As a homeowner, you may be concerned about the health effects of mold in your home, especially if your building is older. You may have heard of particularly nasty things about black mold. So what can you do to protect your family and friends from the negative health effects of mold? Well, luckily, mold isn’t a big problem for most people with healthy lungs. However, it can be very irritating for those with asthma or allergies.
What is mold?
Mold refers to types of fungi that grow both indoors and out. They thrive in warm, damp, and humid areas, and they reproduce by spreading seed-like substances called spores. Unlike mold itself, mold spores can survive harsher environmental conditions, like dry areas.
Mold exposure symptoms include congestion, wheezing, and irritated eyes and skin. People with mold allergies or asthma may have stronger reactions. People with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing certain medical treatments, may also be more sensitive to mold.
Generally, most people feel fine around the everyday mold. In fact, mold is everywhere and you likely encounter it every day.
What about black mold?
When people talk about “black” or “toxic” mold, they’re usually referring to a mold species called Stachybotrys chartarum. While vilified by many, S. chartarum is less common than other forms of mold. And while some molds may produce toxins, according to the CDC, “[h]azards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house.”
If you find mold inside your home, it’s usually not necessary to test what type it is. You can usually treat any mold growth the same way: remove and prevent it from spreading.
But if you are too concerned about heavy mold in your home I’d suggest using some mold test kit to get rid of mold.
How to get rid of mold?
If the mold situation is less than ten square feet, you can probably handle the clean-up on your own. The Environmental Protection Agency has practical tips on how to handle this. Make sure you protect yourself with gloves, goggles, and an N-95 respirator (available in most hardware stores).
If the mold damage is extensive, or if the mold is encroaching on things of value, consult with a professional.
Mold thrives in damp, moist areas. So it’s not enough to clean out the mold; you must prevent it from coming back and spreading by dealing with the underlying moisture problem.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has some solid tips on preventing mold growth in various rooms in the house:
- Use the right equipment and take care of it. If you have a humidifier, clean it out twice a week. Use a hygrometer to measure humidity levels, and get a central air conditioning system with CERTIFIED asthma & allergy® friendly filter attachment.
- Bathrooms are, obviously, very moist areas. Quickly repair plumbing leaks. Clean sinks and tubs at least once a month to prevent soap film, and use exhaust fans or crack open a window during showering to improve ventilation.
- Kitchens are also notoriously moist. Clean your refrigerator and garbage area regularly. As with the bathroom, use your exhaust fan when you are cooking and washing up.
- Laundry rooms and basements are also good places for mold to lurk. Again, make sure these places have adequate air circulation and tackle plumbing problems in a timely manner. Don’t leave damp clothes lying around, and encourage groundwater to drain away from your house. Get rid of dead vegetation and leaves in your rain gutters and around your foundation.
More Guidelines for People With Allergies and Asthma
People with allergies to mold should first try to avoid contact with mold. If contact does occur, or if you have a serious reaction, talk to your doctor. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications available to help manage your condition. For example, if you have asthma, you may take an inhalable nasal steroid like Nasonex® Nasal Spray (mometasone).
Otherwise, regularly cleaning your house and nipping moisture problems in the bud will not only help you breathe easier figuratively (having a neat home is comforting!) but also literally.