Like any allergy, mold allergy symptoms are triggered by an overly sensitive immune system response. When you inhale tiny, airborne mold spores, your body recognizes them as foreign invaders and develops allergy-causing antibodies to fight them. After the exposure has passed, you still produce antibodies that “remember” this invader, so that any later contact with the mold causes your immune system to react. This reaction triggers the release of substances such as histamine, which cause itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and other mold allergy symptoms. Molds are very common both inside and outside. There are many types, but only certain kinds of mold cause allergies. Being allergic to one type of mold doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be allergic to another. Some of the most common molds that cause allergies include alternaria, aspergillus, cladosporium and penicillium.
When It’s Not An Allergy
Although a mold allergy is the most common problem caused by exposure to mold, mold can cause illness without an allergic reaction. Mold can also cause infections or irritant and toxic reactions. Infections caused by mold can lead to a variety of problems from flu-like symptoms to skin infections and even pneumonia.
An irritant reaction is caused when substances from molds called volatile organic compounds irritate the mucous membranes in the body. Symptoms of an irritant reaction are similar to an allergy and include eye irritation, runny nose, cough, hoarseness, headache and skin irritation.
A number of factors can make you more likely to develop a mold allergy, or worsen your existing mold allergy symptoms, including:
- Having a family history of allergies. If allergies and asthma run in your family, you’re more likely to develop a mold allergy.
- Working in an occupation that exposes you to mold.Occupations where mold exposure may be high include farming, dairy work, logging, baking, millwork, carpentry, greenhouse work, winemaking and furniture repair.
- Living in a house with high humidity. If your indoor humidity is higher than 60 percent, you may have increased exposure to mold in your home. Mold can grow virtually anywhere if the conditions are right — in basements, behind walls in framing, on soap-coated grout and other damp surfaces, in carpet pads, and in the carpet itself. Exposure to high levels of household mold may trigger mold allergy symptoms.
- Working or living in a building that’s been exposed to excess moisture. Examples include leaky pipes, water seepage during rainstorms and flood damage. At some point, nearly every building has some kind of excessive moisture. This moisture can allow mold to flourish.
- Living in a house with poor ventilation. Tight window and door seals may trap moisture indoors and prevent proper ventilation, creating ideal conditions for mold growth. Damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens and basements, are most vulnerable.
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