Black mold is the subject of much fear, stemming from the health issues many people believe it can cause. Thanks to recent research, we now know that black mold is not as dangerous as many think. However, it can still lead to certain respiratory problems, particularly if a person with a mold allergy, sensitive skin, or a pre-existing respiratory illness is exposed to the fungus.
Immune system reactions sometimes cause irritated eyes that are watery and itchy. Usually, this is due to the production of histamine, a compound that increases vascular permeability. This means that more fluid is traveling through the capillaries into tissues, causing many of the classic symptoms of an allergic response. Histamine is also a mediator of itching, so an excess can lead to more itchiness.
Post-nasal drip refers to mucus that accumulates in the back of the nose before eventually traveling down the throat. Mild cases of post-nasal drip may present as minor irritation in the nasal cavity, while more serious instances affect other regions, causing symptoms like laryngeal inflammation and vocal cord dysfunction. Post-nasal drip is common with many respiratory issues.
Many symptoms of black mold exposure are similar to those of other upper respiratory issues. Among these symptoms, one of the most common is a persistent, dry cough. Sometimes, post-nasal drip can accompany the coughing, causing a wetter sound. Many people ignore these common symptoms, however, assuming they are seasonal allergies or a similar issue.
The allergy response to mold spores causes some parts of the body to become inflamed. This narrows the airways from the lungs to the throat. Breathing issues, such as wheezing, can result, causing a slight whistling sound on the exhale. The symptom tends to worsen as the inflammation increases.
Nasal stuffiness or nasal congestion is a frequent symptom of upper respiratory conditions. Congestion occurs when excess fluid floods the tissues and blood vessels in the nasal region, causing swelling. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, this can be a mild irritation or make it extremely difficult to breathe.
Between the post-nasal drip, high levels of inflammation, and frequent coughing, mold exposure can also cause sore throats. People often feel pain or a scratchy sensation that may worsen while talking or swallowing, making simple acts like eating or drinking difficult. The tonsils and various glands in the neck and jaw may also become swollen.
In addition to respiratory issues, black mold exposure can cause the skin to become dry or result in breakouts of a red, scaly rash. This is particularly common among people with sensitive skin or those who come into direct contact with the mold. Redness and swelling are common, but the rash may also begin to crack or peel. In extreme cases, people may even develop lesions that blister or ooze.
A 2016 study found that more school-aged children could be developing asthma due to mold in locations they frequent. Researchers studied vacuumed dust samples from indoor play areas and mattresses. They also tested sensitization to mold allergies. Because of their findings, researchers assert that higher levels of mold in these areas are risk factors for asthma in children.
One of the more serious complications that can come from black mold exposure is allergic fungal sinusitis. This is a common infection that causes the sinuses to become extremely inflamed. After initial exposure to the mold, sinus drainage slows or stops entirely. This allows the fungus to grow in the sinuses, causing fungal debris, sticky mucus, nasal polyps, and asthma.
People with pre-existing respiratory issues are at a higher risk of developing serious complications after black mold exposure. One of the rarest and most dangerous is hypersensitivity pneumonitis: inhaling mold causes the lungs themselves to become inflamed. The inflammation makes it difficult for the vital organs to function and can even cause permanent damage due to scarring.
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