Imagine your life if you could no longer spend time in the places you love to go, like the mall, theater, and restaurants. Or how your life would be if you lost your friends, family, income, and career? Or if you could not find a house to live in that you could tolerate and ended up living in a tent in the desert?
These are worst case scenarios, but many of these things happen to people who’ve been exposed to toxic mold. It can cause people to develop an environmental illness, like me, where any mold exposure can cause severe reactions; they can also develop allergies to other things like chemicals and foods.
The reason I’m writing this article is because most people don’t realize how widespread and dangerous mold is. I was sickened by toxic mold in my workplace and had to quit working, and it took me a while to realize that the leaking roof in my work building was the cause of my illness. But I feel fortunate that I can tolerate living in my house and am not as bad off as some people.
Isn’t Mold Everywhere?
Yes, but mold becomes a problem for people’s health when water gets into buildings through things like plumbing and roof leaks, flooded basements, and faulty construction. Public buildings, such as schools, are commonly moldy, and apartments often have problems, usually from the way they are constructed. Cars can even be moldy.
Any kind of water intrusion can cause mold to grow in places like HVAC systems, around windows, under sinks, and in walls, where you usually can’t see it. Telltale signs are musty smells and dark circles on the ceiling.
One theory about why toxic mold became prevalent is that starting around the 1970s more energy-efficient buildings began to be constructed (tight buildings) and the use of drywall became commonplace, which is a food source mold loves. Because the air indoors is recirculated, there’s not as much competition from outside molds, so toxic black molds such as Stachybotrys can gain advantage and proliferate.
How Does Mold Cause Illness?
When mold multiplies, it releases spores that have mycotoxins on them. Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals released by molds and yeasts to protect their territory from other fungi. Mycotoxins can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed through the skin and are extremely difficult to kill. It’s the body’s reaction to mycotoxins that causes illness, which is not the same as an allergy.
In the recent Moldy Movie documentary, mold experts estimate that 50 percent of US homes are water damaged and about 25 percent of the population are susceptible to becoming sick from water damaged buildings (as some people’s bodies don’t recognize mold toxins as a foreign invader).
Mold pioneer Dr. Shoemaker uses the broader term “biotoxin illness,” which he describes as a chronic inflammatory response to toxin-producing organisms (biotoxins) from mold, water, food, air, and insect bites (ticks). Fungal antigens activate t-cells and produce inflammatory cytokines. This causes chronic inflammation, which leads to pain, hormone imbalances, gastroenterological problems, and even serious illnesses, such as MS and cancer.
Mold also colonizes the body, especially the sinuses and digestive tract. It can be really hard to kill as it makes biofilms to protect itself.
Some people feel better from just removing themselves from the moldy building, but for others it can take years to recover from. It depends on things like length and severity of exposure and genetics.
Symptoms of Mold Illness
Symptoms vary from person to person and they usually have many symptoms at once, like fatigue, short-term-memory loss, confusion, mood swings, changes in personality, aches and pains, burning and tingling, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. Unexplained weight gain and weight loss are common. This is the list of symptoms from Dr. Shoemaker’s website:
▣ Fatigue ▣ Weakness ▣ Aches ▣ Muscle Cramps ▣ Unusual Pain ▣ Ice Pick Pain ▣ Headache ▣ Light Sensitivity ▣ Red Eyes ▣ Blurred Vision ▣ Tearing ▣ Sinus Problems ▣ Cough ▣ Shortness of Breath ▣ Abdominal Pain ▣ Diarrhea ▣ Joint Pain ▣ Morning Stiffness ▣ Memory Issues ▣ Focus/Concentration Issues ▣ Word Recollection Issues ▣ Decreased Learning of New Knowledge ▣ Confusion ▣ Disorientation ▣ Skin Sensitivity ▣ Mood Swings ▣ Appetite Swings ▣ Sweats (especially night sweats) ▣ Temperature Regulation or Dysregulation Problems ▣ Excessive Thirst ▣ Increased Urination ▣ Static Shocks ▣ Numbness ▣ Tingling ▣ Vertigo ▣ Metallic Taste ▣Tremors
Mold illness is hard to diagnose as it affects multiple systems and symptoms vary from person to person, so many patients end up going from doctor to doctor and often being misdiagnosed. They are frequently prescribed drugs such as steroids and antibiotics, which can make them worse, which is what happened to me.
What to Do if You Have a Mold Problem
Your course of action will depend on how sick you are and the severity of the mold growth in your building. You need to stop all water leaks and test the space for mold, which may mean hiring professionals. It is not recommended that you try to clean up mold yourself.
What if I Think I’m Sick from Mold?
I recommend that you be your own advocate and do your own research. An article by Dr. Janette Hope reviews all the different treatments and research and is a good place to start.
If you are sick from mold exposure, experts such as Dr. Mark Hyman recommend that you will need to:
- Remove yourself from the moldy environment
- Get mold out of your body with natural or prescription antifungals and binders and other detox methods
- Heal and restore the body
Also, a low-carbohydrate diet is recommended, such as The Bulletproof Diet or Doug Kaufman’s Know the Cause Phase One Diet. It makes sense not to ingest mold and mycotoxins in the food you eat or foods that feed the fungus like sugar.
Mycotoxins can be detected in people’s tissues and urine. The Mycotoxin panel by Realtime Laboratories is expensive and usually not covered by insurance. Additionally, most MDs are not familiar with this test.
My Mold Story
The reason I didn’t immediately associate my work building to my deteriorating health was because I first got sick after having a root canal, which quickly became infected and the infection spread to my jaw. Because I didn’t get better after the root canal was removed, I went all over the country seeking help from several famous biological dentists, thinking I still had an infection. I learned that root canals can make you very sick—it depends on the strength of your immune system whether you can handle the bacteria they give off.
This is my theory of why my health deteriorated: my immune system was weakened from being exposed to toxic mold and the root canal added to my toxic load. The drugs I was prescribed probably messed up my immune system even more by destroying my gut bacteria and stopping me from detoxifying, causing the infection become systemic.
I had a lot of symptoms, but the most worrying were the neurological ones such as memory problems and tingling, burning and numbness in my extremities. My mom died when I was young of MS, and I was told by a couple of doctors that I was heading there.
When I finally connected the moldy work building to my illness, I quit my job even though I wasn’t in a position to financially. By then I was so sick and defeated, I couldn’t work anymore. I had severe chemical sensitivities, had lost a ton of weight, and still had severe sinus problems despite two sinus surgeries in two years.
During the four years I was at my sickest, I learned a lot about diet and supplements and ran up huge medical bills. I was treated for mold with things like binders and natural and prescription antifungals by a doctor who specialized in environmental medicine, but still didn’t get better. I saw many doctors and tried expensive treatments, such as ozone, chelation, hyperbaric oxygen, IV’s, and antigen shots; I really can’t say for sure whether the treatments or the many supplements helped because this illness can take years to recover from. But I now believe addressing things like stress, sleep, and mindset are important.
Although I’m not generally a fan of prescription drugs, one treatment that I believe was valuable was addressing the mold in my sinuses with a treatment known as The Brewer Protocol, which is basically nasal antifungals. In a study by Dr. Joseph H. Brewer, patients who were chronically ill after being exposed to water-damaged buildings were helped by prescription antifungal nasal treatments, such as ampocericin B, and intranasal EDTA (to get the biofilms that molds and bacteria form that can interfere with the effectiveness of antifungals and antibiotics). He prescribed this protocol even for patients with no sinus symptoms and found it helped lower the levels of mycotoxins in their bodies and improved symptoms, such as chronic fatigue.
I hope that you never experience mold illness, and if you ever do encounter water damage in a building you spend time in, you will address it quickly so it doesn’t become a health problem.
I’m not a mold expert and don’t treat mold illness, but feel free to leave a comment or question and I will try to answer it.
The Paradigm Change website is a great resource that has a list of doctors who treat mold illness, and they have a large Facebook support group where you can ask questions.
Ammann, H.M. (2003). Is Indoor Mold Contamination a Threat to Health? Journal of Environmental Health, 66(2), 47-9.
Asprey, D. (2015). Moldy Movie. Retrieved from https://moldymovie.com/index.
Billings, K. & Billings, L.A. (2007). Mold: The War Within, Gatlinburg, TN: Partners Publishing.
Brewer, J. H., Thrasher, J. D., & Hooper, D. (2014). Chronic Illness Associated with Mold and Mycotoxins: Is Naso-Sinus Fungal Biofilm the Culprit? Toxins, 6(1), 66–80. http://doi.org/10.3390/toxins6010066.
Hope, J. (2013). A Review of the Mechanism of Injury and Treatment Approaches for Illness Resulting from Exposure to Water-Damaged Buildings, Mold, and Mycotoxins. Scientific World Journal. Article ID 767482. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654247/.
Shoemaker, Ritchie. (2007). Surviving Mold: Life in the Era of Dangerous Buildings. Baltimore, MD: Otter Bay Books.
Thrasher, J.D. & Crawley S. (2009). The Biocontaminants and Complexity of Damp Indoor Spaces: More Than What Meets the Eyes. Toxicology and Industrial Health. (9-10), 583-615.
Always check with your health professional before trying new diets or supplements. Leave a comment if you found this information helpful or have a question.