I struggled with whether or not to post this. I have strong feelings about this topic, so I decided to go ahead and do it, in case some of you struggle with it too.
Today, I’m addressing a topic that affects my life and my world as “mold blogger” everyday. That topic is whether or not mold, and more specifically, mold in your living environment, is really dangerous to your health. Namely, I want to address the opinions offered by this article from The Daily Beast. In it, the author, a physician still in training as an endocrinology fellow, suggests underlying systemic illness is to blame for health symptoms associated with mold exposure. She cites one patient with advanced alcoholic liver disease as representative of all patients using mold as an excuse for their illness. She also suggests that mold sickness is a product of internet lore.
Obviously, I have my own opinions about mold, and this post is, of course, meant to offer my opinions, and I believe that mold in your home, I’m talking about mold flourishing beyond the mildew in your shower or on your tiles, is dangerous to your health.
In order to offer some scientific backing to my side of the argument, here are just a few hard facts presented about mold from well-known and trusted sources:
(Note: I purposefully took some of these “mold illness” facts from websites that the author cites in her article.)
- “In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition.” (Institute of Medicine)
- “The common health concerns from molds include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the home.” (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention)
- This fact provides a double whammy, because it introduces the mold/bacterial connection: “Growing right along with mold are what are called “gram negative” and “gram positive” bacteria.1 Just like mold, they require moisture and organic material to thrive and are often found growing in the same places as mold, and the synergistic action between mold and bacteria further worsen inflammatory health conditions. Oftentimes, bacterial infections occur alongside fungal infections and make treatment more complicated.” (Mercola)
Those facts just scratch the surface, though. I encourage you to explore this topic yourself to make your own conclusions. The density of information and research on mold available on the web is truly astounding. But, as far as I am concerned, do I know mold is dangerous to my health strictly because some scientific research or a published study says it is so, or because a doctor told me that mold was making me and my family sick? No, not necessarily. A doctor did finally start looking into the possibility of environmental triggers, which lead us to the mold, and then to a doctor who knew how to treat us for the mold exposure. But, the reason I am so certain in my knowledge is from my own experience. I lived with the effects and aftermath of mold exposure and its overwhelming toxicity to my body. I also know this, because my son was extremely sick and my husband was extremely sick in a home that, unbeknownst to us, had black mold growing and flourishing throughout the HVAC system. Not until we evacuated the home, and then located, found, and eradicated the mold, did our health improve. Since then, I have spent countless hours learning about mold physiology and the body’s reaction to mold from numerous statistically valid sources.
That brings me back to The Daily Beast article. The article suggests that “mold worries (by patients) are generally unfounded” and just a smoke in mirrors diagnosis created by some medical professionals, namely Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, and Dr. Bill Rea.
Upon review, in my opinion, the studies referenced are flawed in selection, bias, design and validity. She supports her claim with a study composed of post-Katrina patients that regularly saw an allergy and asthma specialist. The vast majority of sufferers in New Orleans or any population, for that matter, do not receive this level of care. Also, only 52% of the patients responded for the study. The article goes on to cite the transient population in New Orleans at a time where evacuating New Orleans permanently was widespread. It did not address whether the evacuees left because of sickness. She also suggests that a Google Search is what will lead patients to self-diagnose their symptoms as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She then discredits Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“CFS”) as not being a real disease, due to lack of specific diagnostics or bio-markers. When, in truth, the facts are quite different:
In 2015, a committee was formed by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is indeed a “serious, debilitating condition with a cluster of clear physical symptoms,” as determined by a panel of experts, chaired by Ellen Wright Clayton, professor of pediatrics and law at Vanderbilt University. (National Academies Press Official Report from the IOM study)
So, back to the author’s anecdotal example of an alcoholic with liver disease, trying to link his diagnosis to toxic mold, rather than his addiction. What about the non-alcoholic who gets sent from Doctor to Doctor for years and years, while suffering debilitating symptoms with no apparent cause? Unfortunately, sometimes, the medical practice doesn’t always focus on finding the cause, but instead, only on stopping the symptoms with medications, and sometimes unnecessary surgery. Take Erin Porter, for example from EatPrayGetWell.com. She underwent 4 separate sinus surgeries and countless rounds of antibiotics, when she actually had an allergy to mold.
Doctors like Shoemaker and Rea, who suggest finding the cause in our environment, and eliminating the cause (mold) to prevent the symptoms, are by-the-way, two of the most respected doctors in the world of mold and environmental health. They have both done an enormous amount of good, for thousands of patients, who otherwise would have been sent home, back into the mold to become sicker and sicker, until they had zero quality of life, and possibly would have died.
In addition, there are countless scientific papers describing the physiology of mold sickness. Shoemaker and Rea are physicians who provide a protocol that can either rule out mold or explain the disease state with the hope of getting well. There are no expensive medical treatments. Patients are usually told to leave their home of dangerous toxins, or prescribed ways to find and treat the mold in both their homes and bodies. Countless patients have done that and experienced wellness for the first time in many years. So, I don’t feel these doctors are creating fear, but rather, providing a possible solution.
Environmental illness, Building Science, and Bau or Building Biology fields have emerged, although in the early stages, that are undeniably evolving, because of the evidence showing that our homes have design flaws that encourage moisture and mold growth. Newer safety standards are being introduced to protect the public from hazardous materials and conditions. I can’t see why this could be a bad thing. Can you?
That brings me back to why I am bothering to post this link. I want to bring you all of the information about mold and cleaning for mold, so, in order to do that, I have to sometimes expose the other side of coin, or the naysayers. Unfortunately, many businesses have sprung up to make money off of mold that are operating without true expertise, knowledge or training. I always, always caution you to do your research, to ask any business for certifications and references and to call those references to inquire about their work. I encourage you to use caution and research as well with any medical diagnosis or medications. You definitely have to be your own advocate all around.
I closing, I hope you will read this article. I hope you will see that this author’s opinions and beliefs shape mold legislation in the workplace and in schools, and the laws protecting home buyer’s and sellers just as much or more than those opinions, like mine, that stand behind environmental protection and testing for mold. It’s an uphill battle, folks, and to be totally honest, if I were the patient in the beginning of the story who had just gotten a diagnosis that my liver was diseased, and my doctor discounted any question I had about my environment and a toxic substance, like mold in my home being somewhat to blame, I would immediately find myself another, more knowledgeable doctor that takes me at my word and responds with science.
What are your opinions about this article? I would love to hear from you!