What Is Mold? Mold is everywhere. It’s in the refrigerator and the bathroom. It’s indoors and outdoors. Most of us are well aware of this fact. But what is mold, and how dangerous is it really to your health and the health of your loved ones? Where should you look for it, and how should you treat it in your home or business?
What Is Mold?
Scientifically speaking, what is mold? Mold can be defined as colonies of tiny fungal hyphae generally found growing in warm, moist environments. Mold is particularly prevalent on food or other organic matter. However, there are many kinds of mold and it is almost certain that you will breathe in some kind today!
Although some mold is fairly harmless, it is important to know about the various types and the possible allergic reactions they may trigger. Mold is an important part of the natural ecosystem, but we often create unnatural indoor environments in which it may thrive. The results may be detrimental to our health.
And so, since knowledge is power, let’s explore what to look out for in our man-made world. Now that we’ve answered the question ‘what is mold?’, we can begin to explore the different kinds of molds and their potential effects.
Types of Mold
There are three main categories of mold. These three types of mold have been determined by the severity of their possible effects on human health. Each of the over 400,000 species of mold fit into one of these three categories.
These are the least toxic of the mold types. Allergenic mold will most likely not even be noticed in small amounts. However, any type of mold has the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Typically, allergenic molds can cause cold-like allergic symptoms when present in greater quantities or for those with an elevated sensitivity to mold and mildew.
Some symptoms that may be experienced in the presence of allergic mold are a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes. These symptoms occur as the body’s immune system seeks to eliminate foreign spores. Topical reactions such as dry and scaly skin are also possible. Asthma sufferers may experience wheezing or shortness of breath.
Different types of allergenic molds may be found both outside and inside. Aspergillus molds, common both inside and out, fall into all three mold categories and are particularly troublesome for lung disorders. Alternaria is an outside mold which also may cause a severe asthmatic reaction. Epicoccum, or smut, could be the culprit for those living in agricultural areas. Rhizopus and Mucor can be found in those fall leaves you just raked. And those living in warmer climates may fall prey to the mold Helminthosporum.
Although allergenic molds are more likely to affect those with existing allergy tendencies or breathing conditions, pathogenic molds can cause dangerous infections in any of us. These molds begin growing inside the human body and cause serious mold or fungal illnesses called mycoses.
Any mold capable of multiplying at the internal temperature of the human body has the potential to become a pathogenic mold. These molds may affect either skin or internal organs, and some can be fatal if left untreated. Many pathogenic molds may enter through open wounds.
Although these molds are certainly scary, they are not as common as allergenic molds. Still, if there seems to be chronic illness in your house or business, it may be wise to test for any possible mold infestation before symptoms become more serious.
Candida, or yeast, is considered a pathogenic mold and has been identified as the root of a myriad of health issues because of its tendency to sensitize the body to other allergens. Athlete’s foot and other skin and nail fungus also fall into the pathogenic mold category.
Just some of the list of pathogenic molds include:
- Aspergillus fumigatus
Some of the above listed molds are actually categories in themselves, with strains which also fit into the last of our three categories, toxic molds.
Toxic molds are the most dangerous to both people and their pets. These molds release mycotoxin chemicals into the air, which may cause any of a wide range of issues from minor irritations to neurological or immune disorders or even cancer.
Once identified, these molds need to be addressed as soon as possible. If you suspect your home or business may be infested with mold, take immediate steps to identify and treat the issue before serious illness can take place.
Black molds are considered highly toxic and have become more prevalent recently in areas experiencing flooding. These molds fall into the category of Stachybotrys mentioned above. In extreme cases, black mold has been known to cause hemorrhaging in the lungs and immune system disorders.
Aspergillus fumigatus grows in both sinuses and lungs with the potential to cause permanent, sometimes life-threatening damage. And while some species of Penicillium have beneficial antibiotic properties, others produce potentially carcinogenic mycotoxins. These mycotoxins can affect the liver, kidneys or nervous system, making them highly dangerous to anyone exposed.
Mold In My Home
In spite of my best efforts, I have occasionally found mold in my home. And like me, I’m sure you want to avoid dealing with a household mold infestation. We know that mold can damage many surfaces such as walls, wooden furniture, and cloth. And there are many potential hiding places for this sneaky invader, such as:
- Bathrooms–Anyplace where warmth and moisture are available, opportunistic mold is sure to appear. Between tiles, under sinks, and in the folds of shower curtains are favorite mold habitats.
- Kitchen–Exposed food, damp dishes and drainboards, and refrigerator drip pans can all be culprits here.
- Ductwork–Air conditioning and heating vents and ductwork are often Petri dishes for a variety of molds and mildew.
- Indoor plants–Overwatering plants can encourage the undesired growth of a variety of molds.
- Curtains and furniture–Cloth curtains and upholstery can easily absorb mold spores.
A few ways to keep mold to safe levels indoors are:
- Use allergen-grade air filters
- Repair water leaks quickly.
- Use a dehumidifier to control moisture if needed.
- Make sure moist areas such as bathrooms are well-ventilated.
- Use HEPA-filters in your vacuum or other applicable appliances.
- Monitor indoor plants for dead leaves or excess moisture.
Mold In My Business
Awareness has been increasing in recent years regarding the dangers mold infestation can pose to employees and customers in the workplace. OSHA provides building owners and businesses with a variety of resources and tips to prevent this health issue. Employees who observe mold in the workplace have definite options, beginning with informing their employer about the problem.
Government standards have been set for all kinds of businesses and industries. OSHA offers fact sheets and guides for identifying and addressing mold issues in the workplace. Failure to meet standards can lead to legal action against the business or building owner. OSHA keeps the identity of any person filing a complaint confidential.
No employer wants to confess, “There’s mold in my business space.” However, if you are an employer and notice an increase in the number of employees experiencing symptoms such as eye, nose, throat, or respiratory irritation, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, or skin irritation, it may be time to have the workplace professionally evaluated for air-borne mold spores. Identifying the threat is the first step to a healthier, more productive team.
The wisest move is to be proactive. Mold infestations can be prevented by replacing air conditioning unit filters in a timely manner and ensuring that restrooms and break areas are cleaned properly. Any windows should be examined for potential leaks or excess moisture. Exposed air vents should also be regularly cleaned to prevent fungal growth.
So now that we understand what mold is and how it can potentially affect our health, the next step is to evaluate our homes and workplaces for this potentially dangerous invader. If you suspect a mold issue where you work or live, there are professionals who have the training to find and identify this hazard.
These professionals will be able to advise you about options for eliminating the issue yourself or choosing appropriate assistance. So there’s no need to put off dealing with this health-threatening problem. Your health, as well as the health of your family or business associates, could be at stake.