If you are reading this, you are likely trying to figure out if you are sick from mold exposure. You may have found a lot of conflicting information so far, which is understandably frustrating.
For those of you looking for the quick summary (TL;DR) scroll to the bottom.
Some websites have probably told you that the only symptoms associated with mold exposure are related to mold allergy, while other websites may offer a laundry list of symptoms with no reference to allergy to be found. This is because mold illness is multifaceted, and in reality, you may actually be dealing with one of four, or potentially any combination of the various types of mold illnesses. For simplicity sake, there are four major forms of mold illness:
Mold allergy is perhaps the most common, and most widely accepted form of mold illness. Symptoms may include asthma, coughing, itchy throat, sinus pressure, wheezing, sneezing, dry eyes, watery eyes, runny nose, itching, and even rashes like hives or eczema. Many molds will produce similar allergy symptoms, but, different people may experience different allergy symptoms to different molds. For example, it’s not uncommon to see someone have respiratory complaints to the Penicillium species of molds, but develop rashes, dry eyes and sinus pressure around Cladosporium molds. An individual’s allergy symptoms may look different from someone else’s allergy symptoms, and that may also look different depending on the type of mold to which they are exposed. A good sign that you’re dealing with an allergy, or a histamine mediated reaction (like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) is if you have some improvement with antihistamines.
Fungal infections, although rare, are on the rise for several reasons (see my Fungal Disease Awareness Week piece for more information). Previously, fungal infections were only thought to have impacted people who were immunocompromised – or people with weakened immune systems. However, because of the overuse of antifungals (medically and agriculturally), poor general health, and increased environmental mold exposures- we are finding more and more “healthy” individuals becoming infected with fungi. These infections are caused not only by the traditional fungi found on the body- but in some cases by the same molds found in the home and environment.
Now, here is the kicker, some people can act as host to some problematic fungi without developing a full-blown infection. This is what many consider to be a “colonization”, or the presence of problematic fungi in the biofilms throughout the body. These fungi can trigger symptoms by secreting toxins, causing immune system disruption and by causing an imbalance in the normal body flora. The concept of colonization is unfortunately not well appreciated by the general medical establishment, and even by some mold illness physician. However, if you look into the medical literature you can find plenty of information about the presence of fungal flora in our biofilms, to the extent that it even has its own term - the “mycobiome”; “myco” meaning fungi, and “biome” meaning ecology.
Symptoms of fungal infections may present with fever, or low body temperature, productive cough with colored phlegm (red, rust colored, green, yellow, brown), rash, dizziness, abnormal blood counts, wheezing, poor circulation, blood in the stool, blood in the urine, light colored stools, neurological symptoms, and increased susceptibility to the common cold, among others.
Symptoms of colonization could potentially look like many of the symptoms associated with the other forms of mold illness, as it is the immune system disturbance, flora imbalance, and toxic exposure you are dealing with. With that being said, some signs of colonization could be food intolerances, gastrointestinal upset, gas, bloating, skin rashes (may be in one spot or over the entire body), dizziness, headache, sinus pressure, neurological complaints, mood swings, hormonal imbalances, and many others.
For some physicians, the buck stops here. The following two types of mold illness- mycotoxicosis and CIRS are lesser recognized, although present to some extent in the medical literature. The bulk of the clients I see are people who fall into these categories. Usually, they have been seen by numerous physicians, have undergone unsuccessful treatment for mold allergy. When treatments have failed, and they press their healthcare provider further- they are often told “mold cannot make you sick” ... and then sent on their way. This frustrating and heartbreaking situation, wastes time, wastes money, and causes the patient to doubt themselves- to doubt their unique and subjective experience. Don’t let other’s ignorance gaslight you, keep searching for answers.
Mycotoxicosis, although a long word, is rather simple- it is the toxic state induced by mold exposure. Certain molds produce secondary metabolites called “mycotoxins”. These molecules act as protection for molds- they are toxic to anything perceived as a threat to the fungi. This includes other mold, bacteria, and the immune system of living hosts. Mycotoxins are small substances able to pass easily into the cells of the body, where they are effortlessly bioaccumulated (stored away), especially in cells that are rich in lipids or fats. Mycotoxins can be harmful to all cells of the body, but are especially toxic to the nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys. It is not uncommon for people suffering from mycotoxicosis to complain of fatigue, wandering nerve pain, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, low libido, anxiety, depression, OCD like behavior, and mood swings. Moreover, they may have difficulty with the following: concentration, word recall, planning tasks, staying organized, following conversation, and reading comprehension. Other neurological complaints may be present, such as disorientation, atypical seizure-like disorder, issues with the senses (taste, touch, smell, vision, hearing), tics, balance issues, headache, numbness, tingling, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting (especially when moving from seated to standing) and buzzing sensations. Hormone issues may include abnormal menstrual cycle (too long, too shot, spotting, or absence of menses), hot flashes, poor libido, hair loss, thyroid dysfunction, decrease muscle mass, adrenal fatigue, weight loss, weight gain, insomnia, and erectile & sexual dysfunction. One issue that must not be understated is the severe fatigue that often accompanies mycotoxicosis. Many people who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) experience great improvement when mycotoxicosis is properly diagnosed and addressed. Even if you have not been diagnosed with CFS, it is important to realize that exhaustion from minor activity, for hours to days following the exertion is not normal, and is not the result of “aging” or “laziness” as many have been told. Keep in mind, there are other symptoms of mycotoxicosis, but they tend to overlap with the other forms of mold illness discussed in other sections.
CIRS or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome is an illness defined by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker at the end of the last century. CIRS is a multisystem, multisymptom illness meaning that it causes many complaints in various parts of the body, seemingly unrelated. These symptoms are caused by a storm of inflammation that won’t calm down. Inflammation is a normal part of maintaining a healthy body, however there is usually a beginning and an end to the inflammatory cycle. In CIRS, there is an inflammation trigger, which starts the normal inflammation cascade, but instead of stopping after the offending agent has been addressed, the inflammation continues. The initial inflammatory reaction may be caused by many things, such as Lyme and its associated coinfections, by biotoxins like ciguatera toxin, or in the case of my practice, mold and mycotoxins. As CIRS affects many different systems, there are many different symptoms, the most common being: vertigo, fatigue, weakness, static shocks, increased thirst, increased urination, body aches, light sensitivity, blurry vision, memory difficulties, joint & muscle pain, headache, morning stiffness, muscle cramping, cough, numbness & tingling, sharp wandering pains, digestive complaints, skin sensitivity, difficulty breathing, sinus pressure, appetite changes, body temperature changes, red eyes, night sweats, odd taste in the mouth, mood swings, and watery eyes.
Conclusion There are many different symptoms that can result from short term or chronic mold exposure. They may be the result of fungal allergy, fungal infection, mycotoxicosis, CIRS, or a combination of them. It is important to work with someone experienced in diagnosing and treating mold illness. A true mold doctor, or mold literate physician will be aware that there is more than just mold allergy. Also, they should be aware that not all mold illness is CIRS or mycotoxin induced. It is important to work with a physician that understands that the various types of mold illness require different diagnosis strategies and different treatments. This is can be even more difficult if you are dealing with other disease states such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, KPU, Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella, EBV, CMV, Ehrlichia, nutrient deficiencies, autoimmunity and others. It is important that you work with a physician who understands these subtle differences and is experienced in treating them successfully.
If you are interested in becoming a client at Life After Mold, call us at 802.595.6004, or reach out via the “Contact Us” form on the website.
TL;DR Symptoms of Mold Exposure
• Hormonal- Fatigue, weakness, weight changes, appetite changes, temperature regulation difficulties, night sweats, increased thirst, erectile & sexual dysfunction, low libido, low muscle mass, hypothyroidism, low testosterone, abnormal menstrual cycle.
• Cognitive & Psychological- Difficulties processing new information, brain fog, memory impairment, difficulty with word finding, anxiety, disorientation, dissociation & depersonalization, confusion, depression, mood swings, concentration deficit, OCD like behavior, tics, sleep disturbance, loss of time
• Neurological & Musculoskeletal - Numbness, tingling, sharp wandering pain, electrical pain, dizziness, vertigo, hearing difficulties, balance issues, atypical seizure-like disorder, muscle pain, joint pain, muscle cramping, morning stiffness, sensations of buzzing, vibrating & crawling
• Gastrointestinal & Urinary - diarrhea, constipation, liver and gallbladder pain (right sided abdominal pain), cramping, interstitial cystitis, painful urination, change in urine quality, stool changes, increased urinary frequency
• Head, Ears, Eyes, Nose & Throat- headache, migraine, hair loss, nose bleeds, sinus congestion, vision changes, decreased contrast sensitivity, light sensitivity, red eyes, visual disturbances, blurry vision, difficulty hearing, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), runny nose, dry eyes, watery eyes, eye irritation, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, recurrent head colds.
• Respiratory & Cardiovascular- shortness of breath, asthma, cough- dry or productive, heart palpitations, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, and chest tightness
• Skin- rashes, itching, difficulty healing
If you struggle with some of the above symptoms, and potentially have exposure to mold or a water damage building (past or current), please read the above article, as you may be dealing with one or more forms of mold illness.