Updated: Jun 22
The health and well-being of our children is a top priority for parents and educators alike. With children spending an average of 6 to 7 hours per day at school, it's crucial to ensure that these educational environments are safe and free from any potential hazards. One such danger that often goes unnoticed is mold and water damage. In this blog post, we will explore the impact of moldy schools on children's health and discuss steps parents and teachers can take to protect their little ones.
Recognizing the Symptoms
When trying to identify the connection between mold exposure and its impact on children, it's essential to pay attention to periodicity aka timing. Oftentimes, children may experience an improvement in symptoms during school vacations, after-school hours, or on weekends when they are away from the moldy environment. These improvements can manifest as better behavior, enhanced attention spans, fewer headaches, reduced tummy troubles, and less dizziness. Recognizing these patterns is the first step toward addressing the issue.
In addition to the above symptoms, mold illness in children can manifest through various symptoms across different body systems.
Common symptoms include feeling constantly tired and drained, experiencing a pattern of "push-crash" where energy levels crash after a period of exertion, overall weakness, muscle fatigue, flu-like symptoms, changes in weight and appetite, difficulty regulating body temperature, excessive night sweats, increased thirst, recurrent colds, heightened sensitivity to certain foods and chemicals, and disrupted and unrefreshing sleep.
Sometimes psychological and cognitive symptoms are seen which include difficulties in processing new information, impaired memory, trouble finding the right words to express oneself, feeling disoriented, heightened anxiety, bouts of depression, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, behaviors resembling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), involuntary muscle movements (tics), sleep disturbances, periods of confusion, and behavior similar to attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Respiratory and circulation symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, palpitations (irregular heartbeats), increased risk of atrial fibrillation (a type of abnormal heart rhythm), intolerance to changes in posture (orthostatic intolerance), and tightness in the chest.
Skin complaints are also possible and may involve development of rashes and skin irritations, as well as slower healing of wounds.
Tummy and urinary issues are also common, and may present with bouts of diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, feelings of nausea, impaired bile flow (cholestasis), cramping, painful urination (dysuria), increased nighttime urination (nocturia), frequent urination, and excessive urine production (polyuria).
Plus, we can't forget the impact on the head, eyes, ears, nose and throat which may involve headaches, migraines, hair loss, nosebleeds (epistaxis), congestion in the sinuses, changes in vision, a shift in focal length, decreased ability to perceive contrast, heightened sensitivity to the senses, redness in the eyes, visual disturbances, blurry vision, dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners), constant upward rubbing of the nose (allergic salute), and sensitivity to light (photophobia).
Finally complaints of the nervous system, muscle and bones can present with abnormal sensations such as tingling, numbness, or a crawling feeling that may not follow a specific nerve pattern (non-dermatomal paresthesia), sharp pain that moves from one area to another, electrical-like pain sensations, buzzing or vibrating sensations, dizziness, vertigo, difficulties with hearing, sensing phantom footsteps, seizure-like episodes, muscle pain (myalgia), joint pain, cramping, morning stiffness, muscle twitching (fasciculation), tremors, problems with coordination (ataxia), poor balance, and bone pain.
These symptoms can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, especially a child's, and should not be ignored. Keep in mind, it might be difficult for a child to convey these issues, so as a parent you need to be the detective and your child's interpreter! If you suspect mold exposure as the underlying cause of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention and consider environmental interventions to minimize further exposure.
The Prevalence of Mold in Schools
Many schools, especially those with flat roofs, are notorious breeding grounds for mold. The damp and humid conditions in such buildings, typically with poor circulation, create an ideal environment for mold growth. Surprisingly, approximately 5% of my client population consists of teachers who, due to their extended exposure to mold in schools, often act as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. As they are typically in a class room with multiples of children- their illness can act as a beacon for the health of the classroom or even building at large. This makes it crucial to acknowledge their experiences and take appropriate action to correct building issues, as doing so could impact the health of many people beyond themselves.
Let's consider some statistics: In the United States, there are approximately 3.2 million teachers, accounting for only 0.95% of the total population. Similarly, the student population stands at 50.8 million, representing 15.17% of the total population. Think about those numbers for a moment.
Teachers, as mandated reporters, are responsible for identifying and reporting potential dangers to children. While being exposed to mold and water damage is not considered reportable an abuse or endangerment, it is however something that can negatively impact children.
There is so much on the line, for example, research has shown that water damage exposure correlates with lower scores on the McCarthy Scales of Child Abilities & California Preschool Social Competency Scale as found in a Casas 2013 study. Another Casas study in 2019 demonstrated that early exposure to mold correlates to and increase in hyperactivity and inattention at age ten. Also, a 2009 study by Kilburn found mold exposed children with an autism spectrum diagnosis demonstrated an increase in neurobehavioral abnormalities when compared to autistic children who were not mold exposed. Along with these findings came an increase in negative and difficult emotional states. Finally, and perhaps the scariest, a 2014 study by Jedrychowski demonstrated that prolonged postnatal exposure to mold and water damage resulted in a 300% increased risk of a lower IQ score and the longer the exposure, the lower the IQ score!
So why should you duty to protect children stop at what is required as a mandate reporter? If is child is in danger of becoming ill or even suffering cognitively, shouldn't we do all that we can to prevent it? I would even be so daring to say it it part of an ethical duty.
Therefore, if you are a teacher (or parent) and are aware of mold exposure within your school, going on record can play a vital role in protecting the health of all the students (and faculty and staff!).
Taking Action: Steps for Parents and Teachers
If you suspect that your child is falling sick due to exposure to mold in their school, it's crucial to take appropriate action. Before approaching the administration, consider having a conversation with your child's teacher. They may be able to provide valuable insights into any symptoms experienced by other students or staff members in the classroom. Document as much information as possible to strengthen your case when approaching the administration.
However, keep in mind that schools often have extensive bureaucracy and multiple layers of decision-making, which can impact how they respond to these concerns. Therefore, it's advisable to gather ample evidence and support before bringing up the issue. By demonstrating a well-documented case, you can make it more difficult for the administration to dismiss your concerns and increase the likelihood of taking action to address the mold problem.
Other Potential Sources of Mold Exposure
While schools are a primary concern, it's important to remember that children can also be exposed to mold in other places. Consider extending your vigilance to friend's homes, personal residences, school/daycare facilities, churches, gyms/pools, camps, community buildings, and vehicles. By broadening your awareness of potential sources of mold exposure, you can better protect your child's health and well-being.
Ensuring the safety and health of our children requires us to be vigilant about potential dangers, even those that may be hidden. Moldy schools can have a significant impact on children's well-being, leading to various health issues and academic challenges. By recognizing the symptoms and understanding the prevalence of mold in schools, parents and teachers can take appropriate action to protect children from the harmful effects of mold exposure. Remember, teachers can play a vital role in safeguarding the health of their students.