People often wonder about whether molds (or fungus) in the environment can cause illness. From the standpoint of allergy the reproductive element of mold, the spores, can cause illness, typically in the form of asthma and hayfever (nasal and eye allergies). Mold spores can be found in fairly large amounts throughout much of the year. Even in the dry Intermountain West we do have days with significant high mold counts.
Often we expect mold to be elevated when pollens are elevated. Strictly speaking we have some exposure to mold spores year-round, at least in the indoor environment. However the outdoor mold spores tend to be elevated during those times of years when the ground is not frozen and covered by snow. Indoor exposure to mold is dependent on two factors. First mold spores that blow in the house from outside and second mold spores that are produced within the home itself. We tend to see elevations of mold spores in the indoor environment if there’s been significant water damage that has not been mitigated.
Fortunately, in the Intermountain West, our environment is dry enough that we don’t see the same problem with indoor mold spore exposure as that in other parts of the country where humidity is higher.
Aside from allergy, people can have some symptoms with mold exposure. Particularly in people that are very sensitive to strong odors, we often find irritant symptoms associated with the musty smell that indoor and outdoor mold can create. Much more concerning however, are other symptoms such as asthma that occur when there is stronger sensitivity to mold.
Mold allergy is treated the same way we treat allergy to other environmental elements. Typically with appropriate medications and allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy), we can bring symptoms due to mold allergy under very good control. In people where there is not allergy but there is more of an irritant response to mold, we can typically bring the symptoms under control with appropriate medications and avoidance.
Evaluation for potential mold allergy is typically a straight forward allergy testing. If you have questions about mold allergy please contact your primary care doctor or an allergist.