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Molds are ubiquitous in the environment and there’s no way to avoid being exposed to them. Most of the time they just go about their business, recycling vegetative matter and playing their part in the circle of life. Sometimes, though, they settle into a damp spot and start growing, presenting a danger to human health. In this article we’ll look at what molds and mold toxins are, what kind of symptoms mold toxicity can cause, what mold has to do with autoimmunity, and how to prevent and recover from mold toxicity.
What Is Mold?
Molds are fungi that grow both outdoors and indoors — they thrive in damp, warm, and humid environments, but are found virtually everywhere. Mold plays a vital role in our ecosystem, from digesting and breaking down organic material like fallen trees and dead leaves, to creating antibiotics such as penicillin. (Source, Source)
Molds are different from some other kinds of fungi in that their cells grow and fuse together, forming a network of tiny threads called filaments. Molds reproduce through the production of microscopic spores, which are similar to plant seeds and can be easily carried great distances by the wind.
The spore count in the air varies seasonally, daily, and even hourly. These spores are a constant presence in indoor environments as well, and while they won't grow without moisture, they can cause significant structural and cosmetic damage to buildings and furnishings if they land on a wet or damp spot and start growing. When spores from mold are released into the air, they can also be inhaled, swallowed, or come into contact with the skin. (Source, Source, Source)
What Is Mold Toxicity?
Many different types of molds can produce mycotoxins, which are toxic compounds that can lead to a range of health issues. Mold toxicity, also known as mycotoxicosis, is a health condition caused by exposure to these mycotoxins. The severity of the effects of mycotoxins varies based on the type and duration of mold exposure, the specific mycotoxins involved, and the individual's health status. (Source, Source)
10 Warning Signs Of Mold Toxicity
Recognizing the symptoms of mold toxicity is crucial for early detection and treatment, as prolonged exposure to mold can cause a multitude of health issues, some of which can be serious if not addressed promptly. The symptoms can vary between individuals, but there are 10 common warning signs to watch out for.
1. Fatigue and Weakness
If you feel fatigued or weak on a regular basis, it could indicate mold toxicity. Mold spores can deposit in the nasal passages and move into the lungs causing pneumonia, which reduces oxygen intake, leading to frequent fatigue and weakness. Mycotoxins are known to impair mitochondrial function and increase oxidative damage, contributing to fatigue. (Source, Source, Source)
2. Persistent Headaches or Migraines
Frequent headaches or migraines can be a sign of mold toxicity. Exposure to mold and subsequent immune response can lead to headaches, which may subside upon leaving a mold-infested environment. (Source, Source)
3. Sleep Disruptions
Mold toxicity can lead to insomnia, including trouble falling asleep, waking throughout the night, and a decrease in the total amount of time asleep. (Source, Source)
4. Neurological and Cognitive Issues
Prolonged exposure to mycotoxins can affect your nervous system and lead to issues such as memory loss, confusion, and impaired balance, or to even more severe problems such as neuropathy, dementia, and lower cognitive and neuropsychological function. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
5. Mental and Mood Changes
Changes in mood, including depression and anxiety, could be due to the effect of mold on the brain’s neurotransmitter functions. Mycotoxins are believed to disrupt normal brain processes and affect the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, leading to mood imbalances. (Source, Source, Source)
6. Sinus Issues
Nasal and sinus congestion are common signs of mold exposure. Additionally, you may experience allergic fungal sinusitis when exposed to mold. You may even be able to smell the damp, moldy odor of an indoor mold problem. (Source, Source)
7. Respiratory Problems
Mold spores can trigger asthma and asthma attacks, especially in people with mold allergies or existing respiratory conditions. Exposure to mold and mycotoxins has also been shown to cause or exacerbate conditions such as bronchitis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a rare immune disorder that causes lung inflammation. (Source, Source, Source)
8. Gastrointestinal Distress
The mycotoxins that molds produce, when inhaled or ingested, can irritate the digestive system. Many mycotoxins have been shown to negatively alter the gut microbiome and impair the function of the intestinal barrier. This can lead to symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, intestinal bleeding, or diarrhea, as well as decreased nutrient absorption. Changes in appetite and weight may also occur. (Source, Source, Source)
Exposure to mold may cause pain in muscles and joints. Mold toxicity can result in fungal arthritis, a rare condition caused by the spread of a fungal infection to a joint or joints. Fungal arthritis is typically caused by a fungus being introduced directly into a joint through trauma or surgery, but it may be possible for an infection from an inhaled mold to move through the blood to a joint, causing pain, swelling, and inflammation. This kind of infection is primarily a danger to those with compromised immune systems. (Source)
10. Allergic Reactions
Mycotoxin exposure may cause allergic reactions, also called hypersensitivity reactions, such as watery eyes, itchy throat, itchy skin, eczema, allergic fungal sinusitis, and allergic rhinitis. The allergic symptoms typically develop rapidly after contact or exposure, and those with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
The timeline for developing symptoms after mold exposure can greatly vary. For those allergic to mold, symptoms can occur within a few hours. However, mold toxicity symptoms can develop over a longer time frame — days or weeks. It can be difficult to pinpoint when exposure occurred, and for how long. If you notice any of these symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen in specific environments, it is important to seek medical advice. Understanding the potential signs of mold toxicity can help you recognize the problem and take steps to address it. (Source, Source)
The Connection Between Mold Toxicity and Autoimmune Disease
Research suggests a link between exposure to mold and the development or exacerbation of certain chronic illnesses, including autoimmune diseases. This is primarily thought to occur through exposure to mycotoxins, as they can enter the bloodstream and be distributed throughout the entire body.
These toxic substances can cause chronic inflammation and weaken the immune system, especially in individuals with compromised immune systems or genetic predisposition, such as those with autoimmune diseases. Mold fragments and mycotoxins can also disrupt the barrier of human epithelial cells (the cells that make up all the surfaces inside and outside your body), allowing for infection, inflammation, and increased immune response, which can aggravate autoimmune diseases. (Source)
Chronic exposure to mold can lead to conditions such as chronic inflammatory response syndrome, exacerbate asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and trigger or worsen certain autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Additionally, mental health disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia have been linked to chronic mold exposure. (Source, Source, Source)
How Can You Prevent Mold Toxicity?
Preventing mold toxicity primarily involves controlling the humidity levels in your living and working spaces, as mold thrives in moist environments. While these steps reduce the risk of mold growth, they cannot entirely eliminate the presence of mold spores, which are naturally present in most environments. The best way to reduce your exposure to mold spores is to prevent mold growth.
Maintain low indoor humidity. Aim to keep indoor humidity between 30%–50%. Use dehumidifiers in damp areas, especially during humid seasons.
Check your house’s ventilation. Ensure that your house is well-ventilated, especially in places like the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room that can generate a lot of moisture. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help reduce potential for mold growth.
Identify and fix leaks. Regularly inspect your house for leaks in the roof, walls, and pipes. Repair any leaks as soon as possible.
Dry wet areas immediately. Clean and dry any wet areas within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Mold needs moisture to grow, so getting rid of dampness can limit mold.
Avoid placing carpet in areas where water is used. Try to avoid installing carpets in bathrooms or basements where water is used frequently or water damage is more likely.
The primary step in treating mold toxicity is avoiding or removing the source of exposure. Although research in humans is limited, studies suggest that supplementing with glutathione, probiotics, and vitamins A, C, and E may be helpful in combating symptoms and underlying issues associated with mold toxicity. (Source)
Medical treatment primarily involves supportive care to alleviate symptoms. Medications such as antihistamines and nasal steroids can help reduce allergic responses, and decongestants can help with sinus and respiratory symptoms. If you are experiencing the warning signs of mold toxicity, natural approaches such as changing your diet, managing stress, and increasing movement may help reduce symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
Long-term management of mold toxicity may involve continued avoidance of mold exposure, maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, and possibly ongoing medication or supplements, depending on individual circumstances. It's also vital to remain vigilant for any recurrence of symptoms, as re-exposure to mold can happen and lead to a return of the condition.
The Bottom Line
Mold toxicity can present itself in a wide range of symptoms and warning signs.
Managing mold toxicity involves ongoing care and lifestyle modifications to protect against re-exposure and to maintain good health. Living with a history of mold toxicity means being proactive about your environment — being mindful of places where mold may grow and promptly addressing any signs of mold.
It's crucial to remember that a recovery plan should be individualized based on health status and severity of symptoms. Therefore, it's important to seek guidance from a health care provider experienced in supporting those with mold toxicity. WellTheory’s expert Care Team can help identify triggers and create an individualized plan to help mitigate the signs and symptoms of mold toxicity.