Spore Subjects

Sneezing, weezing, and tired? It might not be allergies.

Molding — dentil, picture, and other decorative types — adds character and value to a home. Mold, however, is another story. Not only is it unsightly and smelly, it can make you downright sick.

Mold is everywhere, indoors and out, and is unavoidable, but when mold spores begin growing inside your home, you need to take action before the fungus gets out of control.

All molds are considered toxic, though some more so than others. Toxic mold grows in a variety of colors, not just the dreaded black — and many colored toxic molds are more dangerous than black-colored mold. Laboratory analysis of the air, swabs, lift tape, or samplings by a qualified technician using accepted mold industry collection methods and investigation techniques are the necessary means to identify the different types of mold present in your home, especially the ones that cause health problems.

The most common symptoms of mold exposure include nasal congestion and stuffiness, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and skin rashes. But irritated sinuses, burning eyes, and sore throat, and other vague symptoms are also attributed to prolonged exposure to mold, especially Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, Stachybortrys, and Alternaria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, all mold should be treated as a risk, as reactions to mold spores vary from person to person (though the organization stops short of confirming a link between the presence of certain molds and subsequent health issues, specifically lung problems.) People with immune suppression, allergies, or lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections, as are children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

If you have symptoms, make an appointment with your primary-care physician or allergist. He or she can perform a skin test or a RAST (radioallergosorbent) blood test to determine specific allergies and antibody levels, and help you treat the problem.

But how do you know if your symptoms are caused by the funky fungus or simply, say hay fever? The easiest way to tell is simple: Leave the home. If the symptoms disappear after you've gone, the problem is indeed mold-related. First, look around. Mold is usually visible and certainly "smellable." Turn off the air-conditioning unit and let the house warm up briefly, making the sauce of any mustiness easier to sniff out. Don't rule out the possibility that the smell could be coming from your air ducts, so keeping the HVAC system clean and dry is a must to avoid buildup. Clean cooling coils and drip pans regularly, and replace the filter with one that is HEPA-certified (able to trap at least 99.97 percent of free particles).

But the problems won't go away, even with treatment, if the mold stays. Treat the infestation immediately, or you'll wind up wheezing your way back to the doctor. Fortunately, most cases are easy to clean up, though if the problem is more serious, professionals might need to be called in to truly rid the home of the problem. The easiest way to control mold is to control the amount of moisture in your home.

Mold must have water to survive and thrive, and generally tends to grow in moist areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. But where there's water damage, there will be mold, whether in a closet, in the attic, under the floor, even behind plaster or sheetrock.

"If you clean up the mold but don't fix the [water problem] you're wasting your time,'" says Leland Jackson with Memphis' JACCO Construction. "Most times people report mold problems and what they really have is mildew. That's the musty smell — usually caused by insulation or carpet that's gotten wet and then dried — that pops up, especially when it gets hot," says Jackson. "But when it is mold, simply letting it stay is not an option. It will not only make you sick, it'll eat away at your house." 

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