When moisture problems occur and mold growth results, building or home occupants may begin to report odors and a variety of health problems. Once a mold begins to bloom, it quickly matures and sends spores floating throughout the structure to be breathed by everyone who comes in contact with it. Reported symptoms can include those such as headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms. People who are sensitive to a fungus report that even a tiny amount causes discomforts in the form of sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, and digestive problems. Some allergic reactions are the result of a previous exposure that a person may not have been aware of. As a result, people who have noticed only mild allergic reactions, or no reactions at all may suddenly find themselves very sensitive to particular molds.
All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans. The types and severity of symptoms depend, in part, on the types of mold present, the extent of an individual’s exposure, the ages of the individuals, and their existing sensitivities or allergies. Specific reactions to mold growth can include:
- Allergic reactions that can include sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash.
- Asthma attacks in persons who are allergic to molds.
- Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, which is similar to bacterial pneumonia and is uncommon
- Opportunistic infections that attack people with weakened immune systems (immune-compromised, immune-supressed) that may be more vulnerable to infections by molds.
Molds can produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. Some mycotoxins cling to the surface of mold spores, others may be found within spores. More that 200 mycotoxins have been identified from common molds. Many symptoms and human health effects attributed to inhalation of mycotoxins have been reported including: mucous membrane irritation, skin rash, nausea, immune system suppression, acute or chronic liver damage, acute or chronic central nervous system damage, endocrine effects, and cancer. More studies are needed to get a clear picture of the health effects related to most mycotoxins. However, it is clearly prudent to avoid exposure to molds and mycotoxins.