It is hard to decide where to being when you first realize you may have CIRS due to a water-damaged building. It is common that people are confused as to how to begin when confronted with this illness. Many people are a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume of data on this website and find it hard to understand if they have "mold brain". I find myself getting emails from people asking questions that are already answered on this website, but they are simply overwhelmed and unable to figure out how to begin. This article presents the most important things to do in the beginning stage and gives specific ideas and activities to get folks off to a productive start. This article is only about step one. For other steps check out Step By Step ProtocolTo Heal From Mold.

What You Will Learn

  • To begin with, you identify if you have mold illness
  • Identify signs and symptoms of mold illness
  • Identify buildings that are exposing you to mold and toxins
  • Test the suspect building(s) for mold
  • Test yourself for mycotoxins or use additional testing as applicable
  • Make a plan of how you will remediate, or move
  • Remove all belongings from your living space that are contaminated and can not be cleaned
  • Ensure the new living space is mold and toxin-free and built in a manner that it will not soon be water-damaged also

Where To Begin With Mold Illness

Where do you begin with mold illness? What should be done first? Although I always tell people to remove themselves from mold exposure as a first step, there is an even earlier action that needs to be taken. First, an individual needs to be sure that they are actually reacting to a "moldy" building and rule out other possible causes of their symptoms. I have had clients who think they have CIRS when it is really not obvious they do and unless it is obvious that CIRS due to a water-damaged building is the issue, we don't want to jump to that conclusion. If you are living in or working in a water-damaged building and you became sick after being exposed to this building, there are tests that can help verify your theory. To identify this illness you need to become a detective. Many Docs have no idea what to do with a patient who tells them they are reacting to a moldy building. Often individuals can't find a Doc that can diagnose or help them, so they have to give their physician some help by suggesting tests that are available. Many tell me they had to figure it out on their own since there were simply no practitioners available or willing to assist them. Before you begin step one of healing from mold illness, you first need to make sure you have a correct diagnosis.

Becoming A Detective

If you believe yourself to have "mold illness', we want to methodically look for signs and symptoms of CIRS due to water-damaged buildings. We also need to decide if these symptoms are caused by "moldy buildings", something else, or perhaps there are multiple causative factors. I tell my clients they need to imagine themselves as a detective that is investigating the cause of their illness. To begin, they get a pad of paper or use a computerized device and take notes. All signs and symptoms of mold illness are listed and the individual starts figuring out if anything makes them better or worse. Are there environments, times of day, times of year, weather etc. that make the symptoms and signs better or worse? How do emotions or personal activities change the symptoms and signs? Additionally, look around the environment and look for signs of water-damage in buildings frequented. This can be old or new water-damage. Old water-damage that was not properly remediated can continue to make us sick far into the future and some people are more sensitive to the toxins associated with water-damaged buildings. Examine the home or workspace carefully. Look for evidence of poor building materials or building methods that might cause water damage.

One sure way to know if you are reacting to mold in your environment is to remove yourself from that environment by taking a vacation. This must be done thoughtfully to ensure you don't take a vacation in a moldy space, or to take moldy items on vacation with you.

Photo of mold growing on suitcase.

Testing Building(s) For Mold

Do you need to test the building? If you had a water incident that started the illness, and you know there is mold already as you can see it, no you don't probably need to test unless you want to identify the types of mold. To identify visible mold as to the specific genera of mold, this can be done easily with a mold lift tape test. When it is evident where mold is and that the mold was the start of the illness, you can be pretty sure, that part of the building needs to be remediated and hopefully, once it is removed and cleaned up APPROPRIATELY, you will feel better.

However, often the people I work with do not see the mold. They might see signs of water damage or smell something, but often the mold is in wall cavities, under the house in a crawl space or in the attic, or other hidden areas.  If you suspect mold, but can't find it, test the building. Make sure the testing is appropriate or you may not get useful data. PCR testing is the gold standard. Additionally, make sure the testing is done appropriately. Have it done by someone who really knows what they are doing (get references or verify this) or if you do it yourself, read the directions and talk to the company supplying the test if you are unsure of the process.

Many (but not all) building inspectors now have various types of equipment that can be used to find mold behind walls, but I still suggest PCR testing to find mold and to make sure it has been adequately cleaned up afterward.  This will help you decide if the building was adequately cleaned.  The testing post-remediation needs to be after enough dust has accumulated to retest. This should be at least 6 weeks in my opinion.

Testing Our Bodies For Mycotoxins

Testing of ourselves has some options. When I first became aware of this illness, the only one writing about mold illness was Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker and there was nothing about him on the internet. I had to find him through discussions with other physicians asking if any of them knew of practitioners treating people for mold exposure. He had written a book and included testing options he was using. Initially, I used his lab testing as I had nothing else to go by. This testing is still useful, but I often don't use it anymore unless a client has been following the testing already. Most people have to pay for these tests themselves as many are not covered by insurance and it can be quite costly.  The test I find the most useful is urine testing for mycotoxins. However, this has to be done correctly or the information is not as useful. I mention this as many people who contact for a consult with me have had urine testing done already, but it is not a challenged test which makes the test much less useful.

Once it appears that indeed someone is reacting to a water-damaged building, it is time to identify all possible exposures and either begin remediation or remove the person from the exposure.

The First Step Is The Most Important

We are finally getting to the begging step of treating mold illness. If you have looked at the Step By Step Process to heal from mold, you know that once diagnosed, the first step is to remove yourself from exposure to a water-damaged building.

This needs to be carefully thought out. I see big mistakes made at this time. I am going to list some of the most common mistakes here.

  • The building is not properly remediated
  • Some people should move rather than remediate
  • Some homes simply are not able to be remediated
  • Belongings contaminated with mycotoxins and other toxins   that should be thrown out are kept in the remediated building
  • Belongings contaminated with mycotoxins and other toxins  are moved to the new location
  • Where the individual moves to is also water-damaged
  • A new home is built that is built in a manner that lends towards it also becoming water-damaged
Remediation issues

Some people are so sensitive they can't be in any remediated home. Additionally, some homes are so badly damaged, they simply should not be remediated.

If you remediate, spend time finding someone to remediate your home who knows how to do the job correctly. Read up on this process so you will have an idea of what you should ask the contractor. You need to know the basics to ask questions that will let you know if they will really clean up the toxins or if they will simply make things look good.

I suggest you read this remediation plan at the Surviving Mold website. It will give you an idea of what should be done during remediation. There are other methods also used, but this gives you an idea of what should be done at a minimum.

On this website articles related to remediation are:


You will need to decide what you will keep and what will be thrown out. The best thing to do is read Cleaning Mold and Odors Off Your Stuff. Also, read Issues Cleaning the Mold Homes And Moldy Stuff. Please do not start cleaning your belongs until you read these articles.

It is important to only keep those belongings that can be cleaned. If you can't part with items that may be contaminated with mycotoxins, box them up and put them in storage. Don't put them back into a remediated home or move them to your new home. Don't box up belongings that have visible mold on them. Only box up things you have attempted to clean, but you are unsure are really clean. These are usually belongings that were cleaned, but there is still a faint smell on them. (If you have trouble smelling musty items, get help from a friend or family member) If they are items you don't want to part with, box them really well and store them away from your living space to look at later when you feel better.

It is important to note that many people who are sick from a "moldy building" are often unable to smell the musty smell that accompanies mold and mycotoxins. Usually, as they heal their ability to smell musty things returns to them. After, they are able to smell contaminated items, this is the time to get those belongings out of storage and relook at them. Once a person feels better and they recognize that moldy smell, they usually want nothing to do with tainted items no matter how attached they once were to the belonging. Many of these items are easier to throw out at this point if they smell musty as the individual has tasted the sweet success of health and they do not want to be sick again.

Where to move to

Be very careful in choosing a new home to move to. Testing the building is a good idea. If you have friends who have a good nose for mold and you don't, invite them to sniff a building out as your first method to identify a possible building purchase as being safe. If you have not yet read through the data on Buying A Mold Free House, I suggest you read through this article for some pointers on what to look for in a safer home. Here you will find things you want to avoid as well as things to look for. You can also hire an inspector to specifically look for prior water-damage or issues that might lead to water-damage. I definitely suggest this before you make a decision.


  • To begin with, you identify if you have mold illness
  • Identify signs and symptoms of mold illness
  • Identify buildings that are exposing you to mold and toxins
  • Test the suspect building(s) for mold
  • Test yourself for mycotoxins or use additional testing as applicable
  • Make a plan of how you will remediate, or move
  • Remove all belongings from your living space that are contaminated and can not be cleaned
  • Ensure the new living space is mold and toxin-free and built in a manner that it will not soon be water-damaged also

Remember To Send This To Friends And Family Who Will Benefit From Reading It!