Peanuts and pollen get a ton of attention when it comes to allergies. But they’re hardly the only suspect substances around.
There’s another common allergen in your life, and it’s everywhere: mold.
Mold is hard to outrun. That’s because it grows pretty much everywhere. You’ll find it outdoors under damp leaves and cut grass. Indoors, it grows in bathrooms, basements and other moist areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can even lurk in houseplants, drywall, furniture and fabrics.
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When you’re allergic to mold, breathing in those tiny spores can trigger symptoms that mimic hay fever. You may sneeze a lot or have an itchy nose, mouth and lips. Your eyes might be watery or itchy. You might have nasal congestion. Depending on where you live, mold allergies can strike any time of the year.
Think you might have a mold allergy? Read on for tips to put this allergen in its place (namely: far from you).
Tip 1: Know your enemy
Is that runny nose caused by a never-ending cold or are you having an allergic reaction? Are those dusty bookshelves the culprit or is it your neglected houseplant? There are roughly 1,000 mold species in the U.S., so sleuthing out allergens on your own can be nearly impossible, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology notes.
The only way to truly identify your allergen and develop a treatment plan is to see a board-certified allergist, says Purvi Parikh, MD. She’s an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network.
“There are many inaccurate tests out there, as well as practitioners who claim to cure mold issues,” Dr. Parikh says. But an allergist is the expert who’s best qualified to help you pinpoint your allergen.
Allergists use clinically validated tests to see what you’re reacting to. The 2 gold-standard tests are the skin-prick test and the blood antibody test.
A skin-prick test measures how your skin reacts when a very small amount of mold is placed in your skin. The blood test measures the level of certain antibodies in your bloodstream. These are known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
Even if you’re already pretty sure you have a mold allergy, testing can be worthwhile to identify which types are giving you grief. Not all molds cause allergic reactions, says Dr. Parikh. And just because you’re allergic to one mold doesn’t mean you’re allergic to all.
Some of the most common molds that cause allergies are alternaria, aspergillus, cladosporium and penicillium.
Tip 2: Minimize indoor mold
Mold thrives in moist environments, so bathrooms, kitchens and basements tend to be problem areas, says Jill Poole, MD. She’s a member of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Medical Scientific Council. She’s also a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Remediation is highly recommended,” Dr. Poole says. That includes fixing leaks or drips, repairing any water damage and using adequate ventilation. If any drywall, wallpaper, fabric or carpet is moldy, it’ll have to go. Running a bathroom exhaust fan during and after your shower can also help. So can running your kitchen exhaust fan while you’re cooking or washing dishes.
But damp, moist areas aren’t the only spots where you might find mold.
That’s why experts also recommend using mold filtration on your air conditioning system. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to trap mold that may be circulating in the air. (Check with an HVAC professional to make sure your system can handle it.)
Using a dehumidifier can also help, as can removing carpets or rugs from rooms that tend to be damp. Don’t let old newspapers or books pile up, and keep houseplants clean and dry.
Tip 3: Play it safe outdoors
First, the bad news: Mold can be present outdoors year-round. Now the good: Wearing an N-95 mask can reduce your exposure, says Dr. Poole. When you’re doing yard work, make it a point to mask up. Mold thrives on fallen leaves, mulch and rotting logs or wood.
When you’re ready to come indoors, take a shower and change your clothes to prevent tracking mold spores all over the house. Dr. Poole also recommends irrigating your nose and sinuses to swiftly remove any spores that may be lingering there.
Tip 4: Manage your symptoms
You’re not stuck with a runny nose forever. But figuring out which medications can bring relief may take some trial and error, Dr. Poole says. Here’s how to choose the right over-the-counter allergy medication.
Work with your doctor to figure out which regimen works for you. In general, “medications for mold allergy are akin to medications for other allergies,” says Dr. Poole. “This includes nasal corticosteroid sprays, long-lasting antihistamines, antihistamine nasal sprays and prescription leukotriene blockers.”
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Allergy shots are also common. But Dr. Parikh warns that results can vary. What worked wonders for your mold-allergic neighbor may not work as well for you. “Shots can be effective, but it depends on the individual and the severity of the mold allergy,” Dr. Parikh says.
With allergy shots (also known as allergen immunotherapy), your doctor will inject tiny amounts of the allergen in a controlled setting. This can help your body become desensitized over an extended period.
There’s no cure-all for a mold allergy. But it is possible to get some real relief — and live with less sneezing, coughing and congestion in your life.
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Mold overview: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Basics on mold allergies: American College of Allergies, Asthma & Immunology