by Jordan Scott
When she was three years old, my daughter came down with a mild case of pneumonia. It was clear right away that something wasn’t right. My normally energetic, vibrant little girl was suddenly lethargic, fatigued and, most alarmingly, speechless.
The diagnosis was quick and her recovery was swift. She was back to her glowing and chatty self in no time, with no clear indication of what may have caused her illness. However, having experienced this once, we knew that her young, developing lungs may now be a little more vulnerable to various health conditions, which put her mother and I on high alert.
Fast-forward three months. It’s the tail end of summer and our family is making a temporary move to a new apartment as we search the local market for a permanent new home.
The apartment is nice enough. It’s spacious, it has a nice layout, it’s quiet and private, and it backs up to a beautiful river. We weren’t planning on staying long, but we were sure to enjoy the time we had.
Then the temperatures dropped.
As fall set in and the weather cooled, it was clear our new place left much to be desired. The aging heater was challenged to keep inside temperatures warmer than the outside, single-pane windows did little to protect us from the overnight chills of riverfront living, and the onslaught of moisture that would build up as condensation inside the walls was occurring on a daily basis.
Still, this was only temporary. With enough blankets and warm clothes, surely we could endure a little cold for a little while. But as our little girl soon made clear, what we couldn’t endure was the mold!
We had seen the black spots crop up here and there and thought a little household cleaner was all we needed to handle the problem. It never occurred to us that what we couldn’t see was the biggest issue. As our daughter’s coughing began and the cold-like symptoms and runny noses refused to pass, we knew we had a much larger problem on our hands.
Sure enough, our concerns triggered an inspection that found our apartment was infested with mold. Poor insulation, a leaky HVAC system and inadequate ventilation had allowed moisture to lay idle and mold to flourish unnoticed.
Needless to say, our stay in this place became much more temporary. We moved out that afternoon and, almost as quickly as our departure, our little girl’s symptoms began to dissipate. Now 15, to this day she has not had any sort of recurrence or any sign of long-term effects of exposure. Such a relief!
There are many who would read this and roll their eyes at how obvious the risk factors would be. But we were young, inexperienced and hardly thinking beyond what we could afford. At that time nobody we knew had experienced a mold issue, and the thought of it had really never crossed our minds.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Since our first-hand experience, the potential health risks associated with mold have been a top consideration when evaluating a home, workplace, or really any place in which we may plan to spend a significant amount of time.
Can Mold Affect my Health?
Historically, experts have been challenged to prove a direct connection between the presence of mold and adverse health effects. Nationally recognized indoor air quality and biological contamination expert, Michael Pinto, notes in his extensive writing on the subject, “Since stress, diet, chemicals, and a host of bacterial and viral organisms may produce symptoms similar to those associated with mold exposure, proving that mold is the primary culprit is extremely difficult.”
However, as more studies are conducted, the correlation between the presence of mold and adverse health effects, particularly in those more vulnerable to health impacts, is clear.
As we discovered with our daughter, a mild case of pneumonia had left her lungs and immune system weakened just enough that exposure to an environment with such substantial mold created numerous new symptoms of illness.
Who is at risk?
According to WebMd, there are a number of factors that may put people at additional risk of experiencing mold-related illness. These factors include:
- Individuals with asthma and/or allergies
- Infants and children
- People whose immune systems are compromised due to HIV infection, cancer, liver disease, or chemotherapy.
- People with chronic lung disease
In regards to children, one study conducted by the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center revealed infants who are exposed to mold in their living environments are nearly three times as likely to develop asthma than those who did not have extensive mold exposure in their first year of life.
What are the signs of illness?
This is not to say that exposure to mold makes an illness inevitable. While there are a number of potential health effects that may result from mold exposure, many individuals will demonstrate no effects at all. That said, an environment presenting mold is far from ideal and it’s critical to be aware of conditions and signs of possible illness.
For those who may have sensitivities to mold stemming from the risk factors outlined above or any number of conditions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies symptoms that include:
- Nasal stuffiness
- Throat irritation
- Coughing or wheezing
- Eye irritation
- Skin irritation
Many of these symptoms may seem fairly general and could be attributed to any number of conditions. But if risk factors indicate possible mold exposure and an increased vulnerability to the potential for a mold-related illness, the idea should not be dismissed. As Mr. Pinto states in regards to the continued study and science around mold exposure, “[those] complaining about a bewildering variety of symptoms, especially when others around them are symptom-free, can no longer be dismissed as hypochondriacs.”
How can I reduce my risk?
Understanding the warning signs and risk factors for mold exposure, and how to reduce your risk, are the first steps in preventing potentially harmful health impacts.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, moisture control is the key to mold control. Taking action to prevent mold growth in your home can help to eliminate harmful conditions before they begin. Some steps to controlling moisture include:
- Don’t let water leaks or spills sit. Act quickly to dry them to prevent mold growth.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from building foundations to prevent water from entering or collecting.
- Keep air-conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
- Keep indoor humidity low – ideally between 30 and 50 percent relative humidity.
- If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes act quickly to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source.
If you suspect a home, business or other facility may have or be susceptible to mold, schedule an inspection by a professionally certified mold inspector. Even if there are no red flags for mold, an inspection is a good idea simply for peace of mind.
Should mold be identified, consult with your local mold remediation expert to ensure the conditions are fully remedied and the environment is restored and safe to inhabit.
Knowing is Half the Battle!
As GI Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle!” I’ve applied that mantra to many things since my youth, and many times I’ve been fairly surprised by when and where it has applied. This was certainly one of those times. When it came to the potential health impacts of mold exposure, it took my three year old to show me just how much I didn’t know.