Sometimes, people joke that they’re “sick” of where they live—it’s a figurative way of saying that they need a vacation, or at least a change to their regular routine. But what if one of your patients came to you and said that their home is actually, literally making them feel physically unwell? Mold is not the only environmental hazard that can cause illness in humans, but it’s one that should not be underestimated. Read on for more information on discovering whether or not mold is to blame for your patient’s health woes.
Symptoms of Mold Exposure
Mold-related illnesses are especially insidious because they often imitate other ailments—namely, seasonal allergies or the flu. However, if mold in the environment is causing a person’s sickness, their symptoms will likely persist indefinitely instead of getting better with time, rest, and possibly antibiotics or other medications. The following issues have all been associated with chronic mycotoxin exposure:
- Gastrointestinal distress (IBS, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc.)
- Joint pain and weakness
- Sinusitis, sneezing, and asthma
- Headaches (including migraines) and brain lesions
- Chronic fatigue
- Cognitive dysfunction (“brain fog,” slurred speech, confusion)
- Hearing problems
- Rashes, hives, and bloody skin lesions
- Anxiety and depression
Questions to Ask
Obviously, your medical training, experience, and expertise are your best tools for diagnosing your patient’s illness. And certain questions (e.g., “How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?” “Is anyone else in your household sick?”) are standard during any visit. However, verifying certain details may expedite pinpointing mold exposure as the true culprit:
“Have you noticed visible mold or a suspicious scent in your house?”
Sometimes, the most basic questions can be the most helpful! If your patient is showing symptoms of mold exposure and openly admits that they’ve noticed an unpleasant, earthy odor coming from their home’s basement or saw patches of mold in their kitchen, then this “mystery” may not be very mysterious, after all!
“Did you recently experience a flood or water damage in your home?”
Many mold infestations inside buildings begin with pooling water or leaks somewhere inside the structure. And mold can set in relatively quickly when moisture is involved. Be suspicious if your patient reports that their symptoms started right after they dealt with a flooded basement.
“Has anyone else in your building mentioned being sick, as well?”
While it’s not terribly uncommon for colds and other “bugs” to spread among co-workers and people who live in close quarters, it can also be a sign that the cause of the sickness is in their surroundings. If, for example, a dozen people who dwell or work on the same floor of an apartment building or commercial office all succumb to the same issues, it could be because a shared HVAC system is contaminated with mold and blowing spores all over the immediate area.
“Is there wall-to-wall carpeting in your bathroom?”
This may seem like an oddly specific question to ask, but it’s actually important. Because bathrooms are frequently subjected to moisture, high humidity, and the kind of muck and “grime” that most of us make a conscious effort to not track around the rest of the house, it’s extraordinarily easy for mold to develop on surfaces in this room. And while mold lingering on the bathtub or shower tiles is easy enough to spot, spores can secretly take refuge inside of carpet fibers or even the underlying padding.
Now, when you tell a patient that you suspect that environmental mold is making them sick, one of their first question will likely be, “How do I get rid of the mold?” Antifungals and other treatments may relieve symptoms, but if the root of the problem is not addressed, the problems will likely return in time. Here’s our advice, which you can pass on to your patients:
If there are patches of visible mold in the house, don’t try to remove them using plain soap and water. More often than not, this combination just isn’t effective at killing spores. Homeowners should instead use a commercially-prepared cleaning liquid made specifically for destroying mold and mildew, or create a solution of 1 cup bleach with 1 gallon of water.
Keep carpeting out of the bathroom. Small floor rugs and bathmats are fine, as these can be machine washed regularly. However, wall-to-wall carpeting is just a bad idea. Advise patients against installing carpet in the home’s bathroom, and if their home already contains carpeted bathrooms, encourage them to have the flooring replaced.
When in doubt (or when the job’s too big), call a professional. In certain cases, a mold infestation is too extensive for an everyday homeowner to tackle on their own. And sometimes, folks have specific questions about mycotoxin testing (and interpreting their resulting). Whatever the cause, your patient may benefit from a consultation with a mold specialist.
RealTime Laboratories offers resources for medical professional and everyday individuals alike in the fight against mold-related illness. We can supply mycotoxin testing kits for physicians, and our website contains links to educational documents and videos. We also keep a list of reputable, RTL-Certified Mycotoxin Specialists that are well-qualified to test for—and remove—environmental mold.
Once again: chronic mold exposure can be difficult to diagnose. But patients rely on their doctors to help them make good decisions about their health and well-being. And RealTime Laboratories is happy to assist medical professionals in any way that we can!