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Dangers of Mould

Dangers Of Mould

Exposure to mould can occur when airborne mould cells, mostly spores, are inhaled. We breathe in these cells every day, indoors and out. Usually these exposures do not present a health risk. But when exposure is great, some individuals, particularly those with allergies and asthma, can experience illness that could be mild to serious or anywhere in between. The following is a description of the health problems that can be caused by exposure to mould.

Allergic Illness

When mould cells are inhaled and land in the respiratory tract, the body’s immune system’s response to those invading cells can cause allergic illness. The immune system tries to destroy the mould as it would an agent, like a flu virus, that might cause infection. In a relatively small portion of the population (about 10 percent of people in the U.S.), the immune system overreacts and causes the allergic response that results in symptoms such as runny nose, scratchy throat and sneezing. Most of us know this allergic illness as “hay fever” or “allergic rhinitis.”

Asthma

Asthma is a lung disease in which the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs can partially close, causing breathing difficulties ranging from mild (such as a dry cough) to life-threatening (inability to breathe). North Carolina is in the midst of what is being called a world-wide asthma epidemic. A recent survey of North Carolina middle school children revealed that 10 percent had been diagnosed with asthma and another 17 percent had asthma symptoms that had never been diagnosed. More than half of asthmatics have respiratory allergies, often to mould. Moulds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive asthmatics.

Infection

Some mould species can cause respiratory infection when the live mould invades the tissues of the lungs or respiratory tract. This is not a significant risk for healthy people, but can be dangerous for individuals with severely weakened immune systems.

Toxic Effects

Very large doses of certain moulds, whether inhaled or ingested, can result in poisoning caused by toxins, called mycotoxins, in the mould cells. It is not clear whether an individual can receive a high enough exposure to mould growing indoors to experience these toxic effects.

One particular type of mould that has been recently highlighted in the media is Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as Stachybotrys atra). Stachybotrys is a greenish-black mould that grows on materials with high cellulose content (gyprock, wood, paper, ceiling tiles) that are chronically wet or moist. It is one of several moulds that can produce mycotoxins under certain environmental conditions. The health effects of breathing mycotoxins are not well understood, but we do know that most moulds can present some health risks, such as allergic reactions. Therefore, any mould growth in a building should be cleaned up and treated to stop any reoccurrence, regardless of the type of mould.