When people hear about mold-related illnesses, they generally visualize someone retching after coming in contact with bread or fruit that’s sprouted blue fuzz. However, tainted food isn’t the only way for nasty fungus cause harm. Although most of the over 100,000 species of mold on Earth are relatively harmless, certain types of mold produce dangerous substances called mycotoxins. And when mycotoxins are inhaled or ingested by humans, they can cause a wide variety of health problems.
9 Signs of Mold Exposure
Mold exposure is sometimes tricky to diagnose, mainly because its symptoms can mimic those of various other illnesses. Typical health problems linked to mold exposure include:
- 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
Different strains of mold growth produce different kinds of mycotoxins, which means that mold-related illnesses can manifest in different ways—don’t count out mold just because you “only” have headaches and joint pain but not respiratory issues!
It’s also worth mentioning that mold exposure is especially dangerous to young children, elderly adults, people with compromised immune systems, and folks with known mold allergies.
Even if everyone else in the household “feels fine,” individuals who fit into any of the above categories can be made sick by mold—so, once again, don’t rule it out as a cause of your (or your family’s) ill health!
More often than not, folks will “discover” that their discomfort is caused by mold exposure when they receive medical treatment for a different disorder (e.g., seasonal allergies, contact dermatitis) but the remedy doesn’t seem to improve their situation at all.
This can even happen in a hospital setting, where doctors prescribe antibiotics for a patient’s issue and are surprised to see that it has no effect! Unfortunately, delaying proper treatment for mold exposure can cause unnecessary complications…or give a mold infestation time to get even stronger and harder to combat.
How Mold Testing Works
There are two different kinds of professional-grade tests that experts tend to utilize to look for mold infestations. Both of them involve taking a small sample of material, which is then analyzed in a lab for traces of mold spores or the presence of mycotoxins. Urine test kits, as their name implies, require a small volume of urine from a human (or animal). These kits are used to determine if a person (or pet) has a mold infestation in their body.
Meanwhile, home test kits (like the Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment, or EMMA) require a small amount of dust or detritus from a building’s air conditioning or heating unit filters. It’s not uncommon for professional environmental inspectors or mold remediators to use both kits in tandem after experiencing water damage, as they provide different—but equally crucial—information.
There is a third type of mold testing kit on the market; it’s the kind that folks frequently see in hardware and big-box stores. These kits are designed to detect mold spores in the air, and they usually consist of a petri dish filled with microbial growth medium. The dish is exposed to the air for a set period of time in order to collect samples, and then it’s sealed and allowed to incubate. The idea is that any mold spores captured by the dish will then grow, allowing them to be seen and studied.
These kits can be incredibly enticing to homeowners, as they provide quick results and nearly always carry a relatively small price tag. However, at RealTime Laboratories, we advise against using these tests for various reasons—namely, they’re more likely to provide misleading or incorrect results than professional-quality kits. As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for!”
I Tested Positive for Mycotoxins - Now What?
Finding out that there’s mold in your home or body can definitely be scary—and embarrassing, too. Fortunately, once you know that you’re dealing with toxic mold exposure, you can take action:
If there’s mycotoxins in your home
You’ll need to consult with a professional mold remediation firm about eliminating the problem. Sometimes, when a mold issue is as simple as a small patch of “gunk” on a shower wall or a basement carpet that smells like dirt, it’s possible to clean the mess up on your own. However, large infestations—or infestations of highly dangerous molds, like Stachybotrys chartarum (AKA “Black Mold”)—should only be handled by experts.
If there’s mycotoxins in your body
You should see a physician right away. Explain your symptoms and bring a copy of your test results. Your doctor may want to give you another test (which might require blood or nasal secretions instead of urine) to verify that yes, mycotoxins really are the source of your health issues.
Once you receive an official diagnosis, the doctor will be able to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Meanwhile, it would be wise to have your home inspected for mold, as well, to stop the toxins at their source.