Is It Mold Making Me Sick

Photo of Dr. Sharol with a big smile in oval photo frame
Photo of a sick person on couch.

Are You Exposed To A Moldy Building

Are you unknowingly living, working or going to school in a water damaged building? If so, it could be dramatically affecting your health. Myctotoxins, endotoxins, volatile organic compounds and other toxins from water-damaged buildings are one of the indoor air pollutants that contribute to a large share of illnesses in the United States as well as other areas of our planet. It does not even have to be obvious. It could be plumbing behind a wall that is leaking slowly, or be in the HVAC system. Many people are unaware that a toxic home or workplace is contributing to their symptoms. Some indoor air pollutants are easily noted such as smoke, or a nasty smelling new carpet. However, a slow water leak from a leaky roof in your home or work can cause a a variety of health issues and not be noticed until sickness has ensued. Even when water damage and mold is noticed, it is often not remediated in an appropriate manner, and further-more people often do not connect the mold to their physical symptoms. They go through extensive testing trying to figure out the causative factor in their poor health only to be told they have "Chronic Fatigue", "Fibromyalgia" or some other illness without a known cause.

Mycotoxins, Spores, Spore Fragments, Endotoxins, VOCs And More, Oh My

Exposure to water-damaged indoor environments often means an exposure to molds and the mycotoxins they produce, bacteria and the endotoxins they produce as well as volatile organic compounds from both molds and bacterias as well as the building materials themselves. We talk about this illness as a "mold" illness but it really involves mold, bacteria and chemicals from building materials. So, when we talk about mold illness, know that it is really a mix of mold, bacteria and chemical toxins. How the molds interact with the bacteria and the building materials can create a much worse situation than any one of these issues by themselves. Currently, we do not have a full understanding of all the causative aspects of illness that can reside in a water-damaged building. Therefore, some clinicians call this illness Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, Due To Water-Damaged Building. Indeed that is what it is, but since it is so long-winded, you will hear it called Mold Related Illness quite often. I often call us folks with susceptibility to mold, simply Moldy People.

The most common types of mold that are found indoors include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. Stachybotrys chartarum (sometimes referred to as “toxic black mold”) is a greenish-black mold, which grows on household surfaces that have high cellulose content, such as wood, fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint and is usually an indicator that there has been elevated moisture present or there has been previous water damage. There are a variety of molds known to grown in water-damaged buildings and many are known or thought to cause health issues.

 

Is Being In A Water-Damaged Building All That Bad?

Mycotoxins are associated with more diseases every day, as the research becomes availble, and alerts us to the growing connection between these toxins and many chronic illness. Exposure to mold, mycotoxins, bacteria and other toxins in a water-damaged building is well known to trigger inflammation, allergies, asthma, oxidative stress, digestive and immune dysfunction in both human and animal studies. Mycotoxins have the ability to produce various symptoms, such as skin rashes, respiratory distress, various types of inflammation through-out the body, cognitive issues, neurological symptoms, and immune suppression. The most common symptoms associated with mold exposure are respiratory such as chronic cough, allergic rhinitis and new onset asthma. Mold symptoms can be quite varied but there are specific signs and symptoms commonly seen in people with "mold illness" and I list them below.

Mold spores, fungal fragments, and mycotoxins can be measured in the indoor environments of moldy buildings, and some labs measure a handful of mycotoxins in humans who are exposed to these environments. Most of the time, we are exposed to molds and mycotoxins through skin contact, ingestion, and by inhalation. Most common are reports of exposure involving water-damaged homes, schools, office buildings, court houses, hospitals, and hotels. It’s estimated that as many as  50% of buildings in the US have had some sort of water damage.

How Do I Know If My Building Is Water Damaged?

You may be able to see visual mold growing. You may be able to smell mold. You may know that the building has had water damage in the past, but can not see mold or smell it. Any of these scenarios are reason to suspect possible toxins due to water-damage, and the building should be tested if a person has signs and symptoms that may be associated with mold related illness, or the person is not recovering from treatments for a diagnosed illness they are treating appropriately. It could be that the illness was misdiagnosed as the clinician did not know about mold related illness.

Many people use air samples but these are limited. They represent a brief moment in time, and sample a small amount of air. An air sample may be deemed completely safe and give the person a false sense of security. If the same building is tested with a quantitative PCR test it may be positive for mold while the air sample was not. 99% of the toxic substances in a water-damaged building are carried by mold fragments too small to be detected by air testing or mold plates. Therefore the best testing is DNA testing by quantitative PCR that can be compared with values already known.

A quantitative PCR called an ERMI from the lab Mycometrics has been a highly valuable tool for many practitioners and patients in evaluating the potential of ongoing mold exposure in the indoor environment. Several labs perform ERMI testing, but I would suggest Mycometrics or Forensic Analytical Lab as two labs that seem to be good labs.

The ERMI analyzes a collected dust sample for the presence of mold spores or bits of mold spores known to be associated with water-damaged buildings. The lab uses a quantitative PCR and compares these values with other common indoor molds to determine the ERMI score. The ERMI score is then evaluated to determine if the living environment may be safe. If one has a mold-susceptible HLA DR type, an ERMI score below 2 is generally desired. A more recent test called HERTSMI-2 is available from Mycometrics that is less extensive and less expensive but may be helpful to determine if a previously contaminated environment is safe for one to reenter after remediation. I would suggest using the ERMI first as I personally think it is more valid, although some would disagree with me. You can take the ERMI and get the HERTSMI-2 data from it. It also gives you additional mold spp. than the HERTSMI-2 that can be helpful.

Mold plates can be helpful, but they are not going to be as inclusive or extensive as the test you get with an ERMI for evaluating indoor environmental presence of mold.

Remember that none of these tests tell you if the person living, working or going to school in the environment is reacting to the molds either. There are some tests that help figure this out. ALCAT offers a blood test that is a mold panel for sensitivities to 20 different molds. RealTime Laboratories has a panel that looks for myoctoxins in the urine. This is limited to a small number of mycotoxins. Genetic haplotype testing is useful for someone who has removed themselves from a moldy environment and can not get well. People who have specific haplotypes, measured by a lab test, will find they have trouble removing mycotoxins from their body and treatment can be quite useful for these folks. There are a battery of lab tests a clinician can run. These are tests that are usually abnormal in people who are susceptible to mold related illness. This link above will take you to a list of mold illness related tests with links to various labs.

 

How Do You Know If Your Illness Is A Mold Related Illness?

People with Mold Susceptibility often notice the following:

  • Musty buildings bother them or they are offended by the smell.
  • They may have lived in, worked in or went to school in a building that had been flooded, had a leaky roof in the past, or had discolored tiles, ceiling tiles or discolored walls or some other sign or history of water-damage in the past.
  • They may have had recurring sinus infections, post-nasal drip, asthma, shortness of breath, recurring respiratory infections or chronic coughing. They may have continuous flu-like symptoms, frequent headaches, skin rashes or other symptoms that come and go with no rhyme or reasons. They may feel fatigued, but be told by their practitioner that there is no discernible reason for the fatigue.
Symptoms Associated with Mold Susceptible Illness
General Signs & Symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Flu-like Symptoms
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Sensitivity to environment
  • Problems regulating body temperature
  • Multiple diagnosis from various docs
  • Clinicians give up on them
Eye/Ear/Nose/Throat
  • Blurred or hazy vision
  • Eyes sensitive to light
  • Eyes tear up
  • Night blindness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Sinus/nasal congestion
  • Nose bleeds
  • Sensitive to odors
  • Eyes puffy/dark circles
  • Vocal cord polyps
  • Nasal polyps
  • Laryngitis or raspy voice,
  • Burning in throat/sore throat, sensitivity to environment
Musculoskeletal
  • Joint pain
  • Shooting pains
  • Ice-pick pains
  • Vibratory sensations
  • Burning pains
  • Stabbing pains
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle aches
  • Weak muscles
  • Fleeting & moving pains
  • Tics, Spastic muscles,
  • Charlie horses
  • Hands curl up like a claw
  • Toes/feet curl up
  • AM stiffness
Lungs/Heart
  • Shortness of breath and tachycardia (fast heart beat) with exercise
  • Chronic cough
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma
  • Swelling or edema
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heart pounds intermittently
Digestive/Liver/Urinary
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Bile reflux
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Urinate a lot
  • Thirsty
Nervous/Endocrine/Immune
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Mental confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor short term memory,
  • Forget what you are doing
  • Can't remember names or words
  • Poor word recall
  • Decreased learning ability
  • Real thirsty
  • Low blood pressure
  • Light headed
  • Vertigo
  • Poor temp regulation
  • Numbness
  • Tingling, Tremors
  • Static electricity zaps more than other people
  • Parkinson's like symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritable
  • Body temperature regulation issues
  • Difficult concentration
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes
  • POTs or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is seen in some people
Skin
  • Skin is sensitive
  • Skin is itchy
  • Feels like bugs crawling on skin
  • Feels like bugs stinging or biting but nothing there
  • Easy bruising
  • Itchy pimples
  • Skin sores
  • Bumpy skin
  • Thickened skin
  • Skin peeling
  • Burning sensations
  • Red Face
  • Sweats - especially at night
  • Static shocks
  • Skin reacts to sun, even through clothing sometimes
  • Vitiligo
  • Cherry hemangiomas
  • Dermatographia urticaria (when you can write on the skin- may be related to high C4a).
Extremities
  • Cold Hands/feet
  • Discolored hands and feet - white and red mottling
  • Parts go to sleep (numbness), tingling
  • Hands shake
  • Clawing of fingers or toes - spastic

 

How to Improve Your Health When You are Sick due to Mold Susceptibility

Removing yourself from moldy environments is the first step of treatment and the most important. For those who do not have genetic sensitivity, this may be the only step necessary along with building remediation.

Remediate the building - If you can't remediate it, move.

Binders, also called bile Acid Sequestrants, Mycotoxin and Endotoxin binders: Using binders to bind toxins directly, or to bind the bile which is bound to the mycotoxins is super helpful.

Support the bodies detoxification and biotransformation process to remove toxins from the bodies. Support Phase I, II, III of the Detoxification Process: Stress support of glutathione.

Genome analysis: Getting a genome analysis and examining any mutations that may effect your biotransformational pathways can be incredibly helpful. There are dietary, environmental and supplemental actions taken to assist your health once you know what variants exist.

General Support of Organs of elimination: This includes the gastrointestinal tract, the urinary tract, the lungs, liver, and skin.

Adequate Nourishment: Make sure the body is getting adequate nourishment with a stress on minerals and antioxidants.

Endocrine System : Make sure there is hormonal balance. Check thyroid, sex hormones, adrenal hormones, vit D.

Avoid Foods that tend to have mycotoxins or be sure your source is clean.

Infections can take hold due to a compromised immune system: Living or working in a moldy environment can lead to immune system dysfunction which can allow microbial, or fungal colonization such as candidal overgrowth in some people. Other people may have MARCONS, while others may have repeated herpes out-breaks. It is important to attend to any viral, microbial, parasitic or fungal infections.

Use immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements which will lower the inflammation that has been caused by the mycotoxins/bacteria and chemical assault. Some people prefer to use protocols that use drugs and Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker has a very good drug protocol that can be used. He addresses the specific lab markers that are found to be too high or too low in CIRS. The herbs and supplements that I use also address these lab markers as the aberrant lab markers are by, and large due to inadequate immune system response, and inflammation.

Use an air filter at home and work such as Aireox.

Click here for a full run-down on the step-by-step protocol to heal from mold related illness.

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