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Mold Is Growing All Around Us
∞ Mold is all around us. It is breaking down fallen trees, old leaves and other debris that would pile up all around us. Bacteria and fungus have their place in the compost pile, but we don't necessarily want the same bacteria and fungi in our homes causing our home to rot and generate toxic indoor air pollution. However this all too often takes place. The fact that many buildings are built to be air-tight and many seem to lack adequate ventilation, means we have created a toxic soup bowl when water is added to the mix.
Although we think of water-damaged buildings as moldy buildings, this is only half of the truth. These buildings harbor a mixture of mold as well as bacteria growth and the toxins they release. Additionally, the building materials themselves emit toxins as the building substances are broken down by bacterial and fungal activity.
This article will introduce you to key facts about mold in buildings and how it may affect our health. We will touch on killing mold, remediating buildings and how to identify people who are chronically ill from water-damaged buildings. Links are provided to additional more in-depth details.
Damp Buildings Are Known To Be Associated With These Pests
- Dust mites
- Chemicals from damp building materials and furnishings
Other pests can take advantage of damaged walls, flooring or ceilings and pests such as rodents can find their way into the building more easily.
Although, all of these are factors in causing reactions to water-damaged buildings, we are focusing on the toxins created by mold and bacteria. However, we do want to remember that water-damaged buildings can become quite complicated the longer they exist and involvement of various types of creatures increases if ignored. Some creatures such as rodents have allergenic components in their urine that can cause severe inflammatory reactions in humans including asthma and and rhinitis. This piles on more inflammation for the person who is already reacting to toxins from mold, bacteria and decomposing toxic building materials in a water-damaged building.
We Need Molds To Decompose Materials in The Environment But Not In Our Homes
These molds and bacteria are very good at destroying our homes when moisture is introduced by a leaking roof, or a hairline crack in a pipe hiding in the walls. They grow on the wood, the gypsum board, the wall paper, inside the HVAC system etc...
Moisture can also be introduced through everyday activities such as showers, baths, washing clothes, cooking on the stove. If a house does not have good ventilation to take this moisture out of the house such as a good working ceiling fan in the bathroom, above the stove and in the laundry room, that moisture will accumulate in the home. Some contractors have even been known to hook up a fan and vent it into the attic or under the house rather than outside which is a big no no.
What Are These Toxins That Some Molds Make
Molds like to stake out their space. Some of them have learned how to protect their space by emitting toxins to kill off bacteria or kill other molds trying to eat the same wood, gypsum or other housing materials that the mold wants for themselves. This is why some mycotoxins are used as antibiotics. An example of a fungus made toxin (mycotoxin) used as a well known antibiotic is penicillin made by the Penicillium species. Penicillium species make it to kill off the bacteria that grows on old food as well as on water damaged building materials as these bacteria compete for the same nutrients the fungus uses as a food source. Therefore, the fungi will create mycotoxins to kill off the bacteria. Penicillin, is an example where humans have harnessed this bacteria killing property of the mycotoxin to use as a medicine to treat bacterial infections. Some of these toxins also kill other fungi and can make humans and animals sick or even kill them. Fungi defend their territory by putting out mycotoxins against anything that is trying to compete for space and nutrients. This allows the fungus to kill other competing organisms and take over the area in its sinister plot to take over the world, or at least the building we are living in, going to school in or working in. Although they may be trying to kill off those organism immediately around them, these toxins can travel through the air, and some of these toxins can affect us too. There are even mycotoxins that have been used by the military of some countries as chemical weapons.
Both the bacteria and the fungus can put toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air that we smell as a "musty" smell or "moldy" smell. The mycotoxins and bacterial toxins may or may not have a smell to them. Researchers claim mycotoxins are odorless, but both bacteria and mold also put out volatile organic compounds that have some intense smells and these smells assist us in finding them. The fact that they might be there making non-smelly mycotoxins and no VOCs to let us know they exist is a bit worrisome, but most folks find water-damaged buildings usually come with a scent. Both mycotoxins and the VOCs made by molds may be harmful to both human health and the health of our pets. I want to stress that bacteria in water-damaged buildings also put out microbial toxins and VOC's that can cause reactions as most of us think it is only about the mold. Mycotoxins, bacterial toxins and VOC's can cause many symptoms in people susceptible to them.
Molds Can Act As Allergens, Irritants and a Source of Toxic Substances
Mold does not just invade our home or work. It may invade us also. It does this by multiple means. Both spores and toxins can be inhaled into our body and some spores of fungi can take up residence in nasal passageways, sinuses, and even the lungs as well as the digestive tract. Aspgergillus is most known for this. Aspergillus and Fusarium are both found in a significant percent of the population when genomic identification of gut flora has taken place in studies. It is thought that certain species may be normal and considered commensal in small amounts. However, more pathogenic species or perhaps commensals in excess may cause symptoms. Spores as well as bits of mold or their mycotoxins can irritate the skin upon contact, mycotoxins can also irritate the respiratory tract and the digestive tract. When they are inhaled from the air and swallowed after inhalation or swallowed in food, they may then be absorbed into the body where they can be measured in the blood or urine. The body sees them as a toxin that needs to be removed from the body or if unable to remove it adequately, the body will attempt to sequester or contain the toxins intracellularly. The methods used to remove these toxins are by removal in the urine, through perspiration in the skin, through removal in the feces or contaiment in body cells. The option of sequestering them is cells is of course not a good option as they can be released at a later date and continue to bother us.
How Mycotoxins Cause Damage
Mycotoxins in the body cause many symptoms from contact damage to the skin, respiratory tract and digestive tract, to more extensive organ dysfunction or damage when they penetrate the body. The irritation and damage they do to various organs can cause them to induce additional sensitivities we did not have before to food, environmental chemicals, even essential oils and electromagnetic fields. A person may even become "allergic" to the mold/mycotoxins and other chemicals that never bothered the indivdiual previously. Being sensitive to and being allergic are different things. An allergy is is when we have an IgE reaction that is measureable in a lab. Sensitivity is a bit harder to test, but can be ascertained through a variety of testing methods along with symptomatic expression.
Mold and Mycotoxins Cause Notable Contact Irritation To These Organs
- Digestive tract
When bacterial toxins and fungal mycotoxin toxins are absorbed through the skin, lungs or digestive tract and penetrate the body, they can cause a variety of symptoms that range from annoying to deadly. Luckily, they are more likely to cause dysfunction than kill us, but for many they are a terrible source of chronic disease due to individuals living or working continuously in a water-damaged building and/or due to genetic susceptibility making them more sensitive and less able to recover from the symptoms of exposure to a water-damaged building.
Symptoms Caused By Mycotoxins
The symptoms seen in individuals exposed to a water-damaged building can vary quite a bit. Details on symptoms by organ system are at this link. Additionally, below is the most commonly seen clusters of symptoms that many physicians use to indicate what is called "Chronic Inflammatory Response due to a water-damaged building" or "CIRS due to a water-damaged building" for short. It is also what many called "Mold Sensitivity" to really shorten it. This is not inclusive of the bacterial componant, or the fact that the building materials themselves are putting off toxins as they decompose. CIRS is something different than the usual acute reactions to mold. Acute reactions can be serious and cause any one or more of the symptoms at the link above, but for many people they disappear when no longer exposed to the water-damaged building. However, for some people the individual continues to react and they end up with chronic symptoms that are best identified using these symptom clusters below.
Many Docs use what Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker has called symptom clusters to identify people with CIRS. He suggests that 8 or more of the following 13 clusters in an adult are diagnostic of CIRS. Don't forget to also look at screening tests such as VCS and Labs.
- Weakness, decreased assimilation of new knowledge, aches, headaches, light sensitivity
- Memory impairment, decreased word finding
- Difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain, AM stiffness, cramps
- Tingling, tremors, unusual pain, unusual skin sensations
- Shortness of breath, sinus congestion
- Cough, excessive thirst, confusion
- Appetite swings, difficulty regulating body temperature, increased urinary frequency
- Red eyes, blurred vision, night sweats, mood swings, ice-pick pains
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, numbness
- Tearing of eyes, disorientation, metallic taste
- Static shocks, vertigo
Killing off mold and bacteria is not sufficient to stop symptoms in susceptible people. The dead mold and bacteria and their remaining toxins can still cause symptoms in people living or working in the building. So, although going on a killing spree will kill that mold and bacteria that we can see visually growing and clean (may be much more behind the wall, ceiling and flooring) the only way to get rid of the symptom causing toxins is to remove any building materials that are porous and contaminated and clean all other materials. (we usually can't clean porous material with mold growing on it well enough to stop symptoms) Sometimes after cleaning the material we can completely contain the material in some manner so toxins can never escape again (hard to do but possible in some cases). Sadly, some people pay a lot of money to have their home remediated and find they are still reacting to the building when they move back in. This could be due to poor remediation, or a new source of water-damage, or the person is simply super sensitive. I want to also add that when we kill off mold, any mold that is left is mold that is capable of living through whatever we used to kill them. The mold and bacteria that live through any type of remediation products used to kill them are generally resistant to those chemicals/products and often they and the future bacteria and molds they create will be resistant if the same products are use to remediate again in the future. The key to make sure they do not survive and live to reproduce another day is to first remove all contaminated materials, clean everything around the area to remove most spores and toxins and to keep their environment dry thereafter. Remove all sources of possible moisture. Keep track of humidity in the house, removing humidy with fans or other methods and look for any issues in the home that might invite moisture.
Remember that mycotoxins by and large are thought to be scentless although I believe the same molds often put out toxic VOCs too. Mycotoxins are even smaller than spores and they are often breathed into our respiratory tract when we enter a moldy building. Hopefully, there are smelly VOC's from the molds or bacteria growing in the water-damaged buildings you frequent that will warn you they are in the air, so you can leave the building. If you smell something musty, assume you are breathing in bacterial or fungal toxins. Sadly, many of the people who are sick from water-damaged buildings are not able to smell musty smells any more. This ability seems to disappear in individuals who are in moldy buildings a lot. Interestingly, I found research on mice where they used a toxin from black mold - Stachybotrys chartarum to damage nerve cells in the mice that are necessary to the sense of smell. Satratoxin G (a mold toxin) was administered into their noses and it killed sensory neurons used to detect odors, but left other cells unharmed. The mice also had inflammation in the nasal passages and a runny nose as well as inflammation of the olfactory bulbs. Interestingly enough I have noted that people around mold often lose the ability to smell musty buildings. However, as they remove themselves from exposure and heal, this ability to smell mustiness almost always returns. The other thing many people notice is upon walking into a musty building they are at first very cognizant of the smell, but if they stay, they quickly find themselves acclimatized to the scent and don't notice it anymore. They have to leave the building for a period of time and will notice the smell upon entering again.
Hopefully, this has provided everyone with a new perspective on mold and bacteria in water-damaged buildings and how they interact with us and each other. More extensive data can be found at the links in the article above. For details, follow those links.
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