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’.


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