Mold: The Hidden Allergy Problem
Going outside at this time of year can make kids sneeze or wheeze, but as one mom learned, what's inside your home might be causing the symptoms more than what is outside.
Up to 10 percent of the general population, including children, are allergic to or sensitive to mold, according to a 2015 study in Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research. Inhaling spores—the invisible airborne seeds of mold—can cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, and coughing. "
Unfortunately, doctors are finding that mold allergy is more than just hereditary. A study at the University of Cincinnati revealed that babies exposed to high levels of certain household molds have an increased chance of developing multiple allergies later in life.
Other research has found that children who live in a home with visible mold and a history of water damage, contributing to Sick Building Syndrome, have as much as double the rate of asthma—even if their parents don't suffer from the disease.
Asthma and mold are a hazardous combination. Most kids with asthma are allergic to mold, and they tend to react more severely to molds than they do to other triggers.
Mold Allergy Symptoms in Children
You may brush off your child's sniffles at this time of year as a bit of hay fever, but pay attention to whether he reacts in specific locations, like the basement or outside after you've mowed, and also if his symptoms persist beyond spring pollen season (generally March to June).
If your pediatrician thinks mold may be the culprit, she'll probably refer you to an allergist for testing. The allergist will lightly prick your child's skin with a needle containing common allergens and watch for a hive-like reaction.
11 Smart Ways to Prevent Allergies
Although older houses may be more prone to leaks, new ones are also vulnerable to mold because energy-efficient windows and doors can keep moisture inside. Follow these tips to reduce your risk.
Repair any leaks quickly. If you notice a moldy odor in a room, look for hidden leaks.
Use exhaust fans, and vent outside the home, bathroom, and kitchen.
In bathrooms, use washable throw rugs instead of carpets.
Keep indoor humidity levels at 40 to 60 percent (check them with a small digital humidity monitor). Set up a dehumidifier if necessary, especially in a damp basement.
Use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter to remove spores in the air, and change the filter regularly. If you don't have AC, close windows when it's humid.
The Truth About Toxic Mold
You may have heard news reports about "toxic" molds like Stachybotrys chartarum, which has been blamed for everything from runny noses to potentially fatal pulmonary hemorrhage during the past decade. A few molds do produce chemical toxins called mycotoxins, but you'd need to swallow them to get sick. "For inhaled mold to pose a serious health risk from mycotoxins, you would have to be in a very, very heavily contaminated building," says Dr. Stuart Abramson.
But the CDC is still urging caution. According to its comprehensive study, any mold can cause symptoms if you're exposed to large quantities of it for long periods, even if it's not considered to be "toxic." Children and adults who suffer from mold allergies or lung diseases are the most vulnerable.