Having Your Home Tested for Mold and Mycotoxins
Living in the Sunshine State isn’t all beaches and oranges.
The heat and humidity provide the perfect environment for toxic molds to flourish.
And living in a newer home doesn’t mean you’re safe. In fact, some modern construction materials are even more prone to mold infestation than good old-fashioned brick, wood, and plaster.
Here in our Tampa, Florida office, we see many patients struggling with mold-related health issues mainly caused by living in a water-damaged home (currently or sometime in the past). You can find plenty of stories about toxic mold illness in the news.
Ideally, these patients have already had their homes tested, and we can use the test results to make better treatment decisions, like mold toxicity treatment. But we realize that’s not always possible or how the situation unfolds.
In many cases, people are unaware of the mold in their homes until they receive their lab test results showing they’ve been exposed. For more about available testing, see our previous post, “Urine and Testing for Mold Toxins.”
In this post, we focus on having your home tested for mold and mycotoxins and encourage you to have your home tested first — before scheduling a consultation with your doctor.
The more information your healthcare provider has, the more likely you can arrange the treatment you need and avoid unnecessary or ineffective plans of care. In any event, if your home tests positive for mold, the first step in the treatment process is mold remediation for your home.
You need to eliminate what’s making you ill so that your body can begin to recover. If you live in or near Tampa, check out our “Big List of Tampa Mold Resources for Homeowners.”
In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about toxic mold and its impact on your body.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Exposure to Toxic Mold
If you have any water damage in your home, any visible mold, or you or a family member has any of the following symptoms, we encourage you to have your home tested for toxic mold:
If you’ve experienced severe allergy-like symptoms — such as hives, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, or severe diarrhea — and your doctor diagnoses you with allergies, you may actually have a condition called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), which is connected to toxic mold.
MCAS occurs when mast cells, which are distributed throughout the body, inappropriately release excessive chemical mediators like histamine, in response to a trigger such as toxic mold found in your home or workplace. Mast cells normally function to defend the body against harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi, but when they become hypersensitive, they release chemical mediators in response to non-threatening triggers, sometimes leading to an excessive amount of these mediators being released.
Learn more here: Mold Exposure Treatment: Should I Use a Dog to Detect Toxic Mold in My Home?
Keep in mind that family members may react differently. In a large family, only one or two members may experience symptoms, while everyone else feels just fine. Everyone’s body is different; some bodies are better equipped than others to eliminate mold and the mycotoxins they produce.
Sources of Mold and Mycotoxins
You can become exposed to mold and mycotoxins from various sources. Here are the leading three sources of mold exposure from most to least common:
- Environmental – typically a home, workplace, or school with some water damage or a source of high humidity. Water damage can result from storms, leaky pipes, improper ventilation, condensation, and other issues.
- Infection/colonization – molds can infect and colonize the body, including the sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract.
- Foods – several foods and beverages are prone to be high in mold, including sour cream, cheese, wine, beer, hot dogs, smoked, cured, and pickled meats and fish.
Our focus in this post is on environment molds and mycotoxins.
Factors Contributing to Mold Growth in Buildings
Several factors influence the growth of mold in building structures and the presence of mycotoxins, including:
- Building material (wood, insulation, drywall, carpeting, and so on)
Many people are in the mistaken belief that older homes are more susceptible to mold infestation, but the opposite may be true.
In a study titled Mycotoxins in Crude Building Materials from Water-Damaged Buildings (published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Applied & Environmental Microbiology), researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health compared samples taken from different building materials.
Mycotoxins were detected in far more samples of cellulose (used in insulation) and gypsum (used in drywall) than in older building materials such as mineral wood, plaster, and sand (used in cement).
Specifically, the researchers found that the ratio of mycotoxin-containing samples to mycotoxin-free samples in the different building materials was as follows:
- Cellulose: 19/22
- Gypsum: 9/8
- Synthetic material: 3/4
- Mineral wood: 1/5
- Plaster, sand, and soil: 1/9
The conclusions drawn from this study match what mold remediation specialists are observing in practice. Namely, newer homes built with drywall and synthetic materials are more prone to mold infestation than older brick or stone homes with plaster walls.
Regardless of whether you live in a new home or an older one, if it has water damage (past or present), or whether you can see it or not, if anyone in your home is experiencing symptoms of mold exposure, we strongly recommend that you have your home tested.
Testing can answer five important questions:
- Is mold present?
- If mold is present, which type(s) are they? (Some molds are more toxic than others.)
- If mold is present, where is it?
- How concentrated are the mold and mycotoxins? (How bad is the infestation?)
- What conditions led to the infestation? (What needs to be done to remediate the mold?)
Types of Mold Testing
Four common types of mold testing are available:
Air samples: Spores are placed on a slide treated with an adhesive using a vacuum-like device. The spores are then examined and counted using a microscope. This is a relatively inexpensive way to test for mold spores.
Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) test: Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Healthy Home Survey was conducted between 2005 and 2006 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control.
That information was utilized to develop the ERMI test, which checks for 36 different molds. Twenty-six are water damage-related, and the other 10 are common molds.
This test generates a lot of data, which can be problematic in two ways: First, the results may show high amounts of common molds, which can be unnecessarily alarming to the homeowner.
Second, if both dangerous and common mold levels are elevated, the level of common mold can artificially lower the score for dangerous mold so that it appears in the normal range.
Health Effects Roster of Type-Specific Formers of Mycotoxins and Inflammagens-2nd version (HERTSMI-2): This test focuses on what many doctors consider to be the five most dangerous molds: Aspergillus penicilloides, Aspergillus versicolor, Chaetomium globosum, Stachybotrys chartarum, and Wallemia sebi.
Scores are assigned based on the mold type and concentration. For example, 10 points are assigned for a concentration of Aspergillus versicolor greater than 500 Spore E/mg, 6 points if the concentration is 100–499, and 4 points if the concentration is 10–99.
The big drawback of this test is that it excludes several pathogenic molds, including Penicillium.
Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment (EMMA): Two tests combine to form this assessment — a test for mold and a test for mycotoxins. The mycotoxin test may be the more important of the two.
Mycotoxins are the toxins produced by mold; they’re more than a thousand times smaller than spores. As such, they can find their way into areas of a building that spores can’t reach.
In addition, spores tend to be sticky and adhere to surfaces, so while spores can get trapped inside walls and ventilation ducts, their mycotoxins can still permeate a room or entire building.
With some molds — especially Stachybotrys — the main living areas will test negative for spores but positive for mycotoxins.
Preventing Mold Growth in Your Home
In addition to testing your home for mold, you must look into ways to discourage mold growth. One way to do this is to maintain a healthy humidity level throughout the home and ensure all bathrooms have proper ventilation.
According to RealTime Laboratories, Inc. — a Texas company that offers home testing kits for molds and mycotoxins — most of its clients live in high-humidity areas of the country, including Florida. The company recommends “keeping your home between 25-55 percent humidity to maximize your health and minimize the threat of mold growth.”
Here at the BioDesign Wellness Center, we encourage you to have your home tested for mold and mycotoxins if you suspect a problem. If possible, do so before consulting one of our healthcare providers. This ensures we can support you in obtaining an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
If you are looking for support in treating mold illness, please contact our office to schedule your consultation.
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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about testing your home for mold and mycotoxins is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.