My experience with Mold in the home

If you have Lyme disease then you’ve probably asked the question at some point whether or not mold in your home is contributing to your health problems.  It’s an extremely difficult question to answer.  Early on in my illness, and before being diagnosed with Lyme, I blamed all of my problems on mold, mostly because water damage to my house occurred right around the same time my health started to decline.

First of all, mold certainly could be an issue.  Mold can cause immune suppression, inflammation, and neurological systems, just like Lyme.  Toxic mold can create a toxic burden on your body, just like Lyme.  So it certainly could be a factor and may be another piece to the puzzle of regaining your health.  So you do need to ask the question.

At my house, water from ice dams ran inside for several days before I stopped it by shoveling the snow off of my roof.  Any materials like drywall, insulation and carpeting that stays wet for more than 24 hours can grow mold, so I did have a potential problem.

Next, there are theories about certain people being genetically susceptible to mold illness.  I will save my thoughts on those theories for another day.  For now, if you have Lyme, then you have a compromised immune system; and mold, if it’s in your home, is just one more insult on your system that you don’t need.

The first step to answering the question would be to look for obvious signs of mold in your home.  Can you actually see mold growing in your basement or attic?  Do you see water stains coming from roof leaks, basement leaks, or plumbing leaks?  Can you smell mold or musty odors?  If you do, then it’s easy to say you have a mold problem.  A professional mold remediator will probably be necessary to solve these kinds of problems.  If you are in the Pittsburgh area and email our group at info@pghlyme.org I would be happy to give you recommendations for local mold remediators.  If you have a small amount of visible mold you could use Concrobium which is a very low-odor product and great at killing mold and eliminating musty odors (and easily available at places like Home Depot and Amazon).

But what if you don’t see these signs, are you in the clear?  I was heavily fixated on mold problems in my house in places I could not see.  I worried about what was happening inside my exterior walls where I had water intrusion from ice dams and inside the walls of my finished basement.  To be clear, these were valid concerns.  I had many mold tests done and the results were mixed: some indicated a problem; some were normal.  I punched many holes in many different walls and sawed into floor boards looking for mold, but never really found anything moldy.  I was having great difficulty answering the question, did I or did I not have a mold problem.

If you are still having difficulty determining if you have a mold issue, you can have a mold remediator do a walk-through of your house, looking for problems, doing some spot testing with a moisture meter and performing swab mold tests.  Depending on the results of the visual test and spot tests, more extensive mold testing could be done.  Again, if you are in the Pittsburgh area, I have dealt with many of the local companies please contact our group at info@pghlyme.org for recommendations.  Another possibility, if you are able to leave your house for a week or more, do so to see if you feel much better away from your house. This could be a valuable clue.  If the weather is nice you could also considering camping in your backyard as long as it’s not tick infested.

But, it took me years to figure out I was missing the forest for the trees.  I did not have a hidden mold problem, at least not a significant one.  Nor did I have obvious mold growing somewhere in my house.  I was missing the importance of simple cleaning.   The best example of this: we moved to a house (trying to escape our mold problems) with an unfinished basement.  I purposely looked for a house with an unfinished basement so I could keep an eye on any water intrusions.  The basement certainly looked dry and mold free but unfortunately air sampling mold testing showed the basement tested somewhat high for aspergillus (506 spores/m3).  I brought in a mold remeditator to check out my basement for a recommendation to lower the mold levels who simply laughed and said “on a scale of 1 to 10, this basement is a 0 for mold” because there was no visible mold.  So why were the levels that high?

I spoke to another mold remediator, who suggested a simple cleaning was in order, using the hepa sandwich.  That is, hepa vacuum every surface in the basement, wipe every surface with an antimicrobial cleaner, and then hepa vacuum again.  After I did this, a repeat mold test showed 0 mold spores.  And my body, which due to my mold sensitivities is the best mold test ever, agreed; that basement was clean and healthy.  Lesson learned, mold can thrive in simple house dust, even if you don’t see it.  Now, I am adamant about regular house cleaning, and that includes not only the main living areas but the basement and garage as well.  I dust and hepa vacuum all the floors regularly, and use Clorox wipes on most surfaces.

I’ve mentioned mold testing a lot.  Like everything else, it’s difficult to answer how accurate it is.  I had air sampling done by several different local restoration companies and home inspectors; I had air sampling done by a machine that I rented and was sent to me, I performed the testing and sent the machine back; and I performed ERMI testing from Mycometrics, which is a test you perform yourself–you use a vacuum cleaner or swiffer to collect dust and send the dust for analysis.  Air sampling can be inaccurate because the mold can be settled in dust.  For that reason, I think ERMI makes more sense, plus it does a better job at identifying the type of mold.

Once you’ve dealt with obvious and hidden mold problems, and made sure your house is clean, another good idea is to run hepa air filters.  I own many, and believe in running at least one on every level of the home.  On the low-end, I have a Honeywell True Hepa filter, I use it in the basement.  I have a middle-of-the-road Austin Air Healthmate for my bedroom, and a high-end IQ Air HealthPro for our main living area, which sits in between our kitchen, dining room and living room.  The Honeywell is just a hepa filter, meaning it filters particulates including mold.  But the the Austin Air and IQ Air also have activated carbon for eliminating chemical odors.

So do take mold seriously.  Investigate mold in your home to the best of your ability.  Don’t underestimate the importance of cleaning your house.  And please contact us if you have questions at info@pghlyme.org.  Good luck.

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