If you’ve been struggling with an unknown illness or recurring symptoms that doctors can’t diagnose, you may want to find out if mold in your home is making you sick and if so, how to remove the mold in your home as quickly as possible. Even if you can’t see it, mold can be hiding between walls, in HVAC systems, under carpets, in the corners of a ceiling, around chimneys or even somewhere in an attic. After my son was diagnosed with PANS/PANDAS and Lyme last fall, I got a crash course in mold toxicity and how it could have been a contributing factor in my son’s illness (a path we’re still investigating months later).
Here’s what you need to know about mold in your home:
What is Mold?
Mold is a type of fungus that consists of small organisms found almost everywhere. In small amounts, mold spores are usually harmless. But when they land on a damp area in your home, the spores can grow. When mold is growing on a surface, spores can be released into the air where they can be easily inhaled. And this is how mold in your home can make you sick.
Not all mold is toxic and not all mold that may be toxic is toxic to all people. We all have different susceptibilities and immune system responses. You’ve probably heard of “black mold” which is very dangerous. But there really is no species of mold that is considered “safe” when inhaled, and those who are immunocompromised can get very sick from even the most common forms of mold. If you have visible mold in your home you should have it tested and removed right away. Don’t have visible mold in your home? Don’t relax yet — mold could still be making you sick even if you can’t see it.
Symptoms of Mold Illness
The symptom list for mold toxicity is long, but the most common symptoms are a chronically runny or stuffy nose, red/watery eyes, a dry cough, skin rashes, chronic sinus infections, wheezing or shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, vertigo, blurred vision and even memory loss. If you suffer from three or more of these on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time, you may want to look into mold illness. Because many of these symptoms can be traced to many other diseases or toxicities you should take a test to be sure you are dealing with toxic mold. Currently the only way to prove that a person’s symptoms are related to toxic mold spores that put off toxins called “mycotoxins” is to be tested for the presence of “mycotoxins” in the body. This can be done through labs such at Great Plains Lab. You can order a test kit yourself or have your practitioner do it for you.
Another tool you can use is a Visual Contrast Test (VCS test). Because mold illness affects visual contrast sensitivity this test can aid in determining whether you need additional testing. It is a good place to start because it only costs $10 and is easy to do on your own. If your tests are positive then you will know you should see your doctor for further testing and evaluation.
How to Test Your Home for Mold
The key to avoiding toxic mold is to put a stop to it before it has the chance to become a large, harmful infestation. If you suspect mold may be somewhere in your home, then begin to search for it by checking spots where moisture buildup is common. Mold can also tend to have a musty smell, so be aware of that as well.
You can either hire someone to come test your home, or you can collect samples yourself and send them to a lab for analysis. If you want to hire someone, be sure you choose a company who only tests for mold but does not remediate so that you can trust the results are free of a self-interest in making more money in the remediation.
There are also two types of testing that you can do at home that are fairly reliable — one that tests the air for mold, and the other that tests dust in your home. We used the Immunolytics test which uses petri-dish type plates to collect samples from the air. You put a plate in each room you want to test for at least an hour. Then you cover, seal, label, and send plates off to their lab for analysis. They email you results that tell you if any mold growth occurred, what type of mold, how much, and from what room. I like this test a lot because it can tell you which rooms in your home might be more problematic and it is testing the air, which shows current mold presence. They also have a swap analysis option for any visible mold you may have and want to test.
You can also do the highly recommended ERMI test, which tests mold in the dust found around your home. Select the swiffer option (we used Envirobiomics ERMI test). This test directs you to collect a sufficient quantity of dust from your home so that lab analysis can be successful. I recommend doing both, and here’s why:
Doing the air test is easy and relatively affordable. The mold samples collected reflect the current quality of your air, whereas the dust test shows a past presence of mold (depending on how long the dust has been there). In reality, if you have mold spores in your dust, you also likely have it in your air. If you want to know about the presence of mold in specific rooms or areas of your home, this test is less specific or you need to do more than one test, which can get costly. I recommend the Immunolytics air test in all rooms of your home and then, based on that analysis, target specific rooms or areas with the ERMI swiffer test to get a more accurate and complete picture.
You can search for a mold inspector in your area on the Indoor Air Quality Association website.
How to Remove Mold From Your Home
If mold is affecting an extremely small area (if the affected area is less than 10 square feet) and your household doesn’t include anyone who is very young, very old or immune-compromised, you can tackle the problem yourself if you’re careful. This isn’t always the best option because disturbing a mold infestation can send the spores flying and make your problem worse and more widespread unless you seal off the area and protect yourself. Note that you should never touch mold with your bare hands, get it in your eyes, or breathe it. Most mold removal will require a specialist – more specifically, a licensed mold remediation contractor, who employs licensed mold abatement workers, to remove, clean, sanitize and disinfect your mold issue. Is it covered by insurance? Whether mold damage is covered by home owners insurance often comes down to the source of that moisture. Take some time to review the language of your policy, especially as it pertains to water damage. Look for mold exclusions or limitations and call your agent if the wording is unclear.
- Install ventilation fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen. Make sure these are vented to the exterior.
- Use mold-resistant drywall and paints, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.
- Fix plumbing leaks as soon as possible.
- Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that have been soaked and cannot be dried right away.
- Consider installing an ultraviolet lighting system that will destroy mold spores as air passes through ducts.
- Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners in basements and other areas of the house where mold tends to grow, especially in hot humid climates.
To learn more about preventing mold in your home, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.