If you come in contact with mold and are allergic to it, you may have symptoms. This is called an allergic reaction.
When my boss decided to let me work from home most days, I set up an office in my basement. After a few weeks, I sneezed and coughed when I worked in my home office. Then my eyes started to itch. I had never had allergies and didn’t realize these were allergy symptoms. I told an allergist about my symptoms, and he diagnosed a mold allergy. When I got home, I checked the basement carpet and found that it was damp. I pulled up the carpet and cleaned the floor. My symptoms are gone, and now I enjoy working at home again. — Arnold, age 54
Mold Allergy Overview
What is mold?
Mold is a fungus, which makes spores rather than seeds like plants. These spores float in the air like pollen. When people with a mold allergy inhale the spores, they get allergy symptoms. There are many different kinds of mold. Some kinds you can see, others you can’t.
Outdoor molds can grow on rotting logs and fallen leaves, in compost piles, and on grasses and grains. Unlike pollens, molds do not die with the first frost in late fall or early winter. They just stop growing during this time. In the spring, they grow on plants killed by the cold.
Indoor molds grow in places where there is moisture, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and basement.
Who gets mold allergy?
People with parents or brothers or sisters who have allergies to such things as mold, pollen, and animal dander (tiny flakes from the skin, hair, or feathers of animals) most likely become allergic to mold.
What are some symptoms of mold allergy?
The symptoms are like those of other allergies. Mold allergy symptoms include sneezing; runny or stuffy nose; itchy throat or inside of ears; hives; swollen eyelids and itchy eyes; and coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when a person breathes), and trouble breathing.
How is mold allergy diagnosed?
Your allergist will review your medical history, ask questions about your symptoms and allergens (something you are allergic to), and do skin and/or blood testing. With skin testing, a small amount of a possible allergen is pricked or scratched into the skin. If you’re sensitive to an allergen, a small red lump appears on the skin.
Record of allergy symptoms
It’s helpful for you to keep a record of your symptoms for at least 2 weeks before you see your doctor about possible mold allergies. The list below can help you keep track.
- Allergy symptoms (date/time)
- How long symptoms lasted
- Where were you
- What you were doing or eating
- Medicines used including (including over-the-counter) to relieve symptoms
- How long after you got the symptoms you took the medicine
- Effect of medicine
How is mold allergy treated?
- Avoid or limit contact with mold. For example, stay away from basements that may have mold; don’t cut the grass; steer clear of hay and straw. If you can’t avoid these things, wear a dust mask, which can be found at most hardware stores.
- Take steps to prevent or get rid of mold. (Listed below).
- Take medicine to relieve your symptoms. Your allergist may prescribe medicines such as antihistamines, decongestants, nose (nasal) sprays or eye drops.
How can I reduce the amount of mold in my home?
- Clean garbage cans often.
- Scrub sinks at least monthly.
- Clean refrigerator door gaskets and drip pans.
Keeping the house dry
- Put an exhaust fan or open a window in the bathroom to get rid of the moisture.
- Use a dehumidifier to keep your house dry.
- Fix water leaks as soon as possible to keep mold from growing.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation. This helps prevent water from leaking into the house.
- Add fungicides (found at paint and hardware stores) to paint, primer, or wallpaper paste to slow mold growth. (Make sure there is no moisture on walls before doing this.) Fungicides are chemicals that help prevent mold.
- Get rid of old books, newspapers, clothing and bedding where mold can grow.
- Don’t use carpet in bathrooms and basements. Remove moldy carpet right away.
How can I clean up mold?
The first step is to fix things like leaky roofs and faucets to get rid of moisture. The next step is to remove the mold. You can do this by scrubbing solid items such as floors, cabinets and furniture with a cleaning detergent mixed in hot water, or with a commercially available dilute bleach solution. Make sure the detergent does not contain ammonia. Items that can absorb water such as rugs or ceiling tiles may have to be thrown away. Rinse and dry items completely. Wear gloves, mask, and eye protection while you’re cleaning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that you wear an N-95 respirator, which you can buy at many hardware stores. (They cost about $12 to $25.) If you are allergic to mold or are sensitive to the cleaning solution, you may need to get someone else to do the cleanup.
Did you know…Devices that treat indoor air with heat, ions, or ozone are not recommended for mold? Heat increases mold growth. Ozone, which is sometimes used in water to remove odors, irritates the lungs. Ions are small particles with an electrical charge and have not been proven to remove mold spores from the air.
Who can treat my allergies?
Allergists are experts who treat allergies.
Does health insurance cover treatment for mold allergy?
Most health insurance plans cover allergy treatment. Ask your insurance carrier:
- Do I need a referral from my doctor to see an allergist?
- Does my insurance cover patient education or special services for my allergies, on mold, or on controlling indoor air quality?
- Does my insurance cover a pre-existing health problem? This usually means any health problem that you had before you joined your current health plan.
What medicines does my plan cover?