“There is black mold in the walls. All through the walls. That’s why we’ve been getting so sick, and we need to move right now.”
These are not words that you want to hear when you are trying to build your homestead in the woods! Toxic mold, though, is more deadly and far more common than most of us realize. In fact, I have another friend who had the same thing happen – and she, like me, is still slowly recovering from her mold exposure.
Most of us know that black mold is dangerous, but do you know how dangerous or how common it is?
Up to a quarter of homes have mold problems, making everyone at risk for poisoning. Mold doesn’t care about your age or gender, nor is it limited to certain climates or specific types of homes.
Readers of this site know that we spent three years in an off-grid cabin in the woods.
If you didn’t, now you do – three years, ten miles from our nearest neighbour, living without a fridge, about 2 KwH/day of solar power. It was wonderful – until it wasn’t.
It was my dream come true, the homestead that I had been wanting and dreaming off for thirty years – and we had to leave it after just three years.
We made the move into a small village primarily because of health problems.
Increasingly frequent bouts of coughing and chest pains, asthma issues with our children, a terrifying episode of pneumonia with the baby, chronic fatigue that didn’t respond to any treatment – and then we opened up the walls to do a repair and discovered toxic black mold throughout the cabin.
We had been breathing that in for months (at least), and it has left long-term damage to our immune systems. Even now, more than two years after we moved out, I deal with fatigue, lung and immune issues (like increased, and worse, allergies) that were never a problem in the past. Some people end up living with toxic mold for years!
Some people aren’t as sensitive to mold as others, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that less sensitivity eliminates the risk altogether. Exposure to molds can cause problems even if you don’t think you’re sensitive.
People with respiratory problems like asthma, allergies, sinusitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at a high risk of severe reactions.
Mold causes upper respiratory tract symptoms, so it makes sense that those who already deal with shortness of breath are going to be more affected by mold exposure.
For the record, mold exposure probably does not cause asthma, allergies, COPD, chronic fatique syndrome, and all of those other problems, but it can knock out your immune system, which will make all of those things worse, or bring them to the surface if they’ve been there but only a minor irritant. And it will certainly make asthma symptoms worse.
So it might not technically cause the problem, but you might not be aware that there was a problem until after mold poisoning.
As you might guess, people who have a compromised immune system are easily affected. This includes those with cancer and HIV.
The last group that is at an extremely high risk of complications is the very old or the very young, as well as pregnant women. The immune systems of children are still developing, while older people tend to have a weaker immune system that is stressed by other issues.
People with respiratory problems, those with compromised immune systems, the very old, very young and pregnant women are at highest risk of complications from toxic black mold.
Again, though, while these people are at the highest risk for complications, anyone can react to toxic mold.
Mold is made up of tiny microscopic organisms that can either grow indoors or outdoors. They’re everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we want to let them get a foothold in our homes! Mold spores are spread by being blown in the air or disturbed from their surface in any other way. They are a lot smaller than pollen grains. This allows the spores to get into our lungs, which makes it a common cause of asthma attacks.
Ants. Black mold is like ants – common, natural and even useful, but you don’t want them in your house!
All fungus requires moisture to survive.
Toxic mold can grow anywhere but it is most likely to appear in warm, humid areas.
Mold can be found in your carpet, dry wall, wood paneling, and drop-down ceiling tiles or any other area that remains wet for an extended amount of time. It’s important to clean up any spills, and any moisture problems need to be fixed.
In our case, two factors came in.
First, we didn’t run a dehumidifier in our cabin because of our limited solar electricity capability. Here on the humid east coast, a dehumidifier is often vital.
Second, when we removed an old chimney to relocate our stove, the roof was incorrectly sealed. By the time we realized the problem, rain had seeped into our walls and the black mold already in the environment was given a warm, damp place to grow prolifically.
Toxic mold will often have a distinctive smell; usually like mildew with a musty kind of smell.
Some people describe the smell as rotting wood or wet, dirty socks. When you have mold in your home, the smell is sometimes the only clue that you have. Don’t ignore the smell of mildew in your home, even if you want to think that it’s ‘just the smell of an older house’ or ‘no one’s been in here for a while’. If you have that musty smell, take it seriously.
It’s important to find where the smell is coming from and in turn, find the mold.
Molds are decomposers of organic material such as wood, animals, and plants, which makes them a good and useful thing – in their place. Mold and their spores are found in high concentrations in places like piles of leaves, manure, and compost, all of which are found around the homes of gardeners, homesteaders and farmers.
Mold can enter your home through doorways, windows, ventilation, air conditioning vents, and your heating system. It is common for mold spores from the air to attach onto pets, your shoes, clothes, or to bags. The mold spores will drop onto places of moisture where they will then continue to grow.
Keep an eye out for warm and wet environments in your home and deal with them quickly to prevent mold from growing.
What are the main symptoms of toxic black mold poisoning?
Many people scoff at this and assume that black mold health risks are minor. Some of them are, but complications and the long term effect of mold exposure can be extremely serious.
An allergy to mold can cause skin rashes and hives to appear on your skin. They will seem to have no cause, unless you know that you are being exposed to toxic black mold. In severe cases, the inflammation can spread inside to your throat.
This, of course, is your body warning you that something in your environment is very wrong.
Mold spores are very light and travel by air, making it very easy to inhale them.
This causes an irritation in the lining of your throat, causing you to cough.
In our case, we made multiple trips to the doctor to deal with coughs and asthma attacks that just would not go away. When we were expecting our youngest, who was born at the cabin, I developed a cough so bad that I cracked a rib. A cough is one of the most common reactions to black mold.
There’s no sign of infection, but that painful throat just won’t ease up.
Your immune system sees the mold, quite reasonably, as a threat. An allergic response can cause inflammation of your throat, lungs and airways, making it difficult to breathe. I can’t count the times we went to the doctor for sore throats … but ‘nothing is wrong’.
The effects of black mold poisoning can easily be overlooked.
Mold doesn’t necessarily cause asthma, but it can bring on asthma attacks in people with asthma. It’s a fine distinction, especially if your asthma was mild enough to not usually cause problems. It may seem as though the mold caused the asthma, but that is not what happens.
When exposed to any mold, especially toxic black mold, the person’s symptoms will get worse. You may experience more asthma attacks, a very tight chest, and the attacks will seem longer than usual.
When we are not getting enough oxygen, fatique sets in.
I recently visited Salt Lake City in Utah. (It is, by the way, one of the nicest cities I’ve ever been in, quite comparable to the friendliness and safety of Ottawa, Canada!)
The transition from sea level, where I live, to an elevation of 4300 feet meant that I was exhausted and oxygen-deprived. Activities that I can normally do without an issue would drain me and leave me gasping for breath.
The same thing happens (and certainly happened to me) when we are exposed to black mold for an extended period of time. Anyone with pneumonia, asthma or other respiratory problems will be at increased risk for this.
But what now? We know what it is, we know we’ve been exposed, but what happens next?
What is typical black mold exposure treatment?
Exposure to toxic mold is dangerous and needs to be reported to your doctor immediately so that treatment can be decided.
Mold allergies vary from person to person and while some people may be barely affected, others may experience year-round symptoms or have serious ongoing health issues after exposure. It is certainly possible to die from complications of black mold poisoning.
The very first step is, of course, to get out of the environment where you were exposed to the mold, and immediately report the potential toxic mold poisoning to your doctor.
If the exposure has been mild and your symptoms are not severe, you will probably just need to wait out the healing time. It can take some time. I’ve been slowly healing for four years now, and I still have days when I have difficulty breathing.
But without any doubt, the best treatment is always going to be avoidance!
It’s possible to die from black mold exposure. Please take it seriously!
These nasal medicines will treat the inflammation in your respiratory system caused by the allergy. This once-a-day treatment is what I have started using since moving away from our toxic cabin, and for many people it is the most effective way to treat the allergic reaction caused by toxic black mold poisoning.
They are safe for long-term use.
If the mold has caused a reaction of skin itchiness and runny nose, antihistamines are one answer.
As the name indicates, they block the histamine chemical that causes the allergic reaction. Most of us are familiar with antihistamines since these are regularly used by allergy sufferers and are generally available over the counter.
Decongestant Nasal Spray
While these can be very useful on a short-term basis, please remember to never use a decongestant nasal spray longer than four days. They can cause a medical condition called rhinitis medicamentosa, in which your sinuses become dependent on them. They can also cause headaches, nervousness and insomnia. If you have a dependency on them, see your pharmacist for advice and assistance.
Regardless, they are very useful when used briefly to resolve sinus congestion. Ideally, use it for only a day or two and then wait several weeks before using it again.
When I was a child, my mother did an extended series of allergy shots for hayfever, and I always remember her sore arms. This is only useful for some types of mold allergy, and will probably not be used to treat your toxic black mold allergy.
Nasal wash. That’s all that ‘lavage’ means – it’s just a French word that means you’re washing something.
It’s also called nasal irrigation, which makes me imagine someone setting up farming in your sinuses.
To help with the irritating nasal symptoms, your doctor may require you to rinse your nose out with salt water. This will help to keep your nose free of any irritants. One of the most common ways to do this is with a neti pot.
And one final note on treatment – try very hard to keep the humidity level in your home at or below 50%. My readers who are in dry parts of the world are now looking at the screen in confusion, but those of us who live in humid regions understand. Without a dehumidifier running constantly, my home would sit at, as a friend from the southern US said, “75% humidity 75% of the time.” That was one of the problems at our cabin, in fact. Once the toxic mold got into our walls, the high immunity and the lack of a dehumidifier allowed it to spread like wildfire.
It’s called toxic black mold for good reason, though, and it is dangerous for everyone. Now go have some fun and take this quiz to see what you know about mold allergy!0