Have you seen a news headline like this one:
“Is Black Mold in the Building Where You Work Making You Sick?”
Perhaps you skimmed past that article because it didn’t sound relevant to you. You may be surprised to learn that mold can make you sick.
In fact, toxic mold syndrome (TMS) is more common than you may think. It’s a source of illness that is often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Medically speaking, TMS is an inflammatory illness caused by exposure to indoor molds, their harmful by-products, and other microbial toxins that form in water-damaged buildings. Symptoms of TMS can be exclusively physical or mental/emotional.
Statistics vary by geographic location, but it is estimated that 45% of U.S. homes are affected by persistent dampness and mold. Office buildings, schools, factories and other workplaces and public buildings that have been water-damaged are significant sources of toxigenic mold. And, don’t just look for black mold; toxic mold can be a variety of colors.
Who is Vulnerable to Mold Illness?
The ‘smoking gun’ associated with toxigenic mold are substances called mycotoxins.
For a person to become ill, (that is, have high levels of mold toxins in the body) the exposure to mycotoxins has to be significant. Because each person is genetically unique, it can’t be definitively stated how much exposure will make a given person ill or with which symptoms.
People most vulnerable to TMS are believed to have a genetic predisposition that inhibits their body’s ability to clear toxins. Members of the same family all living in the same house with mold growth rarely all become ill. The person with the genetic vulnerability will show symptoms of illness. Also, the effect of cumulative exposure to mold and exposure to other toxins also can make one vulnerable to developing TMS.
Symptoms of Toxic Mold Syndrome
Before we talk about symptoms of TMS, it’s important to mention that mold allergies and TMS are not the same thing. Mold allergies are a reaction to mold spores that are inhaled and cause hay fever like symptoms. TMS is due to the volatile toxic vapors produced by mold and absorbed by the body. Even though your body has in place several systems of detoxification (liver, sweat glands, elimination of urine and feces), chronic exposure to mycotoxins can overwhelm these pathways, increasing the toxic burden on your body. This causes a chronic inflammatory response (CIRS) that throws additional body systems out of whack.
The symptoms of TMS can include:
· Abdominal pain
· Appetite changes
· Body aches
· Blurred Vision
· Excessive thirst
· Joint Pain
· Light Sensitivity
· Night Sweats
· Memory & recall problems
· Metallic taste
· Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
· Muscle Cramps
· Red Eyes
· Static Shocks
· Sinus Problems
· Shortness of Breath
· Urination frequency changes
Types of illnesses that may have toxic mold as the root cause include:
· Attentional Disorders
· Brain Fog
· Chronic fatigue
· Mast cell activation disorder
· Histamine intolerance
· Irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut
· Multiple Sclerosis
· Lyme Syndrome
Treatment of TMS may begin with testing for mold in the home and then possibly the workplace. This information, along with ruling out other medical possibilities by a holistic health practitioner, can indicate if TMS is the root cause of the symptoms.
Holistic treatment approaches for TMS are highly personalized to the needs of the person. Mycotoxins are lipophilic, which means they readily accumulate in fatty tissue. They are not easily removed unless measures are taken to trigger their release out of the tissue. In general, treatment will include nutrition therapy, a detoxification program using herbs and other nutritional supplements, sauna sessions, and manual therapy such as lymphatic massage.
If you have been feeling unwell and have not determined the root cause of your symptoms, particularly if you live or work in a high-mold area, consult with a holistic practitioner about mold testing and treatments that may be right for you.
PsychologyToday.com: “Mold Toxicity: Common Cause for Psychiatric Symptoms.” Written by Neil Nathan, MD. Accessed 15 Feb 2021
Christensen, L., “Food for Mold Illness, What to Eat and What to Avoid.” Accessed 15 Feb 2021
Barbeau, Deborah N., L. Faye Grimsley, et al., “Mold Exposure and Health Effects Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Annual Review of Public Health (2010) 31:1, 165-178
Chow NA, Toda M, Pennington AF, et al. “Hurricane-Associated Mold Exposures Among Patients at Risk for Invasive Mold Infections After Hurricane Harvey – Houston, Texas, 2017.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep (2019) 68:469–473.