Mold: Not Just an Allergy

It’s not an uncommon scenario. Someone comes to my office complaining of headaches, recurring sinus issues, a nagging cough, “brain fog”, and other chronic symptoms. They’ve already had complete medical work-ups, and were most likely prescribed multiple rounds of antibiotics, to no avail. “My allergist said that all of my test results were normal”. The first thing that comes to mind for me?  Mold toxicity.

It’s not at all uncommon for patients to present with this cluster of symptoms after prolonged mold exposure, even when they test negative for a true mold allergy.  This is because the real culprits are mycotoxins, which are toxic metabolites that are formed in the presence of mold growth.  These mycotoxins are inhaled or ingested by individuals that are exposed to them.  With repeated exposure, our body’s typical methods of metabolizing and detoxifying these mycotoxins are eventually broken down, wreaking havoc on the immune system, causing inflammatory and sensitivity reactions that become increasingly difficult for the body to overcome, especially if exposure continues.  The toxic and allergenic effects are independent of the typical IgE antibody reactions that doctors use to identify allergies, leading to the dismissal of this patient population by a majority of doctors.

I would agree that obtaining objective data to confirm mold toxicity can often be challenging.  If someone is living or working in an area that they suspect to be problematic, there are kits that can be obtained for sampling the air quality, and measuring the concentration of mycotoxins.  This can at least raise the index of suspicion that mold exposure needs to be taken seriously as a potential culprit.  The sophistication of being able to measure different immune responses that are affected by mold exposure has also come a long way in the last couple of years, also making it easier to identify illnesses related to mycotoxins.  These tests aren’t necessarily mainstream knowledge, but are readily available through most of the laboratories that are typically used by physicians.  Being aware of your surroundings, and the history of your illness, is really the best information for any physician to have, especially if there has been visible mold growth, or mold levels have tested very high.

Treating mycotoxin illness is highly individualized, and can take many months to get under control.  Since much of the problem is related to irregular immune responses and an inability of the body to break down these toxins, the main goal is to help the liver metabolize mycotoxins more effectively, along with stabilizing the immune response.  Of course, the first and foremost step is to avoid exposure!  As long as people continue to be exposed to elevated mycotoxin levels, they will not get well.  There are methods that can be implemented for effective cleanup, but in some cases this could mean quitting your job, or even selling your house.  Once the exposure is removed, both nutritional and pharmaceutical treatment methods can be used to help your body bind and excrete the mycotoxins that are causing so much harm.

A perfect example of this problem is a patient I saw who came to me after having multiple upper respiratory infections in less than a year’s time.  This patient had no known history of allergies or asthma, and had been previously healthy, without any significant medical history.  Each time she went to her doctor, they just chalked it up to an infection, and placed her on antibiotics with each consecutive bout.  Upon extracting her medical history, it was discovered that the patient had moved to a new office within the building she had already been working in.  After thinking about it some more, she realized that other people within her new location had also been sick with similar complaints.  I prompted her to look more closely at the area she was working in, around the walls and ceiling, to see if she could visualize any mold, as her symptoms may be consistent with ongoing exposure to mold.

Upon the patient’s return office visit, she informed me that she had asked her supervisors to look into the matter a little more closely.  She then proceeded to show me pictures from her phone that revealed a massive area around her desk where they had peeled the wallpaper back-completely covered with mold!  Needless to say, the structural issues responsible for the mold were properly remediated, and the patient hasn’t had any symptoms since!

Again, I want to reiterate that mold toxicity is not always this black and white, but it is indeed a real cause of illness!  If this is something you think you’re suffering from, especially if you work in a building that has suffered from water damage, don’t be afraid to seek help.  Your doctors may tell you that you don’t have any allergies, and that nothing is wrong, so don’t get discouraged.  Continue to seek help until you find the answers and treatment solutions you deserve!

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