There is an extensive literature reviewing and highlighting different health impacts of living with mould either knowingly or unknowingly.
The dominant mould related illness are respiratory symptoms and asthma (Rosenblum Lichtenstein et al., 2015 and Diette et al., 2008). The authors report that “chronic mold exposures induced changes in inflammatory and immune system responses to specific mold and mycotoxin challenges” with both mould hyphae (the cell mass) or the spores inducing an immune response. The best known indoor mould is called “black mould’ and this fungus, Stachybotrys chartarum causes symptoms such as runny nose, cough, headache and asthma. Indeed, this fungus is further linked to lung inflammation, pulmonary hemorrhage and wide-spread inflammatory response mainly due to mycotoxins. Hooper et al. (2009) discuss the fact that persons who are exposed to environmental moulds tend to show elevated levels of mycotoxins (trichothecenes, aflatoxins and ochratoxins) in bodily fluids.
Mould indoors is only part of the problem since over time, and due to air currents, cells breakdown and shear off, becoming airborne. This elevated particulate matter, is referred to as the PM2.5 and PM10 fraction. Mould affected homes show very sensitive correlations between elevated levels of particulate matter (air pollution) and visible and invisible mould (Jones, 2016). I addition, a recent WHO report (Annette Prüss-Üstün et al., 2016) covering the burden of disease from environmental risks lists those illnesses that result from issues highlighted by this tenancy. The summary table below from the WHO report details in broad form diseases and injuries as well as the main environmental intervention variables that should be addressed to reduce risk.
It has been estimated that indoor mould and dampness, air pollution and occupational asthmagens account for 44% of the worldwide asthma burden and that 11 million disability-adjusted life years are lost due to preventable environmental risks (WHO, 2016).
The Australian Mould Guideline (2010) lists the following typical complaints made by persons due to the presence of mould growth:
List of Mould related Symptoms:
2. Eye irritation
3. Runny nose
9. Inability to concentrate
10. Constriction of air passages
11. Skin irritations
13. Shortness of breath
15. Aggravation of asthma
The Centre for Disease Control has made recommendations for limiting adverse health effects from exposure to mould after natural disasters (2006). A summary of the health impacts of mould include:
1. Immune mediate disease – allergies, allergic rhinitis, asthma, conjunctivitis, sinusitis
2. Allergic disease due to airway colonization – allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, fever, malaise
3. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis – lung disease, alveolitis, lung inflammation, chills, fever, cough, shortness of breath, weight loss
4. Inhalation fevers – influenza-like
5. Toxic effects – ingestion of contaminated foods (mycotoxins)
6. Fungal infections – depending on host immune-status but increased levels of ocular, skin and superficial infections
The CDC (2006) further recommend that persons might be able to tolerate limited exposure to mould but that they should consult with their medical doctor and should consider avoiding areas where mould affected materials would become disturbed if they belong to any of the following categories:
1. persons receiving chemotherapy for cancer, corticosteroid therapy, or other immunosuppressive drug therapy, as long as neutropenia or CD4+ lymphopenia are not present,
2. persons with immunosuppressive diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma or HIV infection, as long as there is not marked impairment in immune function,
3. pregnant women,
4. persons aged >65 years,
5. children aged 6. persons with chronic, obstructive, or allergic lung diseases.
Finally, I draw attention to the psychological perception around moisture and mould and the literature shows that this varies depending on the stress level (i.e. active flooding versus inconvenience). Data from water related water damage (Burger and Gochfeld, 2015) has shown that stress levels impact on perceptions of personal safety and health.