clusters. 

Like everything else on the planet, mould has a job to do: it decomposes dead organic material.  Mould spores are too small to see without a microscope, so it’s impossible to know what type of mould is growing by looking at it.

Types of mould toxins

The main types of mould toxins associated with human diseases include:

  • Aflatoxin
  • Gliotoxin
  • Citrinin
  • Ergot akaloids
  • Fumonisins
  • Ochratoxin A
  • Patulin
  • Trichothecenes
  • Zearalenone

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Symptoms of mould sickness

Symptoms of mould toxicity are hard to define as there’s no way of ‘proving’ that any symptom is definitely caused by mould. You could exhibit a lot of these symptoms as a result of a number of other conditions.

However, initial research findings and the experience of our practitioners here at Healthpath tell us that mould sickness could give you the following symptoms:

General symptoms:

  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • weight gain or loss

Neurological symptoms:

  • ‘stabbing’ headaches
  • brain fog
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • weakness

Psychiatric symptoms

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • OCD
  • irritability

Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • nausea
  • bloating

Urinary symptoms

  • urgency
  • incontinence
  • hormonal symptoms

For a full list of the symptoms of mould sickness, take a look at our other mould blog post ‘Symptoms Of Mould Exposure’.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, mould exposure is not connected to any specific symptoms. But strangely, the next thing they say is ‘any mold [sic] should be removed from a building.’ 

The research so far tells us that mould exposure can cause certain symptoms, but those symptoms are different for everyone.

Read on to find out what we know so far about mould exposure, and what we don’t yet know.

Is it dangerous to breathe in mould?

It’s impossible to say whether breathing in mould is dangerous for you or not.

This is the case for almost every disease: no two people are exactly the same (even identical twins) so of course your symptoms will be different to someone else’s.

Our immune systems evolved over thousands of years to cope with the amount of mould that we’re exposed to in an outdoor environment. Problems happen when we live in warm, damp houses that encourage mould to grow. If you live in an environment with high levels of mould, or one or more of the more harmful varieties of mould are present, it could be responsible for your symptoms.

Can mould kill you?

Breathing in toxic mould is not fatal. As far as we know, there have been no cases of anyone dying from short-term exposure. (That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but it’s extremely unlikely).

It’s definitely not good for you, and is almost certainly harmful in large amounts over a longer time. Mould spores are not like anthrax, for instance, where breathing in a small amount can make you extremely ill, or kill you.

How long does it take to get sick from mould exposure?

Everyone is different. 

Here are some factors that affect how quickly you could get ill:

Allergies and sensitivities

If you get stuffy, sneezy and wheezy when you’re near mould, you could have an allergy to it. That means you’ll get sick more quickly and probably more seriously than someone without an allergy.

Amount of mould

Almost every house contains small amounts of mould that are unlikely to make you sick. The more mould, the bigger the chance you’ll notice symptoms.

Duration of exposure

Over time, you’ll take in more spores (through food or through your skin). The higher your ‘load’ of mycotoxins, the more likely you are to get ill.

Proximity to mould

If you directly handle mould, you’re more likely to get symptoms. So if you clean or touch mouldy items, you’re more likely to get sick than someone who doesn’t.

Mould treatment

The obvious first step is to remove yourself from the mouldy environment.

You can’t get well in the environment that made you sick. After you’ve sorted out the environmental problem, detoxification comes next.

Bitters

‘Bitters’ is the name we give to bitter herbs. You can take them in a tincture from a herbalist, or just eat them.

Bitter herbs include:

  • Horseradish
  • Parsley
  • Coriander
  • Mugwort
  • Chamomile
  • Mint

Bitters support bile flow (a yellow substance your liver and gallbladder produces). Bile plays a key role in how your body gets rid of toxins.

Phosphatidylcholine

This aids the detoxification of mycotoxins through its ability to stimulate and thin bile. 

Sequestering agents (binders)

Like the name suggests, ‘binders’ bind toxins in your gastrointestinal tract, reducing your body’s burden of toxins. 

Several binding agents have been shown to be effective in lowering mycotoxin and endotoxin levels:

  • cholestyramine (a medication)
  • activated carbons (charcoal)
  • chlorella

Probiotics

Research has shown that Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GAF01 can degrade or bind some mycotoxins. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus casei protect your liver against a specific type of mould called aflatoxin B1. 

Omega 3 fats

Omega 3 fats ‘dilute’ the toxins which build up in our cells.

Liposomal glutathione

Glutathione is a potent antioxidant and detoxifier of mycotoxins. Liposomal glutathione is much better absorbed than non-liposomal glutathione.

Other anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidant compounds 

  • resveratrol
  • curcumin
  • NAC
  • alpha-lipoic acid

In addition to all that, sweating is one of the best ways to get mycotoxins out of your body. Sauna therapy, hot baths and intense exercise all work well. Interestingly, human sweat has been found to contain mycotoxins!

Our Gut Health Tests detect one type of mould, called Aspergillus. There are many different types of mould though, so if you test negative for mould on one of our tests, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have any mould issues.

How long does it take to improve from mould 

You’ve guessed it: it’s different for everybody!

You could get well very quickly—as little as a few weeks—after removing the source of the mycotoxins and living in a clean environment. Other people may not ever recover fully. 

If you’re one of the people who takes a bit longer to recover, work with the right practitioner to make sure you’re doing everything you can to optimise your diet, detoxification abilities, immune pathways and gut health.

You can also test for other environmental toxins, like mercury or lead. There are usually a variety of factors involved in bringing your body back into balance.

Mould prevention and detection

The testing technology for the presence of mould toxins in buildings (or the human body) isn’t perfect!

You may be able to find mould testing kits at a hardware store or on the internet, but they don’t appear to catch most mould spores. Not all moulds send out a lot of spores, and they may not travel far enough to land on the kit.

There are mould inspectors in the UK who can come round to your home and test for levels of mould. Still, the tests can come back completely normal when huge amounts of mould are clearly visible in the building. Mould inspection companies can also attempt to get rid of the mould for you.

Remember that you’ll probably have to get rid of belongings that are too difficult to clean properly, including sofas, mattresses, clothing, and other things.

Using most mould sprays and chemicals could make you even sicker, as they’re very toxic. If you use a mould removal company, make sure they contain the treatment so you’re not exposed to it. Some people have moved out of their homes or offices, temporarily or even permanently to get better.

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Mould prevention in the home

You may not have mould issues in your home now, but they could happen in the future, especially if you live in a damp and hot climate.

To prevent mould from appearing in your house:

  • Keep the humidity levels between 30% and 50%
  • Regularly check your house for water leaks and signs of mould
  • Keep air moving in the home to prevent condensation on windows
  • Use kitchen or bathroom fans to take out excess moisture while you shower, and afterwards
  • If you have water damage, address it quickly

Dangers of mould: breathing problems

If you have a mould allergy, exposure to mould will cause ‘upper respiratory’ symptoms, like:

  • sneezing
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • cough and postnasal drip
  • itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • watery eyes

Dangers of mould: allergies

If you have hayfever symptoms that don’t go away over the winter, you may be allergic to the spores of moulds or other fungi. Moulds live everywhere, all year round, unlike pollen which only affects the vast majority of people throughout spring and summer. 

We don’t have any evidence that mould causes allergies. However we do have solid evidence that exposure to mould can cause asthma.1

Dangers of mould: aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is a condition caused by aspergillus mould. The NHS says: “There are several different types of aspergillosis. Most affect the lungs and cause breathing difficulties.”

You’re usually only at risk of aspergillosis if you have:

  • a lung condition – such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • a weakened immune system – for example, if you have had an organ transplant or are having chemotherapy
  • had tuberculosis (TB) in the past
  • severe flu or coronavirus and need artificial ventilation

Dangers of mould: other conditions

Because we don’t yet have enough research into mould and the conditions linked to it, it’s difficult to make a definitive list of them. 

However, if you have two or more of the following conditions, it’s probably worth looking into mould as a possible cause:

  • sensitivity to foods, chemicals, or other allergens
  • eczema
  • psoriasis
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • craving for foods rich in carbohydrates or yeast
  • toenail fungus

Who is most at risk from the dangers of mould?

As we said before, anyone with a compromised immune system is more at risk of being affected by mould exposure.

Interestingly, a few studies have found that children who live in houses with mould problems are a lot more likely to develop asthma.

One study2 of 176 children found that children who lived in homes with higher levels of mould at age one were more likely than other children to have asthma by the age of seven. This doesn’t prove that mould causes asthma, but it does show that living with mould in your environment as a child makes it more likely.

Key takeaways

  • Mould is a potentially dangerous organism that could be harmful to your health depending on your immune system, age and genetics
  • Many people live in homes with low amounts of mould and don’t appear to suffer any ill effects
  • We need more research, but mould appears to induce allergic symptoms (similar to hayfever) in sensitive individuals
  • Initial research also suggests that mould could be involved in a host of other health conditions through its effects on the immune system
  • If you suspect mould could be responsible for your symptoms, make sure to get all sources of it out of your home
  • Then, work with an experienced practitioner who can look into your health history and run tests to dig deeper into all the potential root causes of your issues

About

Alexandra Falconer BA (Hons) DipCNM mBANT is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in IBS and related conditions. A graduate of Brighton’s College of Naturopathic Medicine, she is committed to fighting the root causes of chronic illness and bringing functional medicine to everyone who needs it.

Before her natural health career, Alex was a journalist and copywriter. She continues to write for magazines and media agencies, and now combines her two great passions – writing and health – by creating content that empowers people to claim their right to a healthy body and mind.

References

  1. https://err.ersjournals.com/content/27/148/170137
  2. https://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(11)00313-9/fulltext

 

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