What is Mould? (Know More About the Manifold Menace of Moulds!)
Anyone who has ever left any kind of food out too long would know what mould is. Moulds, are microscopic forms of fungi that live and thrive on animal or plant matter. Moulds could also be found in houses, particularly those that are made of porous building materials, an example of which is wood.
The irony of mould is that it is both a boon and a bane to humanity. It is a boon as the most common form of antibiotic, namely penicillin, came from Penicillium moulds. Antibiotics are antimicrobial substances used to stop the proliferation of bacteria within the body. Moulds, however, are also a bane as many people suffer greatly from exposure to it, particularly if it happens to be inside the house and the people are unaware of its presence.
A Hidden Threat at Home
As with most forms of fungi, moulds need a specific type of environment to grow and thrive. Most commonly, moulds thrive in environments that are both warm and moist, which also happens to describe a lot of areas where people also reside in. This is why mould growths are a serious issue in many households.
Moulds will typically grow on the surface of a variety of materials, such as paper, fabric, wood, glass, and even plastic. These materials are also largely found indoors, and in many instances, in places where many would not notice the growth, such as in between the walls, in ventilation shafts, or in dark and out-of-the-way corners of the building.
Moulds become particularly hazardous when allowed to thrive, as moulds spread by creating spores, These spores are soon ejected and become airborne so that they could be deposited in other areas. Spores are quite dangerous as they are microscopic in size and virtually invisible to the naked eye.
This means that people could be breathing in mould spores inside a house that has mould growth somewhere. It is this danger that people should be most concerned with, as there is no sure way to determine if spores are present unless the mould growth itself is found inside the building or house.
Most people think just because the structure they live in has very little wood or porous material, they are safe from moulds. This is a grave mistake as concrete has a great tendency to crack and allow moisture in through seepage. This moisture could be enough for moulds to grow on, and unless the cracks in the concrete structure are visible, the mould growth could remain hidden and unknown until the time it releases its spores. The danger becomes even greater if the mould growth happens to be inside ventilation shafts that bring air in and out of the house or building. Having mould growths within the ventilation shaft practically guarantees that people within the structure are breathing in the mould spores.
The Health Risks of Hidden Mould
WorkSafe data reveals that at least 220 people in New Zealand die each year from asbestos-related causes. To make matters worse, it has been discovered that even healthcare settings, such as hospitals and clinics, are not spared from mould growth. Aspergillus, a common mould that thrives indoors, has been identified as being present in most healthcare environments. In instances where the patients have a vulnerability to pulmonary issues, the presence of moulds could increase the mortality rate by as much as 60%.
The growth of mould and other fungi in places where they should not be found is, more often than not, practically guaranteed, as even hospitals and clinics have bathrooms, kitchens, basement areas, plumbing spaces, and storage spaces, all of which are ideal growth areas for different kinds of moulds and fungi. This is why fungal and mould clean-up efforts require specialised processes just to ensure that all areas are free of growth and potential spore deposits.
Mould spores are particularly hazardous because of the nature of human reactions to them.
Many people don’t react well to biological matter that gets inhaled. Many suffer an allergic reaction, which could manifest in a number of symptoms:
- Persistent itch in the areas of the nose, eyes, and/or throat
- Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
- Runny nose
- Presence of mucus (phlegm) in the throat
- Worsening of asthma symptoms (in people who have asthma), including coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and/or chest tightness
Moulds cause far more damage when inhaled due to the allergic reaction related to pulmonary issues than when it is accidentally ingested, as moulds are also known to grow on food that has not been kept properly.
Toxicity Through Mycotoxins
Prolonged exposure to moulds, such as when there is a hidden mould growth in the house or building, could become a serious health risk as there are moulds that are known to produce mycotoxins in humans. Mycotoxins are byproducts created by moulds during their lifecycle, and could become highly toxic for people who are particularly vulnerable to it. Mycotoxins have been known to cause neurological damage in humans and animals, which is mostly the reason for the exaggerated fear of fungal infection as depicted in popular modern media.
Development of Aspergillosis
Aspergillus is a type of mould that could induce aspergillosis in some people. Aspergillosis is an infection caused when a person inhales mould spores. People who inhale aspergillus and are particularly susceptible to it often develop severe allergic reactions, lunch infections, and infections in their organs that might be in a weakened state. There are different types of aspergillosis, including:
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
This type is when Aspergillus induces inflammation in the lungs and triggers symptoms of an allergic reaction such as coughing and wheezing. This condition, however, is not classified as an infection.
Allergic Aspergillus Sinusitis
This is when Aspergillus causes inflammation in the sinuses and triggers the symptoms of a sinus infection such as stuffiness and headaches. This condition is not classified as an infection.
Azole-Resistant Aspergillus fumigatus
This type is when the person is exposed to Aspergillus fumigatus, a species of Aspergillus which is known to be resistant to specific medications typically used to treat it. This is classified as an infection and is particularly difficult to treat due to its resistant nature.
This type is the kind that induces horror in most people because it is when the aspergillus thrives inside the lungs of the person who inhaled it or in the sinuses. This is classified as an infection, but is generally not known to spread to other parts of the body. This condition is also known as a “fungus ball.”
Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis
This type is even worse, as it is when the Aspergillus infection creates cavities in the lungs, literally boring holes in it. This condition could be a long-term condition, lasting for three months or more.
This type is when Aspergillus causes a serious infection in the person. It usually affects people who have a weakened or compromised immune system, such as people who have had an organ transplant, stem cell transplant, or chemotherapy. Invasive aspergillosis is most commonly known to infect the lungs, but is also known to spread to other parts of the body.
This type is when aspergillus enters the body through a break in the skin, such as an open wound, a wound from surgery, or degraded skin from burns, and causes an infection. Cutaneous aspergillosis is also known to occur if invasive aspergillosis spreads to the skin from a different point of origin, such as the lungs.
Here’s a video of Dr. Michael Gray, Mould Expert, talking about the hidden dangers of mould at CBN News.
How is Mould Growth Prevented?
The best way to prevent mould growth in the house is to ensure that there is no opportunity for it to settle in and thrive in your living space.
- Search your house or building for evidence of water damage and visible mould as part of routine maintenance and cleaning. Water leaks, condensation, infiltration, and flooded areas are the most ideal places for mould growth as these provide the necessary conditions for it to thrive in.
- Keep humidity levels as low as possible throughout the entire day. An ideal level would be between 30% and 50%. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help greatly in this task. It is important to remember that humidity levels change during the course of a day as the moisture in the air and air temperature also change. This means there is a need to check the humidity levels more than once a day.
- Ensure that the house or building has enough ventilation. Exhaust fans or powered vents which blow outside the structure should help, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom. Position sure your clothes dryer vents outdoors and not to a wall where the moisture would collect.
- Find and fix any leaks or cracks on the roof, walls, windows, or plumbing so that there is no space for hidden mould growth and no medium for it to thrive on.