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what to do when your immune system hates you

What is mold?

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Mold and its close relative mildew are fungi. They grow in a high-humidity environments such as bathrooms and crawlspaces. The "seeds" of mold (termed "spores") travel through the air via wind to seed themselves into new environments, usually because the main fungus has been disturbed in some way. There is no real way to contain them, just stay ahead of them as best as you can.

Although mold species are numerous, very few cause a documentable reaction in humans. Even fewer of these are actually hazardous to an average person. Mold allergies commonly occur from spring to autumn in seasonal climates. You are unlikely to find any mold at all in an arid environment such as a desert.

Since mold gets everywhere during its particular season, it is present in almost every home with any trace of dampness no matter how much we may try to keep ahead of it. It tends to live in bathrooms and kitchens but can be found in other parts of the house. While many symptoms are not normally severe, they can be quite difficult to live with. We live with mold in our homes every day. What triggers an allergic reaction in humans, though?

Water: the underlying cause of mold allergies

Mold likes the damp. If you have a leak, or standing water, or a steady drip, you will have mold growing. The wetter the environment is, the more quickly it grows and spreads.

Symptoms of a mold allergy include sinus issues such as itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and persistent post-nasal drip. In many ways, it resembles a typical hay fever reaction, and accordingly may be treated with antihistamines.

Warning: Of particular note is an allergy to mold-based medications such as penicillin. This can and does cause anaphylaxis in individuals. This can be fatal. Notify your care provider about your allergy so it can be included in your file, and discuss the benefits of carrying an Epi-pen in the event of a severe reaction.

Asthma

People who suffer from asthma often have a difficult time with mold. If they are reactive to mold, the allergy symptoms can often trigger severe asthmatic reactions such as respiratory congestion, wheezing, and even severe shortness of breath.

How to reduce mold in the home

Accept up front that all the mold will never be gone. The best you can do is keep it under control. Anything you can do to reduce the mold population will really help yourself if you are allergic, but also any allergic guests who might visit.

If you live in a rainy area, this may make things worse as mold can spread quickly in damp conditions. Limit your outdoor activities on rainy days, and change clothes when you go back inside to wash off any mold spores.

The most important thing is to dust regularly with a damp cloth. A dry cloth just stirs up more allergens, so be sure it is damp (not dripping wet though). The same goes for a damp mop on hard floors. If you have carpeting, make sure your vacuum cleaner has a high quality HEPA filter, as this is responsible for removing the microscopic allergens that a standard filter cannot handle. Wear an industrial-grade respirator or half-mask plus goggles while dusting and vacuuming so as not to breathe in any allergens.

In addition, wash all your bedding and any laundry at least once a week. Use a clothes dryer rather than line dry to reduce pollen exposure. Keep things clean as you can. Add an allergen-impermeable cover to your mattress and your pillow if you can find them. Do try to keep a window open for good air circulation in stagnant areas.

Between rounds of laundry and dusting, an air purifier will help to maintain good air quality for those allergic to mold. Choose an air purifier designed to handle the square footage that needs cleaning. If parts of your home such as the basement are perpetually damp, set up a de-humidifier in that area.

The key to dealing with a mold allergy is to treat your symptoms if you have a flare-up from mold exposure. Mold reactions can be cumulative, so if you become aware of a mold issue, begin dealing with it immediately.

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