Mold and Mildew

Do you feel worse:

  • During periods of damp weather?
  • When you walk into damp, musty house or basement?
  • If you sit in overstuffed furniture?
  • If you’re near hay or straw (in garden, in a barn or at a circus)?
  • If you’re near a compost pile or leaf piles?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, chances are you’re allergic to molds. Another ”yes” clue:

Do you feel better:

  • When there’s snow on the ground?

Molds are a type of plantlike growth called fungi. Like pollen, their spores ride on the wind and cause allergies. Garbage pails, shower curtains and damp basements are the most familiar mold habitats. But molds aren’t fussy – any place that is damp, warm, dark and poorly ventilated will do.

And they're not just found indoors. Check around of your house for any leaks or damp spots that could harbor mold. The sooner you dry them out, for other tips. Also, see the box, How to Prevent Mold and Mildew, for other tips.

Above all, reducing excess humidity in the house is the prime goal in controlling mold. One doctor reports that his own ”mold asthma” responded remarkably well to the addition of a dehumidifier in his bedroom.

He managed to reduce the humidity to 50 percent in the face of outside moisture levels of up to 88 percent in foggy, humidity Ventura, California. With the drop in indoor moisture came a marked decrease in the mold level in his room – and discontinued use of steroid drugs for the treatment of his asthma (Annals of Allergy).

Afred Zamm, M.D., an environmentally oriented doctor in Kingston, New York, had this advice for mold sufferers: ”I recommended buying the largest capacity [dehumidifier] available, one equipped with a control that automatically turns it off when the humidity drops to an acceptable level” (Why Your House Endanger Your Health, Simon and Schuster).

Unlike pollen, mold is not strictly a seasonal problem, although molds tend to flourish when the temperature rises and diminish during the cooler months. An exceptionally rainy summer will promote a bumper crop of mold. Fair weather activities like raking leaves, gardening and mowing grass stir up mold spores, making it easy to mistake mold allergy for pollen allergy. Burning leaves in the fall can also bring on an attack.

Mushroom and yeast are related to molds, so eating them can trigger a reaction in mold sensitive people. And it’s not surprising that those same people can also develop symptoms after eating foods fermented with mold: sharp cheeses such as blue and cheddar, baked goods, candied fruit, pickled or smoked meats and fish and soy sauce.

The same goes for drinking beer, wine or cider, or using vinegar (see Rotary Diets). Penicillin, too, is made from mold. If you’re allergic to mold, you may be allergic to penicillin.

How to Prevent Mold and Mildew

  • Get rid of dampness. A wet basement can be a sign of cracked or defective mortar, cracks in the walls or inadequate drainage.
  • Check your rainspouts. If your basement seems particularly damp after it rains, the roof down spouting could be depositing water too close to the foundation. In that case, extend the leader spout to carry the rainwater farther away and downhill from the house.
  • Use only light, washable throw rugs instead of heavy carpeting, especially in basements or other areas prone to dampness or water leaks. Wet carpeting is a lush haven for mold growth.
  • Vent your basement clothes dryer to the outdoors to help reduce excess moisture.
  • Throw out all those old, damp piles of odds and ends you’re been hoarding in the basement, old carpets, cast off furniture, dingy pillows, broken down toys and the like.
  • Keep things clean. Never hang clothes in the closet after they've been worn. Keep closets, dresser drawers, bathrooms, and refrigerators as clean and dry as possible.
  • Spread out damp towels and washcloth in the bathroom. Stretch out wet shower curtains.
  • Circulate the air. When natural breezes are absent, use electric fans.
  • Sprinkle borax powder in mold prone areas, like the bottom of the garbage pail. This natural mineral compound happens to be a simple, effective anti mold agent.
  • Avoid wallpaper. It’s a haven for mold, especially in the bathroom. If you have your heart set on wallpaper, add borax or boric acid to the paste to retard mold growth. (see also Household Cleaning Aids).