It is quite possible you've seen mold growing on bathroom walls, water-damaged ceilings or around a drafty window. Those little black spots also appear — and multiply — in places you wouldn't expect: in insulation, in drywall, behind wallpaper, in air conditioning units and in carpet and upholstery.
Mold not only looks bad, but it's also bad for your health. Mold toxicity can lead to symptoms like sneezing, wheezing and occasional headaches, as well as more severe issues. Here's a closer look at what mold is, how you can check to see if you have it, and how to get it out of your home and body.
Mold is a fungus that latches onto many surfaces and spreads through spores in the air. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that mold thrives in damp areas and on certain materials with nutrients that help it grow, such as ceiling tiles, cardboard and wood.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there may be over 300,000 different types of mold. The most common types are black mold, which can appear in homes and buildings, and food molds, such as those that grow on meat and produce.
If you've ever left produce on the counter or in the refrigerator too long, you've probably seen food mold. Indoor mold that grows on walls and other home materials is often gray or greenish-black. It usually appears as small spots and may smell damp or musty.
Some molds contain mycotoxins. These poisonous substances may cause adverse health effects, especially upper respiratory symptoms. Although the CDC says the evidence that mold causes nonrespiratory conditions such as inflammation is inconclusive, the Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journalexplains that research in this area has been limited.
Studies, such as this research from PLoS One, suggest that exposure to mycotoxins triggers inflammatory and immune system responses and can lead to all sorts of symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes and headaches. People with mold allergies or who work around mold all day may also experience more severe reactions.
If your allergies persist all year long, or your asthma symptoms seem to be getting worse, you may want to check your home for mold.
When you open a window or walk in the door, mold comes with you either through the air or by attaching to shoes or clothing. While it's not easy to keep mold at bay, you can try to support your respiratory system by inhaling as few spores as possible.
Follow these steps to de-mold your home:
If mold has been in your home for a long time, you may also want to check your body for exposure. A study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that certain mycotoxins can be identified from urine samples. Based on the results, an experienced health professional can determine whether your sample contains unhealthy levels of these toxins.
A health professional might recommend supplements such as echinacea and black elderberry, among others, to support your immune system and modulate healthy levels of inflammation. A species of elderberry was shown by Pharmaceutical Biology to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits while, according to the journal Molecules, echinacea may act as an immunomodulator, something that regulates the immune system.
People sensitive to mold may also benefit from limiting foods prone to mold contamination. According to the USDA, you should check for mold on corn, grains, cured meats and high-acid foods such as jams, jellies, pickles and tomatoes.
Most molds don't lead to serious problems in healthy individuals. However, it's in the best interest of you, your family and friends and to keep an eye on any drafty windows and steamy bathrooms.