Do you feel run down on a regular basis? Do you always feel like you have a cold no matter what time of year it is? If so, you probably have a mold allergy. Mold is pretty hard to avoid – it can grow in any damp area – so if you suspect that you have a mold allergy, it’s important to know how to treat it and what exactly causes a reaction.
An allergic reaction to mold, like any allergic reaction, is actually an immune system response to allergens. In this case, the allergens are mold spores, and when inhaled, the immune system detects that the spores are harmful. In response, the immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E to attack the mold spores. Chemicals like histamine are also released into the body and that’s what triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction can occur at any time of year although some types of mold usually trigger a reaction during the summer months, when the spores spread easily through the wind.
It’s not really known why some people have a mold allergy and some people don’t, but genetics can certainly play a part. People who have occupations that expose them to mold on a regular basis, such as farmers, mill workers and loggers, are also more prone to developing a mold allergy.
The symptoms of a mold allergy range from mild to severe and differ from person to person. Sometimes mold allergies will affect someone year-round, other times it will affect someone during a specific season. The most common symptoms of a reaction are:
- Watery eyes
- Itchy mouth or throat
- A runny nose
If you have asthma, an attack may be triggered from an allergic reaction. If your asthma attacks worsen or if your symptoms persist, it’s time to seek medical attention.
There are two ways that your doctor can determine whether or not you are allergic to mold: a skin test and a blood test.
- Skin test: The doctor will prick your skin with needles that contain trace amounts of mold spores. If a reaction occurs, it’s likely that you have a mold allergy.
- Blood test: This measures the amount of antibodies, specifically immunoglobulin E, that are present in your blood after being exposed to mold spores. The blood will be sent to a lab to determine the specific types of mold that you may be allergic to.
Your doctor may need to perform both tests multiple times in order to pinpoint the specific allergies you may have. You may also need to undergo a physical examination as well.
There is no way to completely cure an allergy, but there are several ways to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
- Medication: Medication is the most common remedy. Antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids and decongestants can all relive the symptoms of a reaction. Cromolyn and leukotriene modifiers can suppress the immune system before it produces antibodies and chemicals to trigger a reaction.
- Immunotherapy: This will train your immune system to not react when introduced to allergens. A series of allergy shots will be administered with a higher dose each time to get your immune system used to the allergen. This treatment is not always effective with those who suffer from mold allergies.
- Nasal lavage: This is basically a cleansing of the nose with a Neti pot and a saline solution. You can use a saline nasal spray or use a Neti pot kit, which is available in most drug and grocery stores.
If you have asthma or other medical conditions, your doctor may prescribe a different treatment for you.
Aside from treatment, there are a few lifestyle adjustments you can make that also relieve symptoms and can help to prevent allergic reactions before they begin. Some adjustments you can make are:
- Limit your time outside. If it’s rainy, has rained recently or if it’s wet outside, stay indoors if possible. This is the time when mold spores are active, so you’ll want to avoid going outside in these conditions.
- Wear a dust mask. If you must go outside in rainy conditions or if you simply want to mow the lawn or rake leaves, wear a dust mask to prevent the inhalation of mold spores.
- Keep your windows closed. At nighttime or during rainy conditions, keep your windows closed so mold spores don’t waft into the house.
- Clean your bathroom and basement frequently. Mold can easily grow around sinks, faucets and showerheads, so clean your bathrooms often and inspect your basement or any other room that tends to be dark and dank for mold. If necessary, use dehumidifiers to air out any room that retains a lot of moisture.
- Install a HEPA filter. Mold spores easily travel through the air and a HEPA filter will greatly reduce the amount of mold in the air.
After making these few lifestyle changes, you should begin to have fewer allergic reactions. Although a mold allergy may seem persistent, through treatment and preventative measures, you can quell the symptoms that are making you suffer.