Mold Is Everywhere: Is it Causing My Allergies?

Hurricane Florence recently wreaked havoc on North and South Carolina, and residents of those areas will be returning to houses filled with water and mold. Even when there hasn’t been a hurricane, mold can be found throughout your house. It’s found both outdoors and indoors, and it’s one of the most common triggers of nasal allergies and asthma.

What Is Mold?

There are different types of fungus that reproduce by forming spores that aren’t visible to the naked eye. These spores can travel through the air and, when inhaled, cause allergies. Many times, we call mold “mildew” when we see it growing in shower stalls and bathrooms or where there has been a water leak in the house. A damp, humid basement is an ideal breeding ground for mold. Outdoor molds are usually found in shady, damp areas or places where leaves or other vegetation are decomposing. Fall is the time of year when you see a lot of outdoor mold growth — particularly in piles of leaves and in gutters that haven’t been cleared.

[See: 8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.]

Mold allergy can develop when your immune system has a hyper reaction to the fungal spores. This can lead to classic symptoms of nasal allergies like sneezing, runny nose and congestion. Some people with allergies may have red, itchy and watery eyes. Not only can mold trigger nose and eye troubles, it can also lead to cough, chest tightness and wheezing — all symptoms of asthma. There is a rare allergic-type condition caused by mold called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, which can lead to lung damage.

You may have some questions about mold. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers:

What can I do to reduce my exposure to mold? The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends checking your home for any sign of mold growing. Inside: Any areas that may have high humidity, like bathrooms, kitchens and basements, can breed mold. Keep carpeting out of the bathroom and basement, as it easily harbors mold growth. Potted plants should be kept to a minimum, and you may want to skip the live Christmas tree, since it could be covered in spores that you would be bringing into the house. If you use a commercial mildew product for removing mold in your home, make sure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions for proper use. If you suspect there has been water leakage anywhere in the house, clean it up immediately to prevent mold growth. Any carpeting or bedding that gets water damage should be removed from your home, as simply cleaning it is unlikely to get rid of all the mold. Outdoors: Remove compost piles, wood piles and grass cuttings near the house, where mold tends to grow.

[See: Is it Healthy to Sleep With Your Pets?]

If I find mold in my home, should I have my house tested? In general, there is no need to investigate the specific type of mold, as that information won’t change the treatment of your mold allergy.

Do I have to see mold before I suspect I have mold allergy? No, almost all homes have some level of mold in the air that you can’t see — but that can still contribute to allergy symptoms.

What should I do if I have removed all signs of mold or can’t find any — and I still have symptoms? If you’re having nasal and/or eye symptoms, you should try over-the-counter nasal corticosteroid sprays, oral antihistamines and anti-allergy eye drops. If these don’t help, there are prescription allergy treatments that may provide relief. Check with your allergist. If at any time you experience recurrent cough, chest tightness or wheezing, go to your allergist immediately. You may be having an asthma attack, which could be life-threatening.

[See: 7 Lifestyle Tips to Manage Your Asthma.]

What if I’m getting worse and I’m not sure if I have mold allergy? How can I find out? It may be difficult to know if mold is leading to your allergy and asthma problems. Testing your blood or doing skin testing can determine if you have allergic sensitivity to molds commonly found in your area. A board-certified allergist will take your history, perform an examination and do testing to isolate exactly what is triggering your allergy symptoms. The allergist may recommend immunotherapy, or allergy shots, to “desensitize” you to the molds sparking your allergies. By injecting small amounts of the mold under your skin, the shots can “turn off” your immune system to your allergies over time and give lasting relief. Mold allergy can be a serious condition, but it can be controlled with proper management. Allergists are specially trained to help you take control of your allergies and asthma, so you can live the life you want.

More from U.S. News

How to Survive Ragweed Allergy Season

8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies

Is Your Pet Imperiling Your Health?

Mold Is Everywhere: Is it Causing My Allergies? originally appeared on usnews.com