Often times, when clients ask us this question, they’re not actually inquiring about the dangerous mold strains like Aspergillus fumigatus or Candida auris that have been known to cause serious (sometimes even fatal) fungal infections, especially in immunocompromised people. What they really want to know is whether or not household mold—that is, the stuff they smell in their carpets or notice growing on their walls—is truly life threatening, or if they can ignore it.
As with nearly all things in the mold testing and remediation ‘biz, the answer to that question is a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”
Can Mold Exposure Kill?
Here’s the good news: in the vast majority of cases, exposure to toxic mold is not life-threatening. It’s definitely not good for you, and in certain situations, it can be quite harmful. Most mold spores are not like carbon monoxide or arsenic, though.
You absolutely should not stick your face in a patch of mold and inhale deeply, nor should you eat food that has visible mold growing on its surface. But if you discover mold in your shower pan or air conditioning filter, you don’t necessarily have to start getting all your earthly affairs in order.
With that said, common types of household mold have been linked to certain health problems in humans (and pets). Although there may be a connection between household mold and severe health problems like organ damage, immune system suppression, olfactory impairment, and even cancer, the more frequently seen issues are significantly less scary.
- Gastrointestinal distress (IBS, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc.)
- Joint pain and weakness
- Sinusitis, sneezing, runny nose and asthma
- Headaches (including migraines) and brain lesions
- Chronic fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Cognitive dysfunction (“brain fog,” slurred speech, confusion)
- Hearing problems
- Rashes, hives, and bloody skin lesions
- Anxiety and depression
We’re not trying to downplay any of the symptoms on this list; after all, someone who deals with chronic IBS or migraine headaches would probably take offense at the suggestion that their issues don’t interfere with them living a happy, healthy life! Rather, we say this to assuage the fears of folks who might make the jump from “An environmental inspector confirmed that my house has mold” to “I can feel my kidneys liquefying as we speak.”
It’s also worth mentioning that different types of molds release different strands of mycotoxins, which means that not everyone who has some kind of mold in their home will deal with the same symptoms. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that mold can’t be what’s making you sick simply because you’re currently only feeling chronic fatigue and not respiratory issues.
The Environmental Protection Agency does not have set standards for what constitutes a “safe” or “acceptable” concentration of airborne mold. Some people are more sensitive to mold than others. And symptoms of mold exposure can get worse the longer a mold infestation goes on. These factors mean that it’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, mold growth in a person’s home goes from being “a minor issue” to “a serious threat.” That’s why experts will generally recommend that you try to keep your home as mold-free as humanly possible, just in case.
Can Black Mold Kill?
Stachybotrys chartarum, known colloquially as “black mold,” is a specific kind of mold that often grows in houses or office buildings. And over the years, the stuff has become a “boogeyman” of sorts, with homeowners and landlords being absolutely terrified by the prospect of finding black mold somewhere on their property.
However, the biggest danger of black mold comes from the fact that it’s more closely associated with mold-related maladies than other types of hostile fungus. In other words, the health conditions caused by black mold exposure may hit a person significantly harder than they would if the same person was exposed to a different species of mold. It’s this increased risk of negative health effects that makes black mold so hazardous. The increased risk is also why black mold removal should only be undertaken by professional mold remediators with access to heavy-duty equipment and safety gear.
Who's At Risk?
Mold exposure is particularly dangerous to people who belong to the following groups:
- Young children
- Elderly adults
- People with compromised immune systems
- People currently recovering from an acute illness, or who live with a chronic illness (especially respiratory issues)
- People with known mold allergies
That’s not to say that a healthy, “average” adult has no chance of being affected by mold, or that folks who fit any of the above descriptions will always succumb when there’s mold afoot. They’re just more likely to experience health problems when exposed to mycotoxins, and they tend to have a harder time recovering from mycotoxin illnesses.
Here’s the bottom line: it’s not a good thing to have toxic mold in your home or office, because the mycotoxins produced by the mold can cause a wide range of health problems when you inhale or consume them. And some types of mold are more dangerous than others, especially to certain people. If you—or, better yet, a professional environmental inspector—discovers the presence of harmful mold in your home, you’ll want to have the issue remedied as soon as possible.
But is exposure to household mold fatal? In most cases…no, it’s not. Instead of writing down your last will and testament the moment you spot blue splotches on your basement wall, you should probably just grab some bleach and fight back against the infestation!