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What Are the Effects of Breathing in Mold or Mildew?

by
author image Lori Newell
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.
What Are the Effects of Breathing in Mold or Mildew?
Mold in a shower, Photo Credit phototake/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Mold and mildew, found everywhere in the environment, are both fungi that need to be in moist areas to grow. Areas that are dark and have poor air quality can also contain mold and mildew. These fungi will eventually damage the surfaces they grow on by spreading seeds or spores. These spores can enter the air and be inhaled, or come into contact with your skin. While not always harmful, inhaling or touching mold or mildew can cause both minor and serious symptoms in some people.

Allergies and Asthma

Breathing in too much mold or mildew can cause allergies. In severe cases, it can also contribute to the development of asthma. These conditions can cause watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, nausea, fatigue, headaches and trouble breathing. Asthma or prior allergies before exposure can make these symptoms worse. Symptoms will vary -- some people are more sensitive to mold than others.

Infections

The body's immune system is designed to fight off foreign particles such as mold or mildew that enter the system. However, if high amounts of mold or mildew are breathed in, the body may not be able to get rid of it all or the immune system can over-respond. Both of these situations can cause upper respiratory infections. These infections cause many of the same symptoms as allergies and asthma. The likelihood of this complication is higher when exposed to high levels of mold and mildew or in those with compromised immune systems.

Skin Irritation

If mold or mildew is inhaled or contacts the skin, rashes or dermatitis can occur. Mold exposure can lead to burning sensations in the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Athlete's foot and yeast infections are other possible complications. Sensitivity to mold exposure can increase over time and with repeated exposure. Reactions can occur whether the mold spores are living or dead.

Organ Damage and Cancer

Certain molds produce substances called mycotoxins. These substances grow outdoors on grains and in agricultural areas. In these environments, they feed on dead plants and other organic waste materials, preventing them from accumulating. However, mycotoxins may also be present indoors, in buildings that have been damaged by moisture, such as leaking pipes or poorly-controlled humidity. While the health effects of exposure are still not well understood, it is possible that mycotoxins may cause cancer, liver damage and nervous system damage. They may also suppress immune system activity.

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