Monthly Archives: April 2013

Allergies and the Fungus Amoungus

LE AlexanderWith spring having arrived, many of us are experiencing the yearly affliction of allergies.  Pollen and dander are the usual suspects, but some people may be affected by something they hadn’t thought of before.

What is a mold allergy?

A mold allergy is most commonly understood to be an allergic reaction to fungal spores.  Fungi, or, mold and mildew as they are often called, reproduce by spreading a type of seed through the air.  These “seeds” are called spores.  Because fungi are present almost everywhere—soil, fallen leaves, grasses—spores are picked up by the wind and carried throughout the air.  However, mold can also be present indoors.  Damp areas of the home and office such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements or crawl spaces are likely locations for mold growth.  As air is circulated throughout an indoor environment, spores can find their way into other living spaces.

How do I know if I have a mold allergy?

If you have a mold allergy, inhaling fungal spores can cause regular allergy symptoms: sneezing, itching, runny nose, congestion, and dry skin.  If you are allergic to pollen and pet dander, you may have a mold allergy.  Summer-long or even year round symptoms can be an indicator as well.  Fungi usually fall dormant during the winter, but any mold present inside the home can continue to be a problem if temperatures are kept warm enough.

A doctor can diagnose a mold allergy using a combination of medical history and a skin test.  After pricking or scratching the skin with extracts of different types of fungi, a doctor will watch for a reaction; no reaction suggests there is no allergy.

What do I do if I am allergic?

Try and reduce your exposure.  If you have to spend a lot of time outdoors doing yard work and disturbing plant materials—mowing the grass, picking up leaves, digging in the soil, etc.—wear a dust mask to cut down on the number of spores and dust you inhale.  For indoor symptoms, try reducing the humidity of your home or office and consider upgrading your furnace filters. You may also ask your HVAC contractor to check the air conditioning coils for bio-film during their annual inspection.

There are medications that can treat the symptoms of mold allergies.  Drugs such as antihistamines and decongestants are available without a prescription.  If over the counter remedies don’t work, your doctor may be able to prescribe a nasal spray.  Talking to your healthcare provider is always a good idea. You may also wish to read The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s 2005 article entitled ‘Mold Allergies’.

Could Your Child Have Lead Poisoning?

Nearly every day, ESG collects lead paint samples at homes where contractors are planning to do renovations or install new windows. In many cases the contractors pay us to do the mandatory testing so they can know if the job requires lead safe practices when they contract to do the project. In this case, the contractor spends some money up front in the hope that they win the bid to perform the work. Believe it or not, the homeowner is often unfriendly to our staff in these situations, calling the process ‘stupid’, a ‘government conspiracy’ or ‘a bunch of BS’.

The truth is, lead poisoning is a serious issue, with the CDC estimating that nearly 900,000 U.S. children under the age of 5 have elevated blood lead levels. These figures reflect the major sources of lead poisoning: deteriorated paint in homes built before 1978, and the dust & soil around a home that have been contaminated with lead from paint and leaded gasoline.

It’s important to note that peeling paint on wood trim is not the only culprit when it comes to lead paint poisoning. A few years ago, our office did some testing at an older home that had window blinds that had been around for a many years. Although still in good shape, the blinds had a few places where the paint had chipped off. The mother of a young child called us to the house because her child was late in learning to talk, and blood testing confirmed an elevated blood lead level. It turns out that the blinds contained lead paint, as did the soil at the perimeter of the house. A couple of years later, that same mother called us to let us know that her child had a serious learning disability. She begged us to help spread the word of the dangers of lead paint.

One of the challenges surrounding lead paint poisoning is that symptoms may or may not be present. To boot, the symptoms, which include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and nausea, resemble those of many other common illnesses. The CDC now recommends screening children in high risk areas such as older neighborhoods.

Although the law requires disclosure and lead safe practices, many citizens knowingly and unknowingly break the law. Unfortunately, children pay the price. If you have concerns about your own children, consider testing their blood lead level.

Not Your Usual Suspects: 5 Indoor Air Pollutants That Might Surprise You

As a society, America has become the indoor nation. The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, and 65% of that time is at home. Besides the obvious lack of time spent communing with nature, we’ve also come to realize that all this time indoors, often with windows closed, has created a challenge with indoor air quality.

Talk about air pollution and most Americans think of smokestacks, lines of cars stuck in freeway traffic, or dark clouds billowing from oil refineries. The fact is that most indoor and outdoor sources of pollution are from chemical-based products used in nearly every home in America. Most people are aware that paints, glues, dry cleaning, tobacco smoke and household cleaners contain chemicals that cause indoor air pollution and therefore try to limit their exposure.

What many people do not realize is that an assortment of other pollutant types and sources may play a larger role in respiratory issues that can progress into disease. As indoor air quality assessors, ESG visits hundreds of homes and offices every year and we see many of the same pollutants. The following list highlights five of the most common indoor pollutants that elicit an “Oh my gosh” response from the occupants when one of our assessors shows them how much their air quality is affected:

1)   Air fresheners – typically the plug-in variety that heat up oil or wax, releasing fragrance in the form of tiny particles of chemicals and soot. Get rid of all of air fresheners, including sprays.

2)   Upholstered furniture – unless covered in leather, these soft pieces become the home for millions of dust mites and their food (mold & skin fragments). The fire retardants added by manufacturers are also very nasty. Transition to leather upholstery as you can. You’ll sit (and breathe) more comfortably. Place allergen covers over mattresses and replace bed pillows annually.

3)   Stuffed animals and other children’s toys – soft, cuddly toys become havens for all kinds of things you don’t want in your home and especially next to your children’s faces while they sleep. Keep them clean and store in plastic tubs where they are less likely to become nesting grounds for bugs.

4)   Live houseplants – we’ve all heard about the benefits of potted plants. Yes, that philodendron reduces the level of formaldehyde, but the soil in which it grows can become rich with mold and bacteria. We like potted plants, but please re-pot them with sterile soil annually.

5)   Vacuum cleaners – if you’re vacuum is not equipped with a sealed HEPA filter, chances are it’s spewing a lot of the pollutants sucked out of the carpet back into the air for your family to breathe. That does not make any sense at all, so be sure your vacuum is one of the many brands that come with a sealed HEPA system.

Tips for Keeping Pollen Out of Your Home

 

sneezing womanReaders who live in North Carolina know it’s pollen season when they wake up to a yellow car. On a windy spring day we see clouds of yellow pollen billowing through our neighborhood. For those of us who are prone to allergies, this time of year can make our lives quite miserable with sneezing, runny noses and watery, itchy eyes.

 

 While most allergy sufferers know to avoid being outdoors when the pollen count is high, many do not realize the many ways in which they literally invite the yellow allergen into their home to be inhaled all night long. Here are a few tips to help you fight the pollen battle in your home:

 

  • Keep windows closed and do not run fans that pull outdoor air indoors. We know it’s nice outside and the urge to open windows is strong, but consider the consequences of introducing all that pollen into your home.
  • Upgrade your furnace filter to paper media with lots of pleats. Leave it in place until the heavy spring pollen season is over, then replace it.
  • Run a HEPA air filter in your bedroom to help trap errant pollen. You can’t possibly keep all pollen out of the house, but keeping the count low where you sleep is very important.
  • Wash your hair in the evening. This will get the pollen out of your hair and help keep your pillow clean.
  • Change your pillowcase frequently during pollen season.
  • Bathe your outdoor pets every day and keep them off the bed! The latter is a good idea all year long as outdoor pets bring all manner of contaminants indoors on their feet and fur.
  • Run a vacuum cleaner over floors every day. Use a vacuum with a sealed HEPA system so you’re not just blowing the pollen off the floor and back into the air.
  • Wash clothing frequently, especially things you wore while pursuing outdoor activities. Clothes can trap lots of pollen against your skin, causing the release of histamine. This release of histamine is what causes pollen allergy symptoms.