By Dr Tomislav Meštrović, MD, PhD
Molds are a common type of microscopic fungi that grow in warm and moist conditions, most often in the form of multicellular structures called hyphae. There is ample evidence in medical literature that describes an association between molds and a plethora of allergic health effects.
In that regard, molds are often considered an important cause of asthma, allergic rhinitis, and (to a much lesser degree) atopic dermatitis. It is estimated that 10% of the population carry antibodies in the organism to common inhalant molds.
As concerns about mold exposure and its subsequent effects became widespread, basically all health care providers (and in particular immunologists and allergologists) are faced with issues of mold allergies on a quotidian basis. Hence knowing adequate preventative strategies becomes pivotal in addressing this issue.
Image Copyright: Cegli / Shutterstock
The Reduction of Outdoor Exposure
The inhalation of allergens produced by molds is the most common route of inducing allergic reactions, thus outdoor exposure can be one way to induce symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, congestion, itching, and dry skin. Those allergies are most commonly observed from the month of July to early fall.
Measurement of airborne spores in the environment by employing culture and non-culture methods (or both) can be used in order to assess environmental exposure and to develop preventative strategies. Nevertheless, this functions as a “snapshot” method and does not reveal exposure over time.
However, one of the key steps in prevention is to limit all the outdoor activities when mold counts are high. This will undoubtedly reduce the burden of mold spores that are inhaled and subsequently reduce the symptoms. Furthermore, a dust mask should be worn to stop allergens from inhaling, for example, when gardening, cutting grass, picking up leaves, digging around plants and moving infected plant material.
The Reduction of Indoor Exposure
Unlike outdoor mold allergies that are more common in summer and fall, indoor exposure to molds results in allergy symptoms all year-round. One of the most important predisposing factors is the presence of dampness or water damage. It is often said that visible mold, mold odors or a history of water damage can provide more trustworthy indicators of mold-related allergies than current quantitative microbiological analyses.
A pivotal step would then be to lower indoor humidity, as molds can thrive when humidity surpasses 50 percent. The goal should be to maintain humidity at least below 45 percent (albeit 35 percent represents a better threshold). Measuring humidity with a hygrometer (a specialized instrument that gathers data about moisture content) can be helpful in addressing this issue.
In order to trap mold spores from the entire place of residence, central air conditioning with a true high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter are able to reduce allergens much more efficiently than regular filters. Devices that treat air with heat, ozone, or electrostatic ions should be avoided.
In conclusion, significant increases in a number of important allergies (including a considerable increase in the incidence of asthma) can be linked to dampness-related exposure to molds. If all the preventative measures fail, taking specific medications (such as nasal steroids or antihistamines) also represents a viable option.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Aug 25, 2016