Mold and mildew are both fungi that grow in moist environments, such as damp basements or bathrooms. The fungi can grow on any household surface—from wood to carpet to tile—and on food. The main safety issue, especially from toxic mold, comes from inhaling the spores, which can lead to respiratory and nervous system problems. Exposure to the fungi also may cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation. While people with preexisting conditions may particularly suffer, the side effects of mold and mildew can hit anyone.
Most homes have at least a minor mildew and mold presence that causes few dangerous side effects. The danger of the fungi escalates with major cases. The growth starts within 48 hours of a surface’s exposure to moisture. Unchecked, mildew—which is mold in its early stage—starts to appear. The growth advances to full-blown mold that spreads by spores traveling in the air.
Some molds produce mycotoxin, a potentially toxic substance that is extremely dangerous to inhale. This toxic mold, which often looks like black paint or tar, grows on surfaces repeatedly exposed to heavy moisture, usually from water damage. Short-term exposure to the mold can compromise an individual’s immune system, leading to fatigue, headaches, burning throat and nasal passages, and cold and flu-like symptoms. The mycotoxins attack the nervous system with long-term exposure, leading to dizziness, mood changes and memory loss. In some cases, black mold is fatal to animals and humans.
Mold and mildew present health dangers even if the contamination is not caused by toxic varieties. Respiratory problems are very common, especially in people with preexisting issues, such as asthma. These substances can increase the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks. Exposure also may cause wheezing or a burning feeling when inhaling.
The fungi also may result in repeated bouts of cold- or allergy-like symptoms that do not go away or get better with medication. People may experience sore throats, congestion, sinus problems, sneezing and runny noses. These substances can also cause eye irritation manifested in redness, itchiness or watering. Exposure may lead to skin rashes, bumps or hives as well.
People with certain health conditions, including compromised immunity, severe allergies and asthma, are more susceptible to the dangerous effects of mold and mildew. Long-term exposure, however, can lead to any of the negative side effects, even in healthy people. Those who notice such problems and who do not respond to medical treatments should check their homes for mildew and mold.