Black mold, also referred to as mold or mildew, is a type of fungus that produces a fluffy or powdery growth on surfaces. Black mold is able to grow on many household surfaces, such as carpets, cloth, leather, wood, insulation and food. Exposure to black mold can lead to several health problems, which vary according to the method of contact. Symptoms of black mold exposure can be classified into four categories: allergies, irritations, infections and toxicities.
An allergic response is the most common symptom of black mold exposure. Individuals who are allergic to black mold may experience sneezing, watery eyes, redness and itching of the skin and headache.
Irritations due to black mold exposure result when the fungus degrades substances in order to live and in the process produces volatile organic compounds. VOCs cause the moldy or mildewy odor associated with the presence of molds. Exposure to VOCs may cause irritation of your mucous membranes and central nervous system. Symptoms associated with this type of exposure may include nosebleeds, coughing up black-appearing sputum, constant headaches, dizziness, decreased attention span and difficulty in concentrating.
Infections due to black mold exposure are extremely rare, but they can occur. People with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy may have an increased susceptibility to infection due to black mold. The scientific name for the fungus that causes black mold is Aspergillus niger. A lung infection known as aspergillosis may occur if large quantities of Aspergillus niger are inhaled. Symptoms associated with apergillosis include fever, coughing up blood and wheezing. In addition, if black mold spores get into that ear canal, a fungal ear infection may occur. Symptoms associated with this ear infection include ear pain and temporary hearing loss, and it's possible for the infection to damage the ear canal.
Black mold may also produce a poisonous substance called mycotoxins. According to the website BlackToxicMolds.com, black molds do not constantly produce mycotoxins. Black molds produce most mycotoxins in areas with constant moisture such as behind wall panels, in ceilings or under carpets. Michael Bains' article titled "Black Mold Symptoms" on the website PlanetMold.com states that toxicity can occur when humans contact these mycotoxins either by ingestion or skin contact. Black mold toxicity can cause life-altering or life-threatening medical conditions. It should be noted that toxicity from black mold exposure is extremely rare and the severity of this condition will differ from person to person. However, black mold toxicity can lead to blindness, brain damage, permanent memory loss, bleeding lungs, cancer and even death.