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Can Mould Make You Sick?
Exploring the Potential Impact of Mould Exposure on Human Health
Mould is a type of fungus that thrives in damp and humid environments and is often found in bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas of the home that are prone to moisture. While mould is a natural and essential part of the ecosystem, exposure to high levels of mould can have a negative impact on human health. In this article, we will explore the potential impact of mould exposure on human health. Using Consensus.app, we asked one of the most Googled questions regarding mould in the UK, which is; 'Can Mould Make You Sick?' Consensus.app is an academic research tool that scans the most relevant scientific papers to the question and tries to answer your question with a simple yes or no. As you can see from the graphic below, the scientific community answer the question with a resounding 'yes'. Papers are referenced at the bottom of the article.
What is Mould and Where is it Found?
Mould is a type of fungus that grows in damp and humid conditions. While mould plays an essential role in the environment by breaking down organic matter, they can also cause a variety of health problems when they grow indoors. Exposure to mould can cause a range of health effects, from minor irritation to serious respiratory problems. In this article, we will explore the evidence on whether mould can make you sick. Mould spores are invisible to the naked eye and can float through the air. When they land on damp surfaces, they can begin to grow and produce more spores. There are many different types of mould, and some are more harmful than others. Some common types of indoor mould include Aspergillus, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, Chaetomium and Alternaria.
Mould spores can settle on surfaces and begin to grow in areas that are damp, warm, and humid. Common places where mould is found in the home include bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and areas with water damage. Outside, mould is often found in areas with decaying vegetation, such as piles of leaves or compost.
The Common Adverse Health Effects of Mould Exposure
Exposure to high levels of mould can negatively impact human health, particularly for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies. Mould spores and the mycotoxins mould secretes can enter the human body through inhalation and/ or absorption through the skin. Mould spores can trigger allergic reactions in some people, leading to sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. In more severe cases, exposure to mould spores can lead to respiratory problems, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
In addition to respiratory problems, exposure to high levels of mould can also negatively impacts the immune system. Studies have shown that exposure to certain types of mould can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and other illnesses.
Mould exposure can cause various health effects, from minor irritation to serious respiratory problems. Here are some of the most common health effects associated with mould exposure:
- Allergic Reactions - Exposure to mould can cause allergic reactions in some people. Symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rash.
- Asthma - Exposure to mould can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma. Symptoms may include wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
- Respiratory Infections - Exposure to mould can cause respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, in some people.
- Neurological Symptoms - Some studies suggest that exposure to mould can cause neurological symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, and memory loss.
- Other Health Effects - Exposure to mould has also been linked to other health effects, such as fatigue, depression, and gastrointestinal problems.
The Vulnerability of Children and the Elderly
Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the negative health effects of mould exposure. Children's immune systems are still developing, and they may be more susceptible to infections and illnesses caused by mould exposure. The elderly may also be more vulnerable to respiratory problems, particularly if they have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as COPD or asthma.
What Does the Research Say?
There is growing evidence that exposure to mould can cause a range of health problems. Here are some of the key findings from recent studies:
- Mould-Related Illness - A study by T. Tuuminen et al (2017) found that mould-related illness exists in multiple facets, from transient mucosal irritation to increased risk of asthma onset or exacerbation.
- Brain Inflammation - Exposure to just the mould skeleton can cause brain inflammation and cognitive deficits, according to a study by C. Harding et al. (2015).
- Respiratory Illness - A study by R. Sinclair et al (2018) found that higher levels of mould contamination in homes were associated with a greater risk of asthma/respiratory illness for low-income communities.
- Immune System Responses - A study by Jamie H. Rosenblum Lichtenstein et al (2015) found that chronic mould exposures induced changes in inflammatory and immune system responses to specific mould and mycotoxin challenges.
- Pro-Inflammatory Potential - A study by J. Holme et al (2020) suggested that hyphal fragments of prevalent mould species with strong pro-inflammatory potential may be particularly relevant candidates for respiratory diseases associated with damp/mould-contaminated indoor air.
- Mould-Related Health Effects - A study by R. Bobbit et al (2005) evaluated 135 patients with possible mould-related health effects secondary to prolonged indoor mould exposure.
- Visible mould and Asthma - A study by R. Quansah et al (2012) found that the association of the presence of visible mould and especially mould odour to the risk of asthma points towards mould-related causal agents.
Common Misconceptions about Mould Exposure
There are several common misconceptions about mould exposure that can lead to misunderstandings and potentially dangerous situations. One common misconception is that if you can't see mould, you don't have a mould problem. However, mould can grow in hidden areas, such as inside walls or under carpeting, and may not be visible until the problem has become severe.
Another misconception is that all types of mould are dangerous. While exposure to high levels of certain types of mould can have negative impacts on human health, not all types of mould are harmful. Additionally, not all people are equally sensitive to mould spores, and some individuals may experience no negative health effects from exposure to low mould levels. That said, long-term mould exposure to most species of mould can cause negative health effects.
Are We Overexaggerating The Negative Health of Effects of Mould Exposure? The Tragic Case of Awaab Ishak
Awaab Ishak died in 2020 but it was the results of the coroner's inquest that were released in November 2022. Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley found that:
“Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.”
We unequivocally echo the sentiments of those in positions of power, whether politically or medically, who have condemned the circumstances that precipitated the tragedy. Michael Gove, the Housing and Communities Secretary described the tragedy as 'unacceptable'.
Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley, in her findings, stated;
“I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought: how does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home? The tragic death of Awaab will, and should, be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.”
The Importance of Addressing Mould Growth in Indoor Environments
Given the potential negative impacts of mould exposure on human health, it is important to address mould growth in indoor environments. This may involve identifying and fixing sources of water damage, improving ventilation, and seeking professional remediation services in cases of severe mould growth.
According to Dr Sarah Park, an epidemiologist, "mould can be a significant health hazard, particularly for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions." She emphasises the importance of addressing mould growth in indoor environments and seeking professional testing and remediation services when necessary.
Similarly, Dr Jonathan Bernstein, an allergist and immunologist, says "mould exposure can lead to a variety of respiratory symptoms, and can exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma and allergies." He emphasises the importance of proper ventilation and moisture control in preventing mould growth, and notes that "professional remediation may be necessary in cases of severe mould growth."
What Can You Do About Mould?
If you suspect that you have mould in your home or workplace, it is important to take action to address it. Here are some steps you can take:
Identify the Source - The first step in addressing mould is to identify the source of the problem. This may involve inspecting your home or workplace for damp areas, leaks, structural defects and inadequate ventilation.
Address the Moisture - To prevent mould from growing back or getting worse, you need to address the underlying moisture problem. This may involve fixing leaks, improving ventilation, using a dehumidifier or making structural improvements.
Seek Professional Help - If you have a large or persistent mould problem, you may need to seek professional help. A professional mould remediation company can help you identify and address the source of the problem and remediate/ remove the mould. As has been made clear by the research, mould exposure endangers human health. Handling mould without PPE and any understanding of how to deal with it, can lead to aggravating the mould - it's a living organism after all. This may serve to accelerate the spread of the mould and pollute your indoor air space as mould under stress sporulates (releases spores) aggressively as a survival mechanism.
Protect Yourself - If you do plan on cleaning up the mould yourself, it's important to protect yourself from exposure. This may involve wearing gloves, goggles, and a mask or respirator.
In conclusion, exposure to high levels of mould can negatively impact human health, particularly for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions or weakened immune systems. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the negative health effects of mould exposure, and it is important to address mould growth in indoor environments to prevent these negative impacts. It's pretty clear that mould can make you sick. Mould exposure can cause various health effects, from minor irritation to serious respiratory problems.
While some types of mould are more harmful than others, exposure to any mould can be problematic, as suggested in the paper of C. Harding et al. (2015). The research shows that mould-related illness exists and can cause a variety of health problems, as demonstrated by studies such as those conducted by R. Sinclair et al. (2018), Jamie H. Rosenblum Lichtenstein et al. (2015), and R. Bobbit et al (2005). If you suspect that you have mould in your home or workplace, it is important to take action to address it. This may involve identifying the cause of the mould growth (or paying a professional to do so), addressing any excess moisture/ leaks/ water ingress and then finding a professional mould remediation company to sterilise and remove the mould and take measures to stop it from coming back.
While there are common misconceptions about mould exposure, seeking professional testing and remediation services can help identify and address mould growth in a safe and effective manner. If you are concerned about mould exposure in your home or workplace, consider contacting a professional testing and remediation service for advice and assistance. Remember, addressing mould growth can have positive impacts on both your health and the health of those around you.