Mold is a term used to describe various types of fungi, and they are a living species that is not plant or animal. Fungus, in singular form, grows in filaments and colonies, releasing spores at certain stages in its lifecycle to procreate and multiply. These spores have special qualities that allow them to travel long distances relative to their size through the air.
Mildew refers to common types of mold found in homes and businesses where warm, dark, and damp places provide ideal living conditions for this fungus to thrive. Mildew sometimes applies to white or grayish colored mold and is typically found growing in shower stalls and bathrooms. Mold naturally grows outdoors and indoors during all seasons, and humidity is essential for their development and survivability.
As diverse as the animal and plant kingdoms, common species of mold are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. You may recognize one of the species as being close to penicillin, and this species is responsible for producing the life-saving antibiotic in hospitals across the world. Bacteria infect not only humans and animals but plants and fungi as well. The fungus Penicillium produces penicillin to fight off bacterial invasions, and when doctors observed the effectiveness of this chemical, they transferred it over to human health industries.
Not all molds are good for humans though, and among those, Stachybotrys atra is the most dangerous. Known as the “black mold”, it has a distinct greenish-black color and grows on building materials with high cellulose concentrations, like wood, fiberboards, paper, dust, and lint. Like other fungi, black mold releases spores into the air and represents a threat to human health if these spores are inhaled or contact the body.
Spores are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye. Highly specialized for their reproductive roles, mold spores are robust travelers that can survive brutal and unsavory environments. Once they land on a surface, they patiently wait until at least a tiny amount of moisture is present to rapidly start multiplying their cells.
Bathrooms and basements are the most common places for mold to show up in homes, but fungi can grow elsewhere. Drywall, substructure wood, furniture, ceiling tiles, carpets, and areas around plumbing pipes are potential habitats for mold to grow indoors. Flooded homes are especially at risk, because they provide ideal living conditions for molds to infiltrate and infest. Exposure to outdoor spores happens when a home is damaged during a storm, but the spores also enter through open doors, windows, vents, and are carried inside on clothes, shoes, pets, and hair. The presence of mold is associated with several different colors, spots of growth, and a musty odor. Other times, growth is stealthier and can show up under wallpaper, beneath carpets, and behind drywall.
For its role in the circle of life, fungus plays an important part in decomposing organic materials, such as dead trees, compost, and fallen leaves. Their ideal environment is a damp and dark forest floor. However, when these living organisms travel indoors, they damage the surfaces and destroy the objects from which they grow, and even pose a health risk.
Living around mold can have serious health effects, especially for those individuals who are more sensitive to the allergens associated with fungi growth. Usually, the mold itself is not harmful, but the chemicals they produce are sometimes dangerous. Mycotoxins are hazardous byproducts of fungal growth and are toxic to humans. Allergic reactions to mold are the most frequent side-effect of living with this microorganisms and can be immediate or develop over time. Asthma attacks are sometimes provoked from fungal spores in the air, and can also irritate the skin and eyes.
Severe reactions sometimes develop and can cause life-threatening illnesses. Fever and respiratory difficulties are known to arise in highly sensitive individuals. People with lung disease or compromised immune systems are at significant risk of developing complications associated with fungi and should take the necessary precautions if they are at risk of being exposed. In rare instances, people have reported pulmonary hemorrhage and memory loss from the long-term influence of household fungus.
The most dangerous aspect of mold infestation is that it could be infesting your home for an extensive amount of time before it is finally discovered. Adept at hiding, and preferring dark, stagnant places in the home, fungi are known to develop for weeks or even months before being noticed. Unsuspecting victims suffer the uncomfortable side-effects for long periods of time before desperately searching for some solution, only to realize their homes have been invaded by an obnoxious, sometimes deadly, fungus.
Black mold is especially dangerous and can be extremely difficult to isolate and eliminate. Invading tiny spaces that never see the light of day, this fungus produces poisonous spores that accumulate in the confined space, creating a toxic concoction of dangerous air. The most common symptoms associated with this species are respiratory difficulties. Chronic coughing, sneezing, wheezing, fatigue, and severe irritation are often experienced after black mold exposure or black mold poisoning.
Allergic reactions to mold are treated in a similar way for all allergies and usually involves reducing the body’s inflammation response to provide some relief and comfort. Fungal infections are much more severe and can require emergency hospital intervention. Antifungal drugs and surgery are considered routine for serious fungal infections, and antifungal drugs are administered, sometimes while the patient is on life support to ensure they keep breathing and circulating blood. Patients with asthma have additional options to treat their reactions to fungi and are more susceptible from mold-induced complications.
The short answer is no, it is impossible. But there are a few ways you can limit the chances of mold finding a cozy spot in your home. The best way to limit growth is to control the level of moisture in the home. Without enough dampness, newly-arrived spores will not develop and usually remain dormant until they are cleaned up.
Water leaks are a common source for wet conditions. Identify and repair water leaks before they become a bigger problem, and check your home for areas where this is likely to happen. Cleaning the wet area with diluted bleach will destroy any spores and protect the area for some time. Air conditioners, fans, and dehumidifiers can reduce the humidity of a dampened room, and can combat fungal growth. Maintaining good ventilation is critical to preventing a buildup of mold and moisture because stagnant air creates an ideal living condition. Carpets should not be installed in areas where moisture is likely to develop, and insulation should be used on appliances susceptible to creating condensation. Completely dry any drywall, rugs, carpets, woods that are exposed wet conditions.
There is currently no EPA or other government standard relating to levels of mold in your home, and there is no test to deem spore counts safe or in compliance with health regulations. Individual reactions to mold are different among humans, and testing does not accurately predict the outcome of being exposed to these organisms. Families that hire professionals to clean their homes can have tests performed to see the effectiveness of the cleanup and spore reduction. The hardest part about mold is that it is hard to discover until it is too late. If your building has been recently damaged by water, you should hire a professional to inspect the property. Hiring a skilled expert can save you money and prevent serious health effects from influencing your life.
The process of removing mold and their deadly mycotoxins is different for each case. Factors such as the extent to which the mold has grown, what surfaces the mold has infested, and what the source of moisture is can all influence the response to mold treatments. Large areas that are affected will likely need to be completely removed and replaced. Smaller areas of infestation are sometimes washed with powerful cleaning solutions and dried completely. Porous materials with high absorption rates are usually lost and must be discarded. The process is complicated and the safety equipment is highly specialized to prevent unnecessary exposure. Respirators, long clothes, and gloves are minimal safety requirements, and mold should never be touched with bare hands.
If your home was extensively damaged during recent flooding events across the nation, you should not hesitate to get your home fully inspected for mold and mildew populations freeloading on your property. Side-effects of living with these invasive irritants range from a less severe runny nose and eyes to aggressive respiratory infections, potentially resulting in death. The sooner you reach out to have a professional inspect your property, the more likely they can help you combat the problem. Fungi spores are incredibly small and great at hiding in places most homeowners would never suspect. Instead of waiting and regretting how big the problem reached, it may be wise to get an inspection scheduled today. Protect yourself with peace of mind and limited exposure to the harmful effects of mold living in your home.