Those struggling with year-round allergy symptoms may be surprised to learn that the source of their problems could be inside their home.
Allergy reactions such as sneezing, coughing, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes that extend beyond the traditional spring and fall allergy seasons may be a strong signal that the source is mold. Mold – a fungus that thrives in warm, damp and humid environments – can cause persistent allergy issues because it can grow any time throughout the year and exist both outside and inside the home.
“It can be difficult to immediately diagnose a mold allergy because its symptoms often mirror those of seasonal allergies,” said Ann DeClue, MD, a Premier HealthNet internal medicine physician in Lebanon. “What signals that someone’s symptoms may be something more is if they are present year-round or if they are worse in the winter when the house is closed up from the outside air.”
There are hundreds of types of mold, but not all of them cause allergy symptoms. And just because a person is allergic to one type of mold doesn’t mean they will have a reaction to another type, Dr. DeClue said. The most common allergy-causing molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium and Penicillium, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
A mold allergy typically does not cause serious health issues for individuals whose immune system is healthy and strong. Still, symptoms can affect a person’s quality of life if they are not treated and are known to exacerbate existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, Dr. DeClue said.
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Those who experience allergy symptoms throughout the year or who notice symptoms becoming worse when the weather is damp or rainy should consider being tested for a mold allergy. A simple blood or skin allergy test will detect a mold allergy.
“Treatment of mold allergies is often very similar to what is prescribed to seasonal allergy sufferers,” Dr. DeClue said. “Response to treatment will often vary from person to person so it is important that patients work with their doctor until the right regime is found for them.”
Still, one of the best ways to determine if symptoms are caused by mold is to eliminate mold inside the home and limit contact with mold outside the home. Symptoms usually lessen or go away once this is done. Dr. DeClue said leading health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency outline clear steps to help reduce the presence of mold in someone’s environment. They include:
• Close windows at night when mold spores outside tend to be at their highest.
• Wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose when doing yard work such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn or working with compost.
• Avoid going outdoors immediately after a rainstorm, in foggy or damp weather, or when the published mold count is high.
• Eliminate sources of dampness in basements including pipe leaks or groundwater seepage.
• Use dehumidifiers in any area that smells musty or damp and keep humidity levels below 50 percent.
• Use air conditioning with a high-efficiency particulate air filter attachment that will help trap mold.
• Change filters on a furnace and air conditioner regularly.
• Properly ventilate bathrooms especially while using a shower or bath.
• Avoid carpet in bathrooms and basements.
• Dispose of old newspapers, books or magazines.
ABOUT PREMIER HEALTHNET: Premier HealthNet is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in Southwest Ohio. Premier HealthNet is part of Premier Health, which includes Miami Valley Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital Dayton, Atrium Medical Center and Upper Valley Medical Center. For more information, visit http://www.premierhealthnet.com/news.