If you have a mold allergy, your immune system overreacts when you breathe in mold spores. This reaction triggers a cascade of reactions that lead to allergy symptoms. Like other allergies, a mold allergy can make you cough, make your eyes itch and cause other symptoms that make you miserable. In some people, mold allergy is linked to asthma and exposure causes restricted breathing and other airway symptoms.
If you have a mold allergy, the best defense is to reduce your exposure to the types of mold that cause your reaction. While it isn't always possible to avoid mold allergy triggers, medications can help keep mold allergy reactions under control.
Mold allergy causes the same signs and symptoms that occur in other types of upper respiratory allergies. Mold allergy symptoms can include:
Mold allergy symptoms vary from person to person, and range from mild to severe. You may have year-round symptoms or symptoms that flare up only during certain times of the year. You may notice symptoms when the weather is damp, or you're in indoor or outdoor spaces that have high concentrations of mold.
If you have a mold allergy and asthma, your asthma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to mold spores. In some people, exposure to certain molds can cause a severe asthma attack. Signs and symptoms of asthma include:
When to see a doctor
Like any allergy, mold allergy symptoms are triggered by an overly sensitive immune system response. When you inhale tiny, airborne mold spores, your body recognizes them as foreign invaders and develops allergy-causing antibodies to fight them.
After the exposure has passed, you still produce antibodies that "remember" this invader, so that any later contact with the mold causes your immune system to react. This reaction triggers the release of substances such as histamine, which cause itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and other mold allergy symptoms.
Molds are very common both inside and outside. There are many different types, but only certain kinds of mold cause allergies. Being allergic to one type of mold doesn't necessarily mean you'll be allergic to another. Some of the most common molds that cause allergies include alternaria, aspergillus, cladosporium and penicillium.
When it's not an allergy
An irritant reaction is caused when substances from molds called volatile organic compounds irritate the mucous membranes in the body. Symptoms of an irritant reaction are similar to an allergy and include eye irritation, runny nose, cough, voice hoarseness, headache and skin irritation. With a mold allergy, your symptoms will generally get progressively worse with each exposure to mold, while an irritant reaction doesn't get worse.
A toxic reaction to mold is caused by eating, drinking or inhaling substances called mycotoxins. As with an irritant reaction, the symptoms of a toxic reaction may also include flu-like symptoms, eye and skin irritation, and breathing troubles. You may also experience headaches, nervousness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating and extreme fatigue if you're having a toxic reaction to mold.
A number of factors can make you more likely to develop a mold allergy, or worsen your existing mold allergy symptoms, including:
Most allergic responses to mold involve hay fever-type symptoms that can make you miserable, but aren't serious. However, certain allergic conditions caused by mold are more severe. These include:
Other problems caused by mold
Living or working in a damp building can cause respiratory symptoms including nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, throat irritation and cough. But, it's not clear that mold is always the culprit behind these symptoms. Damp buildings are prime environments for other health hazards, including harmful bacteria, dust mites and rodents.
Exposure to high levels of mold can cause nonallergic complications in people who have weakened immune systems. If you're healthy, you can handle mold exposure, but if you're on chemotherapy or immune-suppressing drugs, you may be at risk of developing a mold infection.
Preparing for your appointment
Many people are diagnosed and treated for allergies by their primary care physicians. However, depending on the severity of your allergies, and the impact allergies have on your life, your primary care doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating allergies.
You can take steps ahead of time to ensure that you cover everything that's important to you. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what you can expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions helps you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a mold allergy, some questions you might want to ask include:
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
If you have mold in your home, it will help your symptoms if you have someone who's not allergic to mold clean the area using a solution of 1 ounce of bleach to 1 quart of water, or a commercially available mold-cleaning product. If you have to clean up the mold yourself, be sure to wear long rubber gloves, safety goggles and a mask to limit your exposure to the mold.
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will want to know your signs and symptoms and may want to conduct a physical examination to identify or exclude other medical problems. Your doctor may also recommend one or more skin or blood tests to see if you have an allergy that can be identified. These include:
Positive reaction to allergy test
A small area of swelling with surrounding redness is typical of a positive allergy skin test. ...
Treatments and drugs
The best treatment for any allergy is to take steps to avoid exposure to your triggers. However, molds are common and you can't completely avoid them. While there's no sure way to cure a mold allergy, a number of medications can ease your symptoms. These include:
Other treatments for mold allergy include:
Your doctor may recommend additional treatments if you also have mold-induced asthma, allergic fungal sinusitis, allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To keep mold allergy symptoms at bay, take these measures:
You can take steps to reduce mold growth in your home. Consider these tips:
Last Updated: 2010-09-24
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