Spring Allergies or a Possible Mold Problem? Air Quality Expert Explains

mold exposure, allergies, woman sneezing, sneeze
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A mold problem could be making you sick, read on to find out more.

If you're experiencing Spring allergies or symptoms like coughing, sneezing, or headaches, it's possible you've been exposed to a mold problem. But with Spring upon us, along with Covid, it can be difficult to determine where your symptoms are coming from. Luckily we got the chance to interview air quality expert Michael Rubino (aka "the Mold Medic"), about how you can determine if you have a mold problem, and how to address it. Rubino has helped over 1,000 families heal from toxic mold exposure, so he knows all about it from where mold can hide, to what symptoms to look out for. Even if you're not experiencing any symptoms or allergies, it's still beneficial to learn about how to recognize and eliminate mold in your home - so keep reading to find out from the expert!

How can you determine if your allergies, sickness, or symptoms are caused by a mold problem?

The average person takes more than 20,000 breaths per day. With each inhalation that we take, it’s not just dust mites and pollen we have to worry about. Our dust can include indoor pathogens like mold, mycotoxins, and bacteria. All of these particles have the opportunity to enter our bodies and cause adverse health reactions, and they stem from the presence of water and moisture inside our homes. All a mold spore needs to do is to land on a surface with a water source, and then it will transition into a living colony within the home. That colony then releases microscopic spores into the indoor environment, contaminating surfaces and lowering the indoor air quality. Some species of mold can also produce microscopic toxins called mycotoxins that further add to that toxic indoor load.

If you suddenly become ill or feel an increase in allergic reactions, be sure to check for any water damage events that could have recently occurred. Or, consider if you moved into a new place and now are suddenly experiencing symptoms; this could indicate a hidden issue within that indoor environment.

The seasonal change is often an indicator of a problem. As the temperature shifts and we switch our HVAC from heat to cooling or vice versa, we can circulate particles that were present in the machine due to mold growth. Essentially, the particles suddenly triggering these symptoms could potentially be coming from the HVAC system, increasing the likelihood of feeling adverse reactions as these particles make their way inside of the body.

Not all illnesses stem from mold, but because it’s not on our radar, we don’t always consider it as a potential option. Once that awareness is created, it’s an aspect to include while ruling out potential causes.

There are 5 items in your home full of mold that people may not realize, which are these?

  1. Attic: This is often due to roof leaks or improper ventilation.

  2. Basements or crawlspaces: These are subgrade spaces that increase the opportunity for water or moisture to intrude, allowing for mold growth.

  3. Kitchens: Thanks to the abundance of moisture and particles in these locations, they can easily become the home to mold colonies. Hotstop areas include all of the appliances, including the dishwasher, coffee maker, refrigerator (including the water spout), and blender, as well as underneath the sink and inside of kitchen cabinets.

  4. Bathrooms: Like the kitchen, thanks to the abundance of moisture and particles in these locations, they can easily become the home to mold colonies. Additionally, sink leaks, problems with bathtubs and showers, grout and caulking issues, and high humidity can all allow for mold growth. Hotspot areas include underneath the sink, the toilet tank, grout, caulking, cabinets, the bathmat, toothbrushes, water flossers, and shower curtains.

  5. HVAC System: Most of these systems don't have proper filtration. Considering mold can be between 2 and 4 microns, it’s important to ensure that the filtering system can eliminate these small particles. Once the mold gets to the coil, it can grow in the condensation that’s constantly there, allowing for a colony to put down roots. Once established, that colony will begin releasing spores (and potentially mycotoxins), which the HVAC then sends into the rest of the home.

How can you locate and properly remove mold from your home?

Locating Mold:

A great tip is to walk over to the toilet, lift the lid, and check inside. The tank lid itself is heavy, but it's not hermetically sealed. The lack of airflow means that the chances of a rogue mold spore finding its way inside are fairly slim. It’s much more likely that colonized mold inside the home released a high volume of spores into the indoor air, and one opportunistically found its way inside of that toilet tank.

Another tip is to look for coffee-like stains on walls or ceilings. This discoloration could be indicative of water damage. Even if it looks like there’s no mold, it could be growing inside the wall or ceiling, so also pay attention to any earthy, musty smell that often accompanies dampness, mold, and bacterial growth.

Finally, look for mold hotspots throughout the home. This includes the attic, basement, crawlspaces, appliances, underneath sinks, near windows, doorframes, grout, and caulking.

Removal:

It’s important to understand that mold is a living organism that has roots called hyphae and that this organism reproduces by creating nonliving particles called spores. When spores are met with water, they have the opportunity to grow and colonize into an organism. The process is similar to that of planting seeds. That’s how a mold problem on one side of the house can turn into problems all the way on the other side of the house.

To eliminate this issue, you have to:

Remove the mold and roots growing in the area

Correct the water issue that allowed for mold to grow in the first place

Eliminate the abundance of spores and byproducts created by the colony and released into the surrounding environment

Each aspect is important because not fixing the source could allow for the mold to grow right back. Not removing all of the contamination can lead to particles continually making their way inside the body and that could potentially cause adverse health reactions. Removing all of the particles also decreases the chances of a spore finding another habitable location elsewhere in the home, allowing it to begin growing and restarting the problematic process all over again.

Current technologies utilized by qualified mold inspectors allow us to test for where the sources of mold are and the accumulation of spores in our environment. It’s important to make sure that your investment is driven by this comprehensive data and not based solely on visualizations so that each box above is checked off and your home environment is safe for you and your family.

Are there any other methods to improve the air quality of your home?

  • Invest in air purifiers: These machines will help pull small particles such as mold spores and mycotoxins from the air, improving the indoor air quality. I personally suggest Intellipure products, as they can capture and remove 99.99% of particles at 0.007 microns in size.
  • Upgrade to the best MERV-rated filters that the HVAC system can handle and change on time, based on the manufacturer’s instructions: The idea is to remove as small particles as possible from the environment so that they do not circulate through the home and lower the indoor air quality.
  • Cleaning and deep cleaning often: This removes contaminants like mold spores and mycotoxins from the indoor environment as well as particles mold can use as a food source.
  • Use a HEPA vacuum: This ensures that particles don't recirculate right back into the indoor environment.
  • Stay on top of water damage: Mold can grow in as little as 24-48 hours, so any water damage event should be dealt with immediately and properly to prevent a contamination situation from occurring. Catching an issue early also helps decrease the number of particles released into the home.
  • Schedule an HVAC tech bi-annually: This individual should test for mold while assessing the machine so that if there’s a problem, it can be resolved before turning on the unit and blowing particles throughout the home. They should also clean the coil, make sure the blower, furnace, and cabinets are clean, and ensure that everything is operating correctly.
  • Do annual inspections of the interior and exterior of the home: This helps pinpoint any issues that could allow for water intrusion, mold, or bacterial growth.

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