Mold Illness Symptoms: Mold Toxicity vs. Mold Allergy

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By Dr.lauryn

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Mold illness symptoms are different than mold allergy symptoms. Read on for all you need to know about mold illness symptoms and how to begin healing from mold exposure to improve your mold illness symptoms.

I used to hear the word “mold” and think purple and blue fuzz on the caulking of a shower, Whats the big deal?! But mold toxicity is so much more.

Mold is everywhere—a natural part of life that forms in humid, wet conditions when not properly dried or cleaned.

We are exposed to hundreds of molds outdoors everyday, and many people experience mold allergies—an immediate response to molds, especially outdoor molds. However, toxic mold is different. Toxic mold is not natural.

“Toxic mold” happen when indoor molds grow inside buildings, outside their natural environment that we get into trouble. As a result, some molds that grow indoors end up forming mycotoxins—toxic mold spores that you cannot see with your naked eye.

In this chapter, let’s do a brief lightening round about some burning questions you may have. 

Are all molds toxic?

No! But these molds are:

  • Stachybotrys(“Black mold”)
  • Penicillium
  • Aspergillus
  • Chaetomium
  • Alternaria
  • Fusarium
  • Wallemia 

What is Mold Illness”?

Mold Illness Symptoms - woman worrying about her mold illness symptoms

In genetically susceptible individuals, (25% of the population), mold toxicity is the inability to process mold toxin, which leads to a series of biochemical alterations called the Biotoxin Pathway, described as the Cell Danger Response. Mold Toxicity illness is also called Sick Building Syndrome, Biotoxin Illness or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. 

The person often becomes intolerant not only to mycotoxins and toxic mold, but also other biotoxins and pathogens including:

  • Fungi, yeasts and bacteria circulating in air
  • VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Toxic chemicals in hygiene and cleaning products
  • Pesticides in food sources
  • Contaminants in water
  • EMF’s 

Whats the difference in mold allergy vs. toxicity?

Mold allergy is an immune reaction to mold when a person is acutely exposed to mold, both indoors and outdoors. Mold allergy activates the immediate immune response system (Th1) to defend against the allergens (such a sneezing, runny nose, headache, swelling), but does not create immune antibodies (self attack) upon the host. The person’s immune system and detox system is able to fight off the invader fairly well or keep working. Mold allergy symptoms are typically just present during the exposure, but once the person is removed from the mold exposure, the immune system calms down.

Mold toxicity on the other hand involves both the immune system and liver detox pathways. In mold toxicity, the individual is typically a “bad detoxer”—unable to clear mycotoxins and molds out of their body and liver effectively. They are also typically Th2 immune cell dominant, meaning their immune system creates antibodies when exposed to toxins (self-tissue attack), provoking a variety of symptoms and conditions that may arise from perpetual inflammation (like IBS, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida, low energy, brain fog, acne and skin rashes, etc.).

What are the signs and symptoms of mold toxicity?

Mold toxicity is characterized by a variety of signs and symptoms, which is why it so easily often goes under the radar. In fact, people are often diagnosed for a lifetime with conditions that are actually a byproduct from toxic mold exposure. In clinical practice, I’ve worked with countless patients to address the root cause, only to magically see their other pesky conditions, from SIBO to autoimmunity, hypothyroidism, stubborn body fat, IBS, anxiety and migraine headaches, also go into remission.  Mold simply makes everything way worse.

Common signs and symptoms of mold toxicity include:

Mold Illness Symptoms

Basic: Insomnia, intolerant of fragrances and chemicals, nose bleeds, difficulty regulating body temperature, heart palpitations

Gastrointestinal: IBS, nausea, bloating, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation 

Hormonal: Low energy, missed or irregular periods, hormonal headaches, blood sugar imbalances, excessive thirst or urination, appetite swings 

Blood Sugar: Increased thirst, frequent urination, reactive hypoglycemia, cravings for sweets and carbs 

Immune: Autoimmune disease, lymph or bodily swelling, allergies, sinus congestion, sore throat, red eyes, colds or flu easily 

Musculoskeletal: Joint and muscle pain, tendonitis, muscle cramps, general fatigue, Fibromyalgia, morning stiffness

Neurological: Headaches, brain fog, weakness, nerve pain, memory loss, dizziness, tremor, weakness, light sensitivity, vertigo, hearing loss, sluggish speech, coordination and reaction times, numbness and tingling 

Psychiatric: Anxiety, depression, OCD, short fuse

Respiratory: Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, asthma

Skin: Skin rashes, itching, splotchy skin, sensitivity to touch 

Urinary: Urgency, incontinence

Can we stylize somehow?

You do not have to have all the signs and symptoms of mold illness—in fact you may just have two or three. 

Why do some people get sick and others dont?

A puzzling, but common, occurrence with mold toxicity is that an entire family or several roommates can be living in the same toxic home, yet only one or two people get sick, the others don’t bat an eye.

Again, approximately 25-percent of the population is genetically susceptible to toxic mold illness. When a genetically susceptible person gets exposed to mycotoxins, their immune system lacks the ability to clear the bio-toxins directly. As a result, they get sick.

As for those without this predisposition, they are better able to mount an immune response to the activation of inflammatory cytokines. The other family members may still experience symptoms (like allergies, chronic sinusitis, thyroid problems, SIBO, migraines, hormonal imbalances), but think these are just normal—genetic or a part of being human.

One study in over 13,000 children in 24 different cities found that children diagnosed with asthma, the #1 chronic disease amongst children, were more likely to be living in moldy homes. Another study in about 300 infants found those who were exposed to molds in the home for the first two years of life had cognitive impairments and reduced IQ’s compared to controls, and yet one more found that children learning in a moldy school environment had over 60% more likelihood of neurological “problems” compared to kids not in a water-damaged building. Such conclusions makes one wonder about the prevalence of other brain-related conditions like ADHD, sensory processing disorder and Autism in children.

Adults living in a damp home environment or sleeping on mattresses with mycotoxins are more likely to experience insomnia and sleep disorders. Considering that 1 in 3 adults are sleep deprived and at least 50 to 60% of homes have water damage, also makes one wonder the correlation. 

Why do mold toxic patients stay toxic?

Once a mold-susceptible individual becomes sick, “overcoming” mold toxicity and extreme sensitivities can seem like an uphill climb. The immune system is completely discombobulated.

This was my case.

I wasn’t always sensitive to mold—or at least I didn’t think I was. Sure I had IBS, shortness of breath, hypothyroidism, SIBO, food sensitivities galore, but mold? Ha. It wasn’t on my radar until my body said enough. My toxic soup rental home I lived in for 2 years did me in following a series of other gut-immune-depleting events including a 24-hour episode of food poisoning and a colonoscopy procedure that completely eradicated my gut microbiome of any healthy bacteria that were holding on. Within a matter of weeks, my body hit rock bottom and the mold toxins “got me.”

In mold toxicity, the immune system is completely discombobulated and cannot fight. As a result, the only one way mold-susceptible individuals can fight and eliminate the toxins is through their liver, where toxins are then secreted into the bile and stored in the gallbladder. Bile then arrives to the small intestine, but does not continue to the large intestine for elimination. Instead, in the mold toxic patient, the toxins are reabsorbed back into the liver and gallbladder, clogging elimination pathways. This recirculation is part of the reason why mold patients stay toxic.

Mycotoxins and mold also easily absorbed and colonize various areas of the body, particularly body cavities like the nasal cavity and sinuses, gut and lungs where these colonies then continuously produce toxins, making it more difficult to clear.  Even if you are not living or working in the moldy environment any more, mold toxins may still be produced from colonies that remain inside your body. Mycotoxins further decrease immune cells, up regulate inflammatory cytokines and cause cytotoxic effects to the brain and central nervous system.

Lastly, emerging research on mold toxicity points to the fact that mold toxic patients may develop auto-antibodies to mold, just like an autoimmune disease. As a result, when they are exposed to mold or other autoimmune inflammatory triggers (like gluten, chemicals, excess stress, overtraining, bad air quality), their body mounts an immune attack response against them.

How do I know I have mold toxicity?

Unfortunately, to date, conventional medicine does not acknowledge mold or mycotoxin illness, chalking it up to “mold allergy” or the mere diagnosis of the countless symptoms from mold exposure, like hypothyroidism, insomnia or asthma, without digging deeper into the root cause.

Mold allergy is an immune reaction to mold when a person is acutely exposed to mold, both indoors and outdoors. Mold allergy activates the immediate immune response system (Th1) to defend against the allergens (such a sneezing, runny nose, headache, swelling), but does not create immune antibodies (self attack) upon the host. The person’s immune system and detox system is able to fight off the invader fairly well or keep working. Mold allergy symptoms are typically just present during the exposure, but once the person is removed from the mold exposure, the immune system calms down.

Mold toxicity on the other hand happens when the patient is typically a “bad detoxer”—unable to clear mycotoxins and molds out of their body and liver effectively. They are also typically Th2 immune cell dominant, meaning their immune system creates antibodies, not just cytokines (inflammation) when exposed to toxins, provoking a variety of “self-attack” symptoms and conditions particularly from the exposure (like IBS, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida, low energy, brain fog, acne and skin rashes, etc.).

Mold toxicity also does not happen overnight. Many “mold toxic” patients have lifelong histories of sensitivities (food intolerances, sensitivity to medication/supplements, smell sensitivity), gut problems, chronic stress, immune challenges (allergies, asthma, etc.) and unresolved trauma.

If you suspect mold toxicity based on signs and symptoms or history of exposure to molds and water damaged buildings, it’s best to work with a mold-literate clinician to confirm that presentation and diagnosis if possible. 

There is not one mold test that confirms mold toxicity. Instead, it’s best practice to use a variety of  test methods to get a complete picture including:

  • Urine mycotoxin testing
  • Visual contrast sensitivity testing
  • Bloodwork and genetic testing
  • MARCoNs nasal swab
  • Home evaluation 

Of these, a urine mycotoxin test is far more specific in making the diagnosis of mold toxicity than biochemical bloodwork markers. Bloodwork markers suggest the presence of an inflammatory cause of illness but do not specify as to whether the cause is toxic (mold) or infectious (Lyme, bacteria, parasite, etc.). 

How do we heal from mold toxicity?

Mold illness is a complex condition, thus healing takes time. The number one treatment involves removal of mycotoxins and mold from the home or workplace (either remediation, or leaving permanently). The second part involves detoxing mold toxins from the body. Both processes are individualized and require a unique treatment plan.

Enter: functional medicine!

Connect with me at my Thrive Wellness clinic today and we will help you get back on the right track.

 

REFERENCES

Andersen B, Frisvad JC, Søndergaard I, Rasmussen IS, Larsen LS. Associations between Fungal Species and Water-Damaged Building Materials. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2011;77(12):4180-4188.

EPA Indoor Air Facts No. 4 Sick Building Syndrome. 1991, February. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-air-facts-no-4-sick-building-syndrome

A. Anderson, M. Nikulin, U. KO Ljalg, M. C. Andersson, F. Rainey, K. Reijula, E.-L. Hintikka, and M. Salkinoja-Salonen. Bacteria, Molds, and Toxins in Water-Damaged Building Materials. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. February 1997 vol. 63 no. 2387-393

Nathan N. Mold Toxicity and Treatment Options. 2016

Ritchie C. Shoemaker, Dennis E.House. Sick building syndrome (SBS) and exposure to water-damaged buildings: Time series study, clinical trial and mechanisms. Neurotoxicology and Teratology. Volume 28, Issue 5, September–October 2006, Pages 573-588

Sivasubramani, S. K., R. T. Niemeier, T. Reponen, and S. A. Grinshpun. 2004. Assessment of the aerosolization potential for fungal spores in mouldy homes. Indoor Air 14:405–412.

WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: Dampness and mould. (2014, November 13). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/indoorair/publications/7989289041683/en/

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