Health Risks from Mold Related to Water Damage

Health Risks from Mold Due to Flooding

Flooding raises questions about health risks form mold

Flooding from hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Over the past few weeks, I have received several questions from people who live in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida about the health risks of mold due to water damage from flooding. Many with COPD and their families are concerned that inhaling mold will cause breathing problems including possible lung infection (fungal pneumonia). Here are some typical questions.  What Is Mold? Mold refers to a fungus that grows in thread-like structures called hyphae. If it is a single cell, it is called a yeast. Mold can  be found in damp building materials where it often appears like stains and comes in a variety of colors. A must smell is an indication of microbial growth even when there it is no visible. If mold is allowed to grow in homes or offices, it can contribute to poor indoor air quality.

Spores from green mold growing on an orange,

Mold growth requires moisture. This is a particular concern with flooding, but other sources of moisture could be air humidifiers or leaks from plumbing or from a roof. Poor ventilation contributes to higher humidity levels which also allows mold growth. Molds can release small “spores” into the air. These spores are small enough that people can actually inhale them deep into the lungs. How Do I know If There Is Mold in My Home?
Mold on walls causes health risks from mold

Mold growing on walls

Mold may be visible as shown in the photo on the right, but may not always be seen or smelled. Kits are available for testing for mold at home, but may not always be accurate. One option is to hire a certified industrial hygienist to do testing. What Should I Do To Avoid Mold? Anyone with a chronic lung disease, such as COPD, may be sensitive to mold. Inhaling mold can make your breathing worse. You should avoid buildings contaminated with mold. What are the Symptoms and Health Risks from Mold? Some people exposed to mold may have stuffy nose, irritated eyes, or skin irritation. Allergies to mold may cause shortness of breath, wheezing, and/or coughing. Those with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung disease (like COPD) may develop fungal infections in their lungs. How Do I Prevent Mold Growth?  Reducing moisture is critical for preventing mold growth. Keep your residence clean and dry by opening windows, use fans, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers, clean surfaces with detergent and water. For items that cannot be washed and disinfected, remove and discard mattresses, carpeting, rugs, upholstered furniture, pillows, drywall, and insulation. How Do I Protect Myself from Mold While Cleaning Up? Buy an N95 mask at your local home supply store. This type of mask must cover both the nose and mouth to keep you from breathing in mold and dust. If it does not have a snug fit, it will not work properly. Correct fit of the mask requires contact with smooth skin. It will not work properly for people with beards or facial hair. Even one-day beard growth has been shown to let air leak in. Always use both straps on the mask to hold it in place to keep air from leaking around it.

Couple using N95 masks while cleaning up damage to home from floods in Houston September 2017

This information about health risks from mold is summarized from Mold After a Disaster @ https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/ and Ten Things You Should Know About Mold @ https;//www.epa.gov/mold/ten-things-you-should-know-about-mold

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.