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Molds and the toxins they secrete, called mycotoxins, are increasingly being recognized as a source of illness and wide range of symptoms, from mild to severe, including wheezing, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, skin rashes, immune suppression, kidney disease, lung disease, and even cancer. Research indicates that these symptoms arise primarily from the harmful effects of the mycotoxins, rather than from infection with the molds themselves.
Yet despite the growing body of research implicating molds and their mycotoxins as the cause of chronic illness, many within mainstream medical continue to deny the existence of mycotoxin-related illness, let alone have experience in mold exposure symptoms and treatment.
Luckily, a number of healthcare providers have made the diagnosis and treatment of mold and mycotoxin-related health conditions a priority. This series on mold exposure symptoms and treatment explores this growing (but still largely ignored and denied) health problem.
Part 1 briefly describes what molds and mycotoxins are and how they cause disease. Then, in Part 2, you’ll be introduced to how mold-related conditions are diagnosed and treated and you will learn how to locate a healthcare provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mold-related illness.
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What Are Molds and Mycotoxins?
Molds are all around us, continually reproducing by releasing tiny spores that travel through indoor and outdoor air. The mold spores land on wet or damp material and begin to grow and digest the surrounding material.
Some mold spores also secrete mycotoxins, very tiny toxic substances used to destroy other microbial competitors for a food source. Mold growth and mycotoxin secretion becomes amplified in water-damaged, damp indoor environments and are understood to be the most significant contaminants of water-damaged buildings.
Mycotoxins are considered some of the most dangerous mold components. There are three groups of mycotoxins that are most relevant to health effects resulting from water-damaged structures; they are: Aflatoxins, Ochratoxin A, and Trichothecenes. These are produced from common fungi including various species of Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, and Stachybotrys species. They enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact.
While most mycotoxin exposure in less developed parts of the world is thought to occur from ingesting contaminated food, airborne contamination from water-damaged indoor environments is now recognized as a significant source of harm in developed countries. Some studies indicate that inhalation of mycotoxins is more toxic than ingestion. People who have been exposed to such environments have been found to have mycotoxins within their bodies.
Symptoms and Diseases Associated with Mold and Mycotoxin Exposure
Mold and mycotoxin exposure can cause a wide variety of symptoms and diseases. The severity of these health effects is also highly variable and is thought to depend on many factors. Unless their exposure is overwhelming, people with healthy immune systems are generally believed to eliminate most types of mycotoxins from the body without suffering noticeable effects.
However, those already suffering from a single serious health condition or from multiple less serious conditions may not be able to easily eliminate mycotoxins, leading to symptoms.
Mold exposure symptoms include:
- Nervous system alterations: headache, fatigue, confusion, memory loss, brain fog, depression, irritability, sleep disorders, tremors, impaired balance, impaired cognitive development in children
- Respiratory system alterations: runny nose, stuffy nose, sinus infections, cough, wheezing, asthma, shortness of breath
- Skin irritation,rashes, and lesions
- Eye irritation and discharge
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Sick Building Syndrome
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Vomiting, diarrhea
- Fever, chills
- Muscle aches
- Infertility, disruption of estrogen function
- Thyroid activity disruption
- Immune suppression
- Liver cancer
- Kidney disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
What to Do If You Have Mold Exposure Symptoms?
Of course, each of these symptoms and medical conditions can have numerous underlying causes. One way to help uncover whether mold exposure is the cause of your symptoms is to pay attention to whether you feel better after leaving the contaminated premises, usually a home or office. Many affected people do and may feel entirely well within a day or two. But, their problems recur when they return to the contaminated location.
If you experience any of these symptoms or medical conditions and you smell a musty odor in your home or office, check immediately for mold growing on walls, under carpets, behind shower curtains, in entry ways, closets, and crawl spaces. Not all mold problems are easily spotted, but a visual inspection on your part is an important first step.
The next steps are testing and proper treatment, which are covered in Part 2.
This post originally appeared in 2013 and has been updated.