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How does mold grow and cause illness?

How does mold grow and cause illness?

By Diana Stafford, MD

Mold, including toxic mold, is a naturally occurring fungus found in our environment. It plays a vital role in nature by breaking down dead organic matter like dead plants and animals. Mold spores are microscopic reproductive cells released by molds to spread and reproduce. These spores are lightweight and can easily become airborne, allowing them to travel through the air and settle on various surfaces.

Mold spores are present both indoors and outdoors. They can enter buildings through open windows, doors, vents, and can also attach themselves to clothing, pets, and other objects, providing easy access to indoor spaces.

Mold is very common in homes, even in areas where it is not humid. If the relative humidity indoors hits 50% or more AND/OR there is standing water, mold is happy to grow there.  If there has been water damage to your home, even from a minor leak, it can take only 24 hours for mold to begin feeding on the wet materials. You may not even see the mold if it is hidden behind walls, wallpaper, around ceiling tiles, various areas of the bathroom, or in the HVAC system. In fact, mold grows much better in the dark. Mold also needs a steady supply of oxygen and a food source. In our homes there are an abundance of organic materials for mold to feed on. Drywall, for example, very commonly has mold spores. Usual indoor temperatures are ideal for mold to grow as well.

Mold continues to spread and grow by releasing mold spores into the air that then spread to areas close by, including your body! Spores are invisible to the naked eye at 1-5 microns in diameter. Mold can have a musty odor associated, caused by the gases produced by living mold. Molds also produce what are called mycotoxins as products of their metabolism. These are even smaller than spores at 0.1 microns in diameter. Thus, when we breathe in spores, fragments of spores, and mycotoxins, it is very easy for them to get deep into the lungs. In the case of mycotoxins, they get through the respiratory lining and soak into blood vessels.

Then, mycotoxins can go anywhere in the body that blood goes! Unfortunately, this means they can affect all body systems causing a wide range of symptoms.

This also means that removing the mold may not be sufficient to cure the symptoms, since toxins have already started the process of inflammation that can continue in the body even after exposure ends. This is why thinking back to previous homes and other exposures is important.

WHAT?! If you move from the moldy environment, mold can move with you?!

YES. Mold can colonize your body. It has happened to me and my family, and it can happen to you. It could be happening to you right now.

Mold and other types of fungus are part of our microbiome along with viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms. Mold can colonize the surfaces of the body in the sinuses, lungs, GI system, and/or on the skin. Even if the environmental source has been removed, exposure continues inside the body.  You can even have various molds colonizing your body, competing for space and making more and more toxins in the process.

There are hundreds of thousands of unique mycotoxins! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are several mycotoxins of serious concern due to their severe effects on human health, including aflatoxins, fumonisins, trichothecenes, ochratoxin A and patulin.  It is thought that mycotoxin production increases when you have various molds competing for an environment, including inside your body. This creates a vicious cycle.

What are symptoms that can be caused by mold and its mycotoxins?

  • Eyes, Ears: dry eyes, irritated eyes, ear fullness, ear pain, noise sensitivity, frequent yawning to pop ears
  • Nose, Throat: sneezing, runny nose, sinusitis, allergies, mouth sores, dry throat, sore throat, need to clear throat often
  • Respiratory system: recurrent respiratory infections, chronic cough, asthma, heaviness in chest
  • Cardiovascular system: lightheadedness, easy bruising, chest pain, palpitations, irregular heartbeat, anemia
  • Digestive system: appetite changes, IBS, nausea, abdominal pain, food sensitivities, reflux, SIBO
  • Nervous system: shooting pains, static shocks, anxiousness, depression, dizziness, balance issues, tremors, headaches
  • Skin: sensitive skin, static shocks, flushing, hives, eczema, itchy skin, recurrent fungal infections
  • Reproductive system: unexplained menstrual cycle changes, bacterial vaginosis, pelvic pain, infertility
  • Urinary system: increased thirst, frequent urination, hematuria, polyuria, kidney pain
  • Immune system: fungal overgrowth/infections, frequent viral infections, immune suppression
  • Musculoskeletal: decreased muscle mass, decreased muscle tone, myositis
  • Constitutional: symptoms worse at temperature extremes, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia

This is just a sampling of symptoms that can be caused by mold! Of note, these symptoms can occur in all age groups, even children!


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