If you come into the doctor’s office with a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or wheezing they’ll usually think it’s allergies, the common cold, or even asthma, but mold??? Chances are that has never crossed your doctor’s mind as the possible cause of your symptoms, mostly because doctors aren’t taught much about it in medical school and they assume it’s pretty rare. After running a few tests without a clear cut explanation they may send you home with a prescription for some allergy medication, run a couple more tests and when those don’t get an answer you might be told to consult a psychiatrist…but not so fast, doctor. The source of the problem could be (no pun intended) right under your nose!
With more and more buildings aging the problem of water damage and the mold that grows in it is alot more common than you might think and certain genetically predisposed (HLA–DR) individuals are not equipped to fight off the effects. Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) is a grouping of genes on chromosome 6.
The resultant illness is multi-systemic and falls into a sub-category of Biotoxic illness called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (or CIRS). The invading biotoxin signals the body to produce a continuous stream of cytokines creating a chronic autoimmune inflammatory condition. Patients with this genetic predisposition are unable to clear these substances on their own and therefore treatment is necessary.
Blood tests that may reveal that you have a mold-related illness;
VIP – Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide – Normal Range: 23-63 pg/mL
C4a Level Normal Range: 0-2830 ng/ml
TGF Beta-1 Transforming Growth Factor Beta-1 Normal Range: <2380 pg/ml
MSH-Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone Normal Range 35-81 pg/ml
HLA DRB, DQB Typing
MMP-9 (Matrix metalloprot.-9)
MSH Normal Range: 35-81 pg/mL
AGA IgA/IgG Normal Range 0-19
ACTH/Cortisol Normal Range: ACTH – 8-37 pg/mL; Cortisol – a.m. 4.3-22.4 / p.m. 3.1-16.7 ug/dL
VEGF Normal Range: 31-86 pg/mL
ACLA IgA/IgG/IgM Normal Range: IgA – 0-12; IgG 0-10; IgM 0-9
ADH/Osmolality Normal Range: ADH – 1.0-13.3 pg/ml; Osmolality – 280-300 mosmol
MMP-9 Normal Range: 85-332 ng/mL
Leptin Normal Range: Male: 0.5-13.8 ng/mL; Female: 1.1-27.5 ng/mL
Urine Mycotoxin Testing; tests for 3 mycotoxins; Tricothecenes, Aflatoxin, and Ochratoxin
Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test
This test evaluates your brain’s ability to recognize contrast. You are shown a variety of patterns and objects with one eye covered and then the other viewed at a distance of 18 inches away. Although not diagnostic for mycotoxin specifically it does supply your physician with supporting evidence (get this test free) here or for a donation obtain added benefits. It is recommended that the results be confirmed with a physician repeating it in the office in-person.
(most or all of these are available through your doctor’s office and their lab, and some or all may even be covered on Medicare/Medicaid).
Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker a revolutionary in the innovative treatment of Lyme Disease also is well known as a physician who treats mold and has written extensively on Biotoxin illnesses. Read more in depth about his theory on Biotoxin Pathways here.
In addition to the more typical upper respiratory symptoms patients affected by mold can also experience others that may not immediately appear to be mold-related.
muscle pain, cramps, burning, unusual shooting (ice pick-like) pains
fatigue, weakness, flu-like symptoms, fever, chills
shortness of breath, cough
abdominal pain, diarrhea
chronic sinusitis, sore throat
burning eyes, red eyes, sensitivity to light
difficulty with thought processes, memory loss, loss of concentration, confusion, disorientation, “brain fog”
dizziness, balance problems
metallic taste in mouth
numbness and tingling
temperature regulation problems
excessive thirst and urination
excessive menstrual bleeding
mylar flush (face flushing)
IgA nephropathy (kidney disease)
The sensation that you are going to pass out
Attention deficit disorder
Swollen lymph nodes
Difficulty losing weight (in detoxifier types)
Ringing in the ears
Multiple chemical sensitivity (stachybotrys and chaetomium)
Nose bleeds and pulmonary hemorrhaging (stachybotrys)
Multiple sclerosis like symptoms
Dirt like taste in mouth
Irregular heart beat
Anaphylaxis on re-exposure to toxic molds
Air hunger, can’t get a deep breath
Child developmental delays
Difficulty handling any kind of stress
Mood swings, irritability
Frequent upper respiratory infections
Sensitivity to sound
New food allergies
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
Poor insight into illness
Death, in extreme cases
I’m thinking there is a possibility that inhaling mold spores in my environment could be causing or at least contributing to my chronic illness and so I’m asking my doctors to run any tests they can to rule it in or out. Given the range of symptoms that can come from mold exposure it is not unreasonable that this may be the culprit (or at least part of it) and it would explain why doctors have been unable to identify the cause as of yet. In order for tests to come up positive one has to have some idea of the right tests to order in the first place.
In addition I’m looking into getting my home tested. If mold is found in my house then chances are high that it’s in my body as well, especially if it’s black mold, or Stachybotrys.
Testing Your Home
There are a number of products on the market to test your home for toxic mold.Dr. Mary Ray D.O., a primary care physician who practices in Jacksonville, Florida, and mold survivor herself has created an educational website to let the public know about this problem and things you can do about it. It is an invaluable resource for anyone who is chronically ill to read and consider, as every little bit helps when your health is compromised and your immune system, vulnerable.
One piece of equipment Dr. Ray suggests is a moisture meter since mold thrives in a damp environment. The one linked above is the model she recommends which gives you the most bang for your buck.
In addition to a moisture meter a Borescope (a tube with a small camera in it) can help identify what may be hiding inside your walls that you can’t see with the naked eye. To use one of these you cut or drill a small hole in the wall you want to see behind and snake the tubing through it. This device connects to your computer via a USB cable and allows you to take video or still shots of the inside of your wall where mold often grows.
If you don’t see it on the outside of your walls it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Sometimes the areas you can’t see are the source of your problem and having a tool like this can allow you to identify areas where you have mold that otherwise would go undetected. This can also be used to look inside your ear, nose, and throat, to see possible problems in the body. See a more in-depth description here .
Other testing methods such as the IAQ 5 Minute Mold Test, Instant Mold Test, Examineair Mold Test, the ERMI DNA Mold Testing, Predict Voc (Micotoxin) Test are outlined here.
An array of dehumidifiers, air exchanges, and air purifiers are available to reduce the number of mold spores you’re exposed to. This is especially helpful when you can’t afford to fully rid your home or workplace of the substance and when you can’t feasibly move. I own my home and it’s paid off, so moving isn’t an option for me since I save money by not needing to pay rent or house payment.
Living on Disability income of less than $800/Month I do not have the money to pay out of pocket for my house to be remedied but have been searching for a non-profit or someone who would be willing to donate their services to do the work to remove the mold and prevent its regrowth. It has been like finding a needle in a haystack. Many of the agencies just have a voicemail and don’t call back when you leave a message. I contacted one ministry with a voicemail that says due to the huge need for handyman services it may take several weeks for them to return your call and if you don’t hear anything after that to call them back. Needless to say, that doesn’t inspire alot of confidence.
I’ve noticed more often lately my nose starts pouring mucus, and at times sneezing and stuff flies out. It’s gross and I can actually feel the increase in histamine!
The EPA and CDC tell me that many of the services available to the elderly and disabled won’t do mold removal because of “liability”. I’m not sure why they’ll take the “liability” for a huge fee from the client but not on grant money from the government. Seems to me it shouldn’t matter who pays them. The job is the same either way. They just need to wear protective gear to avoid inhaling the stuff while they’re removing and replacing materials in the home.
If anyone is reading this who has a business of this type or can arrange to provide such help please leave a comment below and some contact information. I am located in Stone Mountain, GA. just outside the Atlanta area. Your help is much appreciated.
Dr. Ray has an online consulting service as well as a Facebook group for people who have mold-related illnesses or think they might have one. She does sell supplements (something I’ve never been a big fan of) but you should evaluate for yourself whether you think those will be of help in your individual situation.
She offers a free newsletter, so I don’t think she is in it for the money although I know that many of the expenses for conditions like these are not covered by health insurance so I’m sure that she and others need to do something to raise money in order to get all that they need to treat their home and their bodies.
Dr. Ray’s website covers numerous possible treatments for the body as well as for your home. A list of mold-knowledgeable doctors is available here.
Treating Your Home for Mold
Before starting to clean, turn off furnace and air conditioner and cover vents to prevent blowing spores around in your home. If the problem is severe enough that you can smell mold in your house wear N-95 or P-100 respirators.
Dirt and mildew can look the same way, so test areas with bleach to see which it is in any blackened areas. If you put a little bleach on it and it lightens after a minute or two then it is mildew. If not then it is most likely dirt.
Wood can be tested with a sharp implement like a screwdriver to see if mold or mildew has infiltrated the surface. It it’s soft upon doing this or crumbles that indicates that the surface has been begun to rot and that the mold has gone deeper into the wood.
For areas you can access such as wall corners, baseboards, and bathroom fixtures use 1/2 Cup Bleach/1 Qt. water (or a 1-8 water and bleach solution).
For the areas between bathroom tiles apply a grout sealer to prevent mold from infiltrating the surface again. (Never use any ammonia-based cleaner with your bleach, as this mixture emits toxic gases).
Mildewcide is contained in most paints nowadays used in bathrooms, but is also available as a separate substance that can be applied in bathrooms.
Walls that are infested with mold need to be cut open to air out and spray solution such as white vinegar on wood if wood is not too badly infiltrated. (Note that bleach will not kill mold beneath the surface of porous surfaces). In some cases, especially when there is rotten wood, these areas of wood and/or drywall might need to be cut out and replaced with pressure-treated wood.
Hard to remove wood can be sprayed and then after dry treated with wood preservative. When carpet is affected, remove this with utility knife in 6-8 foot sections and spray the floor beneath with the above bleach solution to neutralize the mold spores (while running a fan in the window or out the door and wearing protective clothing).
Dehumidifiers and fans should run for 3 days after clean-up has been completed. Bare earth floor in crawlspaces can hold in moisture and promote mold growth in the floors above, so cover the ground with 6-mil poly sheeting. This website gives you instructions for a variety of other cleaners you can use to eradicate mold from your building such as borax, vinegar, even tea tree oil.
If your problem is more severe and mold is hiding in hard to access areas you may have to call a professional which can run anywhere from about $500 – $6,000 depending on how widespread it is and where the mold is located. Your homeowner’s insurance may or may not cover this, and there may be add-on coverage to your existing policy.
If you’re renting then it’s important to look into what your rights are in the state in which you live. In some instances if your building management won’t adequately clean up your residence you may have grounds to get out of your lease early without paying a fee and in some cases they may be liable for damage to your items or to your health if they’ve failed to take the proper maintenance steps to prevent and/or keep this problem from recurring.
Preventing the re-growth of mold is important and one of the main ways to do this is to seal off any sources of moisture in the home or workplace, as these are what allows the mold to grow and reproduce.
The most likely culprit in my home is where the fireplace lets in water when it rains. It leaks in through the chimney and spills over onto my carpet when it’s raining hard. Although this dries pretty quickly if it only rains for one day there have been times of the year when it rains for a week straight and this can stay damp for awhile in those instances.
I recently saw a new primary care doctor who said she thinks my Adrenal gland may be malfunctioning. She may be onto something with that hypothesis, as it seems that mold can affect endocrine function including the Adrenal gland. She is referring me to an endocrinologist for more involved bloodwork. So far I really like this doctor. She is young and still seems excited about coming to work each day and she thinks outside the box!
I spoke with her about getting IV saline for the Dysautonomia and she is willing to order it as soon as my neurologist faxes her something saying she’s OK with it. With all the health crises I’ve had recently it will be a huge relief to finally get this in the works, and while this may only be part of the solution, I think it’s an important part because the proof that it helps was very evident when I was hospitalized at Piedmont.
Interestingly she said that the fact that saline helped indicated that there might in fact me an endocrine problem that includes dehydration. At the time I had not yet read about mold and it’s symptoms in the body but later it made sense that excessive thirst and dehydration are two of the symptoms of mold toxicity.
I’m really glad I trusted my gut and didn’t believe those people who tried to get me to think I was crazy. I might have wasted lots of precious time having my head examined as I continued to get worse. I’d made that mistake years ago when I was having more pain on my left side at a time in history when it was in vogue to think every physical symptom was caused by “stress” or “conversion” and the therapist and a psychiatrist both had good instincts and told me they thought I had something physical wrong that needed to be worked up. Lo and behold, soon after things started finally showing up on bloodwork. If Dr. H who said “It can come back”, (meaning conversion disorder) is reading this, well I never had “it” to begin with and I’m sure I don’t now. Shame on him and on Dr. B for thinking that way!
Reverting to that mind-set with a patient is really taking a cheap shot and considering the newer symptoms have only just appeared and worsened in the past year, giving up and throwing in the towel in that short a time is rather wimpy if you ask me, considering that many chronic illnesses are life-long.
What are you going to do, doctors, just keep shuffling your patients like cards until you get the hand you want? Life doesn’t work that way. It seems ironic that one would go into a job that involves treating disease and expect all their patients to instantly recover.
It would be nice if all illnesses were short-term like a cold or the flu, but that’s not reality, and with today’s environmental issues increasing due to climate change, pollutants, mold, and an increased bacterial load as people age along with GMO and “enriched” food supply, chances are you guys are going to see a larger and larger proportion of your practice taken up by people who are or will become chronically ill, so you’d best prepare yourselves emotionally for that eventuality or start planning your exit strategy now and retirement or re-training to enter a completely new field because this is just the way it is.
Despite our best efforts we patients will get sick and sometimes from things we can’t bounce back from. Getting angry will not fix it, nor will shifting the responsibility onto another doctor. It’s not just me. It’s everywhere.
This past weekend I went through a storm of symptoms including stuffy nose and mucus pouring from my nose like water on top of the near fainting spells, severe nausea and GI upset, increased muscle pain, myoclonus, and headache (which earlier in the week landed me back in an ER it was so violent). It really wasn’t until sleeping and taking pain medication and Ibuprofen for inflammation all weekend every 6 hours like clock-work that the cycle seemed to break and I could eat something and feel up to doing anything.
There is clearly some systemic underlying inflammatory process going on. It will just require doctors with some patience and interest to find out exactly what it is. The answer is not to get rid of the patient nor write them off as nuts and to stop trying, but instead to try a new angle, and if a doctor is so burnt out he can’t manage to do that then maybe it’s he who needs to leave and go do something else. The field of medicine requires patience and a level of commitment to the patient even when the answer is not evident on the surface.
These are huge problems in need of compassion and persistence. They are not a failing on the patient’s part, they are here to stay, and managing them is a delicate balancing act.
It seems the best way for a doctor to approach them is to first acknowledge that we live in an era in which genetics has met up with epigenetics and understand and accept that there are no quick solutions. Sometimes you just have to try some things to see what works, not be immobilized for lack of a diagnosis, and reconcile to working within that reality. That is where art meets science.