Mold. Has another four-letter word ever been such a lightning rod? Ok wait, don’t answer that. But is there another microorganism in nature that triggers the entire range of reactions from fear to anger, not to mention the existential quandary posed by acknowledging your shelter (previously your family and source of protection) as your enemy?
“But there’s mold EVERYWHERE” you say as you take a bite of aged cheese. ”So what do you want me to do, MOVE?” you ask.
Mold Sensitivity: A Genetic Matter
First, mold sensitivity isn’t just about whether there’s mold in the air you breathe. The amount and strains may matter, but more importantly, the person may matter. ”Almost a quarter of the normal population is genetically susceptible to chronic mold illness.” - http://www.survivingmold.com/diagnosis/lab-tests This means that if you’re in the 75%, you probably have no idea what mold sensitivity is or feels like.
Secondly, general allergies (which are a sign of an overactive immune system), you’re probably more likely to be allergic to mold. ”Approximately 6-10 percent of the general population, and 15-50 percent of persons who are genetically prone to develop allergies (atopic individuals), are allergic to mold, according to the National Academy of Sciences.” - http://www.afhh.org/hhe/hhe_mold.htm
Now, if you’re one of the suspectible ones, you can pretty much count on indoor mold being an issue because “2011 NIOSH says that 50% of our buildings in the US are water-damaged.” - http://www.gordonmedical.com/unravelling-complex-chronic-illness/will-surviving-mold-mean-surviving-lyme/
Don’t Get Testy, Get Testing.
Here’s the problem. If you’re exposed to high amounts of mold in your home and happen to be one of the susceptible ones, you probably don’t know what symptoms are related to this unless you remove yourself from the exposure for a prolonged period of time (which is a great test but not always feasible). Fortunately there are other concrete ways to find out if this is a problem.
1. HLA-DR test. This is the first test I would do. Here is Shoemaker’s chart to interpret the test and find out if you’re susceptible to mold, lyme, other pathogens, or all of the above (raises hand!) This can be done by Labcorp. Interestingly, 21% of the population is also susceptible to Post-Lyme Syndrome, aka Chronic Lyme Disease. Bingo anyone?
2. ERMI test. If the test shows you’re genetically susceptible to mold, then it’s time to do a shakedown of your shack. The ERMI test is the most useful indoor mold identification & quantification test, and Dr. Shoemaker recommends using Mycometrics. When I was living at my old house, my c4a shot up to 28,000 (after I left, it went down to 2000). The ERMI test showed that it was in the 75th percentile of mold levels in US homes. I then cried myself to sleep and dreamt about a time when high percentiles on standardized testing were a good thing.
Ok So I’m Moldy And Vulnerable. Now What?
I’m not gonna grind your gears. And by you, I mean anyone with one out of any 120 strong opinions on what to do about mold. I want to tell you about your options, regardless of your lifestyle choice.
1. If you’re single and frequently scream “screw you world and all your conventional trousers”, then going extreme might be an option. You can move to the pristine desert. You can custom-design a new home there orlook for a house on the market that’s made without any drywall or other materials that basically feed mold (good luck). This is the safest experiment as it virtually eliminates mold in your home.
Why is drywall bad? ”All cellulose–based building materials, such as drywall faced paper, cellulose insulation, plywood and particle board, represent mold food” - http://mishko.com/Mold%20Doc.htm On a budget? If you’re not claustrophic, you can do all of this for around $7000. My personal favorite materials are metal (aluminum & steel) and variants of styrofoam like expanded polystyrene. Last winter, I turned up my radiant heater on full blast while it was snowing outside in single digits, basically turned my aluminum box into a wet sock, and even that didn’t lead to mold issues.
2. Halfway House. Many patients have reported doing better from moving a drier city like Las Vegas or Palm Springs. By moving to a dry-as-bones city, the likelihood of a crappy-designed house with drywall becoming moldy is reduced.
Another option is moving to better-designed house wherever you’re intent on staying. The drop in appeal has to do with the importance of outdoor air quality. If you live in a city with super-high spore counts, that would continue piling on your exposures even if you moved to a house with optimal design methods & materials. And in my experience, hepa filters don’t remove this problem.
Be clear about this: neither of these 2 options do anything to eliminate mold growth, but they’re probably better than staying in a known-to-be-moldy house and fixing the mold with bandaids.
Regardless of whether you stay or go, do the following:
3. Kill your central air. Like drywall, which became popular because it was cheap, central AC/heating systems also became popular for the wrong reason: cheapness. A central ducting system is very difficult to sanitize (which is why duct cleaners get paid bank to use snake-like tools to clean), and is often a closed loop system that draws air from the inside (so if the air inside your house is already bad, it just continues to pile on the badness). When I had a mold dog come check out my old house (true story), he kept going back to the air duct as the main problem area. After we cleaned this out, even my healthy family members’ health improved.
Instead, go old school. Install window A/Cs (or even better for condensation, Portable A/Cs) if you live in a low-humidity region. Similarly, you can get a radiant heater for each room. Just change the filter in the cooling system, you’re good to go. Low-maintenance, efficient, and compared to a long duct system, there’s simply much less surface area for mold here. Separating the cooling from the heating (where mold thrives) is just common sense. The window and portable A/Cs also draw a fresh air supply from outside. Think this setup will cost more than a central system? Think again.
4. Oxidize The Joint. If you’re stuck with central ducting, stick an in-duct air sanitizer such as this one in there. Because this system is meant for continuous use, the ozone needs to be kept at low levels (15%). Still, this is far better than leaving your ducting system un-sanitized. Even better is attaching a sanitizer onto a window A/C. A similar fix is putting Thieves Oil, a potent mix of essential oils, on the hepa filter for whatever system you use. This is so strong that it actually made me nauseous, but many patients have told me this works as a germicidal and mold killer.
5. Binders Full Of Mold. If you’re mold susceptible, then your immune system isn’t “tagging” mold and mycotoxins for removal and you may need a little help getting rid of them. Cholestyramine is the first-line option, but many patients still living in high-mold environments appear to not tolerate it. Cholestepure, modified pectin, green clay, zeolites, chlorella, and cilantro are all alternatives worth trying. In my opinion, if you’re exposed, you basically need to stop breathing for ingested binders to remove what goes into your airstream. In this case, binders should be considered more as a supportive therapy than a fix for exposure.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is not advice, and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.