Exposure to black mold can cause a range of symptoms in sensitive people. Because molds are present both indoors and outdoors, they can be hard to avoid, particularly during rainy times of the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with the greatest risk of developing problems due to mold exposure include those with suppressed immune systems, allergies, asthma or other breathing conditions.
Warm, humid conditions encourage the growth of mold, a form of fungus that usually appears as black or green spots. Mold is often found indoors in areas of high humidity and moisture, such as bathrooms or basements or areas where there has been a water leak, and outdoors in damp, shady areas or in places where leaves are decomposing.
Symptoms of a mold allergy include cough, runny nose, headaches, rashes, nose bleeds, nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, sinusitis, and itchy eyes, nose and throat. If you have asthma and a mold allergy, exposure to mold spores can cause your asthma to flare up and you may experience wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. Fungal infections can occur if you have a suppressed immune system or pre-existing lung disease. The severity of the symptoms usually depends on the degree and length of exposure and your sensitivity to mold. In a few cases, people have developed memory loss or bleeding in the lungs after exposure to black mold, although a link to mold as the cause of these conditions has never been proven, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
A mold allergy is diagnosed based on your symptoms, a physical examination and one or more tests. A blood test may be used to measure antibodies in your blood that respond to mold. A skin prick test may be recommended to determine if you are allergic to mold. During the skin prick test, tiny amounts of mold and other allergens are placed just under the skin with a needle. If you are allergic to a particular substance, a small red bump develops.
Treatment for black mold allergies includes the use of antihistamines to reduce the symptoms of runny nose and sneezing. Nasal corticosteroids can be helpful in treating the inflammation caused by mold spores. Decongestants and nasal sprays can also be effective in reducing symptoms. Singulair, a drug effective in treating allergies, may be prescribed if over-the-counter medications don't help. Allergy shots may be somewhat useful if you have a mold allergy, although these shots are more helpful in treating such conditions as hay fever allergy.
While it is impossible to avoid all exposure to mold spores, you can take some steps to reduce your exposure and avoid the unpleasant symptoms associated with black mold. Freshly cut grass, wooded areas and compost piles are likely to have high levels of mold and should be avoided. The CDC recommends keeping humidity levels in your home between 40 and 60 percent and using an air-conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months to reduce mold. Mold should be cleaned up promptly, although if you have a mold allergy, clean-up should be left to others who don't have the allergy. Wet carpets and upholstery should be replaced, as it is very difficult to rid these items of mold.