Sniffy, Sneezy, Teary, and WHEEZY
Apr 11, 2011 12:53AM
● By David Brossart, M.S., M.L.S.
Okay…Sniffy, Sneezy, Teary, and Wheezy are not four adorable Disney dwarves. They are four troublesome symptoms of rhinitis, a condition caused by household mold.
Lucky us, due to climate conditions, mold is just crazy about the State of Florida. It thrives here twelve months a year. So if you find yourself sniffing, sneezing, tearing, or coughing on a fairly regular basis you could easily be suffering from a mold allergy or irritant.
Household mold (sometimes called "mildew") is a living organism. It is officially classified as a type of plant, a weird plant, but a plant nonetheless. It thrives on moisture. It can invade your home and when it finds the type of real estate it prefers—bathrooms, basements, drip trays, humidifiers, air conditioners, foam rubber mattresses, house plants, garbage pails, underneath carpets, behind wallpaper or walls—just about anywhere that is damp, it settles in and starts building condos. It wastes no time. On wet materials mold can start growing within 24 to 48 hours.
The reproductive seeds of mold are called spores. Mold is asexual, in other words, it can reproduce itself without any help which is a neat trick. When a single spore germinates it causes a new growth of mold that in turn creates millions of new spores. Needless to say, this is an extremely efficient reproductive system.
When it comes to finding moisture mold spores are pretty resourceful. They can travel wherever they like by hitching rides on the dust particles that float through the air inside your home. If you have a water problem, such as a leaky roof or a leaky plumbing pipe, they’re going to find it. If you have moisture in your bathroom, and who doesn’t, they’re going to find that too.
When mold spores become airborne they search for any damp surface, even an unsuspecting nose can be a target. The spores are tiny enough to sail right through a forest of nose hair and other protective anatomy, like a teenager on a skateboard, straight into the membrane of your nose and down through the respiratory tract to your lungs. It doesn’t matter to the spores whether you touch or inhale them; either way, they can cause allergic reactions like dermatitis (skin rash), and rhinitis (which has symptoms similar to hay fever).
While there are thousands of different molds, only a relatively small group of them are bad guys. Some types of Aspergillus cause infections as well as allergies. They set up shop in the respiratory system and grow until they form a fungus ball, which can infect the lungs and sometimes the entire body. Exposure can result in lung disease, asthma, and serious complications. The National Institute of Health reports that a recent six-year study of 1,984 children shows that mold in homes doubles the risk of Asthma in children aged 1 to 7.
How can I tell if I have a mold problem?
Inspect your bathroom. Is the tile grout turning black in your shower stall? Is there slime under your shower mat? Lift the lid of your toilet tank and look inside the tank; do you see a dark black coating above the water line? These are all telltale signs of mold. It also shows up in pool houses, basements, crawl spaces, kitchens, walls, ducts, vents, floors, ceilings, roofs, patios, furniture, sidewalks, driveways, decks, cars, boats— almost anywhere there is moisture.
If you can’t see any mold in a room but you smell a musty odor, trust your nose!
Last, but certainly not least, listen to your body. If you suffer from a chronic upper respiratory problem, consult your doctor. If it isn’t caused by a bacterial infection, it may be due to an allergy, and mold could easily be the culprit.
How can I prevent mold?
Mold spores are a force of nature. There is no way to get rid of them completely, but you can neutralize them by controlling their breeding places. Dry them up. Without moisture, they can’t multiply. This is actually pretty easy to do:
If water is leaking from any source—roof, foundation, plumbing, etc.—correct the problem before mold moves in and creates a much bigger problem.
Always dry wet surfaces a.s.a.p.
Make sure appliances that create moisture such as clothes dryers, stoves, etc., are properly vented to the outdoors.
Keep your indoor humidity no higher than 50% to 60%. To a mold spore there is no party-pooper quite like a running air conditioner or dehumidifier. Both reduce the amount of moisture in the air.
Change disposable A/C filters monthly and clean the coils at least once a year.
Clean A/C drip pans regularly and keep the drain lines clear.
There is nothing a spore likes better than a nice, relaxing steam bath. Don’t cooperate. Make sure there is adequate ventilation when showering or taking a bath, cooking, or running the dishwasher.
If you are a homeowner, (a) clean and repair roof gutters regularly, (b) grade the ground away from the house to prevent water seeping in through the foundation, and (c) make sure your lawn sprinklers don’t spray the house and that you don’t over water your landscape.
How do I get rid of the #@&%$*#! stuff?
If you have a relatively minor problem with mold, such as a patch less than ten square feet, it is pretty easy to correct the problem yourself. Clean up any existing mold. The quicker you clean it up, the easier it will be to control it. Many consumers use chlorine based cleaners (like chlorine bleach) because they believe that these products effectively remove mold. The truth is that the E.P.A. does not recommend using these toxic products. They contain harmful chemicals, and they can’t clean effectively since they don’t thoroughly penetrate the surface. This allows the mold to return very quickly. For this type of cleaning there are non-toxic products now available that are completely safe to use inside and outside the home, and are harmless to pets and plants.
If you have major water damage or anything larger than a 10 square foot patch of mold, or you notice a musty odor and suspect hidden mold, trying to locate or handle the problem yourself could be risky. Contact a State certified professional to help you locate and remove the mold.
Where can I learn more about this?
The E.P.A. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is an authoritative source of information on this subject. You can phone the Indoor Environments Division at 202-343-9370, or access their web site at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/, where you can get a free guide.
David Brossart has an extensive background in academic research. He has served as a Department Head at Northern Illinois University, and as a Research Consultant for CNBC. He is Managing Partner of Healthy Home Distributors and Healthy Home Cleaning Services LLC, an Orlando-based firm that is committed to advancing the use of eco-friendly services and non-toxic, hypoallergenic household products.