Mold: The Pesky Neighbor May be Harming Your Health

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In hot and muggy South Florida, especially along the coastline, mold is a common problem.

Can You Prevent Mold?

Preventing mold from developing in warm, wet climates is an uphill battle. The best way to avoid mold is to remove the water or moisture intrusion within the first 48 hours. If you successfully eliminate moisture and thoroughly dry all wet and damp materials within that time period, you probably don’t need a mold remediation expert. Once your walls or household contents are moist for more than 48 hours, it’s likely that mold is already growing.

Other steps to prevent mold include:

  • When it’s hot and humid outside, set your air conditioner to a comfortable temperature and run a dehumidifier. On those rare cool, dry days, run ceiling or floor fans to increase air movement.
  • Keep air conditioner drip pans clean and unclogged. Purchase a high quality filter and change it at the recommended intervals, usually every 30-90 days.
  • Inspect and maintain your HVAC system.
  • Repair leaks as soon as possible.
  • Watch for condensation and wet spots and fix moisture sources.
  • Vent moisture-generating equipment outside, if possible.
  • Clean and dry moisture within 48 hours.
  • Make sure water drains away from your house foundation.

Why is Mold a Problem?

Mold is generally not harmful to people, and we come in contact with it almost daily. Yet, there are health issues associated with inhaling large amounts of mold spores and with significant skin exposure, especially after a natural disaster.

The most common mold-related health problem is an allergic reaction that brings on wheezing and sneezing. If you’re healthy and not allergic, you may still experience the following symptoms in the presence of mold:

  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Eye irritation
  • Skin rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches

“Those with suppressed immune systems or respiratory conditions (like asthma) are more likely to suffer adverse effects,” says Dr. Michele I. Morris, of the University of Miami Health System’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “Transplant recipients and patients being treated with cancer chemotherapy or high dose steroids are at increased risk for invasive mold infections after a significant exposure. If you are immunosuppressed, you should avoid involvement with activities such as hurricane clean up that are likely to produce aerosols of dust or liquid containing mold that you might inhale.”

How to Spot Mold

Mold can appear almost anywhere, including on wood, carpet and the pad underneath, furniture, insulation, books, clothes and most other organic materials (including food). While mildew (another common fungus) is typically powdery and light in color, mold is usually fuzzy and more colorful. Even if you can’t see any mold, if you notice a moldy or earthy smell, it’s probably present.

Getting Rid of Mold

If you think you may have mold in your home, you don’t need to have it tested to identify what type of mold it is. Understanding test results is difficult, and no matter what kind of mold it is, you need to fix the source of the incoming moisture, clean it up or have the mold removed by a professional.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that mold remediation may be too difficult or dangerous for most people to handle effectively on their own.

If you find or suspect mold, hire a qualified professional to inspect and repair the damage. It’s wise to choose a company certified by one of the following official agencies:

  • National Environmental Health Association
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association
  • Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification
  • American Council for Accredited Certification

If you must handle the mold removal process without professional help, remediation steps are provided by the National Institutes of Health, FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC at www.cdc.gov/mold/pdfs/Homeowners_and_Renters_Guide.pdf

 


Compiled by staff writers at UMiami Health News