Molds are a type of fungus that cause allergies in many people. With proper identification and treatment, mold-allergy sufferers can control their symptoms and avoid future reactions. Specialists at Baptist Health can assist you in managing your allergies.
What Are Mold Allergies?
Molds are fungi which reproduce by releasing spoors into the air. It is contact with these spoors, typically through breathing, that causes an allergic reaction in some persons. Reactions range in intensity from mild to severe.
Mold allergies can be difficult to manage. There are a thousand-plus mold species in the United States alone, growing both indoors and out. Depending on the nature of the allergy, sufferers can experience symptoms at any time during the year.
What Are the Symptoms of a Mold Allergy?
Mold-allergy symptoms are often like those experienced by hay-fever sufferers. More severe cases can trigger an asthmatic response. Below are some common features of a mold allergy.
Common Mold Allergy Signs and Symptoms
Mold-allergy symptoms frequently occur in the upper respiratory system. These can include:
- Coughing or wheezing
- Itchy throat
- Nasal congestion
- Sneezing and mucous drainage
- Red, puffy, or teary eyes
More severe (asthmatic) symptoms might include chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Mold allergies can also be a source of skin rashes and other forms of contact dermatitis.
In rare cases, inhaling or ingesting molds can cause anaphylaxis, an extreme and possibly fatal allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is marked by:
- Swollen throat, lips, or tongue
- Impaired breathing
- Skin rashes or hives
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
- Change of color in the face or body (turning pale or red)
- Gastrointestinal pain
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Uterine cramps
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing common mold allergy symptoms, see your physician for a professional diagnosis. In more severe cases, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency medical facility. Should the need arise, allergy sufferers with epinephrine auto-injectors can self-administer a medication to counter an anaphylactic reaction.
What Causes Mold Allergies?
The root cause of mold allergies is similar to that of other types of allergies: the hypersensitivity of the body’s immune system to certain “invading” or “foreign” elements, in this case, fungal spores. This overreaction results in antibody production, leading to repeat episodes in future contact with the allergen.
Molds occur in almost every human setting. They are also associated with certain foods and medications. Not all molds cause allergies but several common forms do, including aspergillus, cladosporium, alternaria, and penicillium. Several factors may increase your risk of developing a mold allergy:
- A family history of allergies or asthma
- An occupation with significant mold exposures (e.g., farming, logging, baking, winemaking, carpentry, and so forth)
- A house or apartment with poor ventilation
- A house or apartment with high humidity, water seepage, or flood damage
How Do I Know If I Have a Mold Allergy?
Allergy or allergy-like symptoms, especially those of the upper respiratory system, are common, and may result from a number of medical conditions. You will need to see your physician for a proper evaluation. He or she may take the following steps to diagnose your case:
- Conduct a physical examination
- Document your symptoms and family medical history
- Administer a radioallergosorbent, or RAST, test to identify your allergen or allergens
- Conduct a skin-prick test
- Administer an IgE antibody test
The skin-prick test involves injecting tiny amounts of potential irritants under your skin, to look for evidence of an allergic response (e.g., swelling, itching, or redness). The IgE antibody test indicates past contact with an allergen.
Mold Allergy Treatments
Mold allergies are managed rather than cured. Mild symptoms can be controlled with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants. Other treatment options include:
- Prescription antihistamines and other medications
- Breathing-support therapies
- Addressing underlying illnesses or infections
- Subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Anaphylaxis is treated with epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Pre-loaded epinephrine auto-injectors are available by prescription. At-risk allergy sufferers should be aware of the early signs of anaphylaxis and carry one or more epinephrine auto-injectors at all times.
How to Prevent Allergic Reactions to Mold
The key to controlling mold allergies is reducing your exposure to mold, whether indoors or out. Here are some steps you can take at home to lessen the likelihood of mold growth:
- Eliminate sources of water or dampness in your basement (e.g., leaky pipes)
- Change your furnace filters every three months
- Use a dehumidifier in spots where moisture accumulates
- Use air conditioners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
- Adequately ventilate bathrooms, washrooms, and kitchens
- Remove carpets from bathrooms and washrooms
- Promote groundwater drainage on your property
- Throw away old books, magazines, and newspapers
- Clean out drains and other water-collection points
- Remove garbage from the premises
- Wear a mask when gardening or working outdoors
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