A mold allergy, like any other allergy, can be a continuous nuisance, but sometimes, it becomes more than that. Some people have a serious allergy to mold, and in those with asthma, breathing it in can literally trigger an attack, especially if the asthmatic also has a mold allergy. Because it’s not a contact allergy, mold allergies can be more pervasive than other types of allergies, and it’s important to understand the cause so you can both avoid and treat any allergy you may have.
What is a mold allergy? What are the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention methods? These are all important in controlling the allergy and having a higher quality of life. This is especially true for those with asthma or severe reactions.
Causes of a mold allergy
Mold is a fungus, and some mold is identified as mildew. Where mold grows, it puts out spores (similar to the way flowering plants produce pollen) into the air. When the spores are inhaled, they cause the immune system in people with allergies to overreact, which then causes a string of activities leading to the allergic symptoms experienced with a mold allergy.
Basically, the mold spores are recognized as foreign invaders, like bacteria, and the body produces antibodies to fight them off. However, in this case, these particular antibodies produce symptoms that can be mildly irritating or debilitating.
There are tons of types of mold, and the spores are common indoors and outdoors, but only a few types of mold cause allergic reactions. Some of the molds most likely to cause allergies include:
Mold is the most common allergen, mostly because exposure is all that’s required to cause a reaction, rather than direct contact. However, mold can also cause illness, even without an allergy, when present in large quantities or a particular type (such as black mold in homes).
Symptoms of mold allergies
Like other types of allergies, the symptoms of a mold allergy are fairly common and come in combinations. Typically, someone with an allergy will exhibit one or more of these when exposed to mold:
- Cough and possible hoarseness
- Runny or stuffy nose with postnasal drip
- Watery and/or itchy eyes, with general eye irritation
- Itchy nose and throat
- Skin irritation and/or itching
If the person with the allergy also has asthma, these symptoms could be worse. Other issues could arise as well, such as tightness of the chest, difficulty with breathing and wheezing, and even an asthma attack.
Other complications also arise with a mold allergy that can be of greater concern in any patient. Allergic fungal sinusitis can be caused by mold entering into the sinuses and causing inflammation. People with asthma or cystic fibrosis are more susceptible to allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, which is a disease of the lungs that severely affects breathing. Mold-induced asthma triggers extreme flare ups that require emergency attention. There’s also the chance of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is rare and results in inflammation of the lungs due to exposure to mold spores.
Risk factors for mold allergies
Having an allergic reaction to mold is extremely common, but some people are at greater risk for developing or triggering the allergy than others. Some of the greatest risk factors are:
- Having a family history that involves allergies of any kind, especially to mold, or asthma
- Having an occupation that requires being in an environment with high exposure to mold, including farming, logging, baking, furniture repair, carpentry, greenhouse gardening, winemaking, and dairy work
- Spending a large quantity of time in a building with high humidity or excess moisture, such as an apartment building with leaky pipes or an industrial building with seepage from flood damage or a leaky roof
- Living somewhere with inadequate ventilation so that they are more vulnerable to mold growth; while tightly sealed windows and doors are great for insulation, they are also causes of mold growth, and bathrooms, basements, and kitchens are always susceptible to excess moisture.
Treatment for a mold allergy
When it comes to treating a mold allergy, starting with avoidance is crucial. The less exposure there is to mold, the less likely an allergy with become a problem. The second line of defense is to try home remedies, such as:
- Don’t leave windows open, especially while you sleep. Getting a nice, natural breeze through your home is wonderful, but it also allows excess mold spores to enter the home, causing greater allergic and asthmatic reactions based on the high quantity of mold in the house that can’t easily be removed. Having that mold come in during the night means there is no line of defense possible during sleep, which means breathing in more of the spores.
- Avoid the outdoors at specific times that make allergy sufferers more vulnerable. The worst time is when the mold count is high (you’ll find that weather reports mention this, and you can look up the count online as well, since it’s published). Other times to avoid being outside are immediately after a rainstorm, when there is fog or mist in the air, and when humidity is quite high.
- During any work around high yield mold areas, wear a dust mask over the nose and mouth. That includes jobs that require high exposure to mold, as well as tasks such as mowing the lawn (especially if the grass is wet), raking leaves (since they tend to hold in a great deal of moisture, even long after the last rain), and working with compost (since mold is often a part of this mixture).
If these don’t work, or if it’s not enough to stop the allergic reaction to mold, there are plenty of medicines and treatment options, both over the counter and through a prescription or doctor’s assistance.
Some of those options include:
- Nasal corticosteroids – These are prescribed more and more often for anyone suffering any sort of allergy, as they seem to be the most effective in many cases. The steroid treatment reduces inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses, which significantly reduces the symptoms of the allergic reaction. In addition, there are few side effects, with nasal dryness or nosebleed, neither of which are significant. Nasal corticosteroids are safe for long term use.
- Antihistamines – Available over the counter or by prescription, antihistamines reduce the production of histamine, which is the substances that cause allergy symptoms. They come in tablets or nasal sprays.
- Decongestants – Available in oral or nasal spray form, decongestants also reduce inflammation. However, these are short term treatments for symptoms, as long term treatment could cause negative side effects and end up with the allergy symptoms coming back even worse.
- Montelukast – This is a tablet that blocks leukotrienes, which are produced by the immune system in allergy patients. It’s typically used for asthmatics.
- Immunotherapy – This is a series of allergy shots containing a miniscule amount of the allergen that causes the symptoms, building resistance to that allergen. This can only be prescribed for two types of mold, though.
- Nasal Lavage – This is the practice of rinsing your nasal passages, typically with a saline mix and a squeeze or spray bottle. This can reduce inflammation, help remove some of the excess mucus, and wash out some of the mold spores that could be stuck in the nasal passages and sinuses.
Mold allergies are extremely common, and mold is prevalent, especially in very damp and humid environments. However, there are plenty of ways to treat a mold allergy, as well as to reduce the possibility of suffering from them in the first place. Taking care to avoid mold as much as possible is especially important with asthma patients and can be lifesaving.