Molds are tiny fungi whose spores float through the air. They like damp environments and need four things to grow: food, air, appropriate temperature and water. Molds can be found outdoors, in homes and in other buildings.
Everyone breathes in mold spores in the air, but some people have an allergic reaction or asthma symptoms if exposed to too much of this fungus.
If you are allergic to mold, your immune system is overly-sensitive to specific mold spores and treats them as an allergen. When you inhale the mold spores, your immune system triggers symptoms such as sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion or itchy nose, mouth and lips.
There are hundreds of types of molds, but not all of them are responsible for causing allergy symptoms. The most common allergy-causing molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium and Penicillium.
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Many people allergic to mold develop symptoms outdoors on days when mold spores are in the air. You may also have symptoms indoors if mold is in your home, school or workplace.
Symptoms of mold allergy include:
• Itchy nose, mouth and lips
• Itchy, watery eyes
• Runny nose
• Nasal congestion
Mold can also trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness.
Symptoms of mold allergy often mimic symptoms of other conditions. An allergist / immunologist can diagnose whether mold is responsible for your symptoms. Skin prick tests give accurate results in just a few minutes. Your allergist may order other tests, if needed.
If you have a mold allergy, avoiding exposure to the allergen is the best way to manage your symptoms. Avoidance tips include:
• Stay indoors on days when mold counts are high. Sign up for the NAB’s email alert to keep tabs on mold and pollen counts in your area.
• Keep away from uncut fields and avoid raking leaves.
• Take a shower after coming indoors. This will wash out mold spores in your hair to keep them from bothering you all night long.
• Eliminate mold from your home by fixing leaking faucets and pipes.
• Reduce the humidity in your home. Be sure your indoor humidity stays below 60 percent.
• Remove basement carpeting and replace with linoleum or concrete flooring that will not retain moisture.
• Clean mold off walls using a vinegar solution.
In addition to managing symptoms by avoidance, your allergist may also recommend treating your symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, eye drops or nasal sprays.
Immunotherapy (allergy shots) are a form of treatment that provides long-term relief of symptoms. Your allergist will give you shots containing small doses of your allergen, allowing your body to build a natural immunity to the trigger.
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