Summer is supposed to be a time for fun and relaxation, but for people—especially children—with allergies and respiratory diseases, they may find themselves feeling too breathless to enjoy their well-deserved vacation time.
Previously we talked about summer allergies and why it’s important to know and avoid your triggers. What, then, could be causing their shortness of breath? Rising grass pollen counts aren’t the only cause—it could be because of mould!
Did you know that the hot summer months also herald spikes in mould growth? With the sweltering summer sun comes storm season and greater levels of outdoor humidity, and with rising humidity levels comes mould.
What is mould?
Mould is a type of fungal growth that grows from microscopic spores in the air. It doesn’t need much to make your home its own—all it needs to flourish are oxygen, water, warmth, the dark, and a nice hard surface to call home. On their own, the spores themselves are mostly harmless.
Mould can grow anywhere, but it thrives in damp and humid conditions. In the summer, the weather tends to get both warm and wet; the excessive moisture in the air coupled with relatively higher temperatures provide the right conditions for excessive mould growth.
Effect on lung health
The effect mould has on an individual’s health varies greatly depending on how sensitive to mould they are. Reactions can range from mild irritation to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and other symptoms of asthma. People with compromised immune systems and people with chronic lung illnesses like obstructive lung disease may even get serious infections in their lungs or respiratory system when exposed to mould. Some of the effects include:
- Allergic reactions (including hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash)
- Irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory system
- Symptoms of asthma, eg. coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and/or other breathing difficulties
- Symptoms of rhinitis, eg. nasal congestion, sneezing, and/or post-nasal drip
- Chest infections, and an increased chance of catching colds or the flu
Some indoor moulds even produce deadly toxins called mycotoxins. In the long run, exposure to mycotoxins has dangerous side-effects, such as:
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a condition in which alveoli within the lungs are inflamed due to hypersensitivity to inhaled dust particles, fungus, mould or chemicals
- Pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic lung disease in which scar tissue develops in the lungs
- Neurotoxicity, damage to the brain or peripheral nervous system which can disrupt or kill nerves
- Cancer. Certain mycotoxins, like aflatoxin, are carcinogenic when ingested over long periods of time.
What should I do?
Now that you know that mould is nothing to sneeze (or wheeze) at, what can you do to keep your family healthy and happy this summer?
Minimise the probability of mould moving into your house by eliminating the conditions that encourage its growth. That means keeping your house as cool and dry as possible by making sure that rooms are well-ventilated. The main areas of concern are places that frequently come into contact with water, like the shower, laundry rooms and cooking areas.
Air-conditioners and dehumidifiers may come in handy. Air-conditioners reduce the odds of condensation forming by keeping rooms cool, whereas dehumidifies act directly on indoor humidity levels. Both are good options for keeping rooms dry and mould-free.
If a storm rolls in, be sure to check for and seal any leaks that may have sprung overnight. Leaky roofs, windows and pipes are all things that you should fix as soon as you can. You should also thoroughly clean and dry all affected areas of your home following a flood.
It’s also important that anything that gets wet should be left to dry before you put them away. You don’t want your clothes getting mouldy in the wardrobe!
Look for any signs of mould in your home. Mould growth—which often looks like spots—comes in many different colours and can smell musty.
Here are some places mould likes to grow:
- Places in the building that don’t see much use, like attics and basements
- In hidden spaces, like beneath carpets, behind wallpaper and inside cabinets
- In poorly-ventilated bathrooms and toilets (check in and around your showers, bathtubs, sinks and toilets)
- On walls (look in corners and around pipes)
- In the fridge and pantry (check for expired food!)
- Anything that uses or comes into contact with water.
3) Remove and Clean
If, heaven forbid, you do find traces of mould, you need to both remove the mould growth and address the source of the moisture as soon as possible. Getting rid of the mould without addressing the damp conditions will only guarantee further mould growth further down the road.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you tackle a mould infestation in your home:
- How large is the affected area? Experts advise that you consult the S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guide on mould and damp for areas of more than 10 square feet (approximately 1 square metre).
- How severe is the mould growth/water damage? If you have any doubts, you can always call in a professional mould remediation service.
- Is the affected area soft or hard? Anything soft that can soak up water needs to be thrown out immediately, but hard surfaces can usually be salvaged.
- Am I/Are my loved ones vulnerable to mould? Among the list of people experts deem most vulnerable to mould exposure are infants and children, the elderly, people with respiratory disorders, and immunocompromised patients. If you or your family fall within these categories, you may want to avoid personally removing the mould growths.
If you decide to remove the mould yourself:
- Remember to protect yourself while cleaning! Use a face mask, eye protection (like goggles!) and gloves to minimise your exposure to mould spores.
- Keep your loved ones away! It might be a good idea to drop the kids off with a relative or family friend for the day while you’re busy cleaning up. The is all the more important if you know your family is sensitive to mould.
- Remove, clean or discard all contaminated materials. Fabrics close to the source of the mould could be contaminated with spores—you need to disinfect or dump them if you want the mould gone for good.
- To remove mould from hard surfaces, you can use commercial products, soap and water, or a variety of other remedies. Remember to thoroughly research each option before you choose one!
Mould can be a pain in the neck (or chest, or nose) but it doesn’t have to be debilitating! With these handy tips under your belt, mould-induced shortness of breath is a thing of the past.
American Lung Association. Mold and Dampness. n.d. 18 July 2018. <http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/indoor/indoor-air-pollutants/mold-and-dampness.html>.
Bennett, J.W. and M. Klich. “Mycotoxins.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews 16.3 (2003): 497-516. Electronic. 18 July 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164220/>.
Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. Facts about Mold and Dampness. 5 September 2017. 18 July 2018. <https://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm>.
Mendell, Mark J., et al. “Health effects associaeted with dampness and mould.” Organisation, World Health. WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould. Geneva: World Health Organisation, 2009. Electronic. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143940/>.
“Mould, damp and the lungs.” Breathe 13.4 (2017): 343-346. Electronic. 18 July 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709805/>.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.” September 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Electronic. 18 July 2018. <https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-10/documents/moldguide12.pdf>.
Vanvuren, Christina. 11 Most Common Places to Check for Mold in Your Home. 8 July 2017. Electronic. 8 July 2018. <https://molekule.com/blog/11-common-places-check-mold-home/>.
World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. Protecting health from home damp and mould. 2018. Electronic. 18 July 2018. <http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/Housing-and-health/risk-management-and-policy-options/protecting-health-from-home-damp-and-mould>.
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