I have recently noticed an increase in allergies and respiratory symptoms; I believe it is partly related to excess damp, mould and fungus. Recent evidence also links it to headaches, tiredness, general aches and joint pains. It’s important for us and our children that we know what the risks are. We can diagnose the problem, what we can do to prevent and treat it.
There are hundreds of thousands of types of mould, or fungus, but only about ten types cause health problems, commonly sinusitis, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions, as well as allergies.
Mould forms anywhere there’s moisture trapped in the air — typically around showers, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and in kitchens, although it is also often found in the moist soil of pot plants. Actually, due to humidity levels, the whole of Hong Kong!
Any flooding is likely to lead to mould. If it is growing rapidly, the evidence will be visible in months but it can take years to form and to be noticed.
The common places for it to grow in houses is wallpaper, flooring, behind wall tiles and on window frames,
Worse, if you walk around on the damp carpet, mould spores are released into the atmosphere, which you can then inhale.
So How Does This Affect Us?
Normally the immune system detects the mould spores and helps you to get rid of them by coughing or sneezing.
But some people with poorer immune systems are unable to reject the spores, and so they germinate in their lung tissue, causing inflammation.
Those most at risk of health problems caused by household moulds are children and babies, the elderly and those in poor health.
Breathing in mould spores can have one of two effects:
- it can cause an infection,
- Mould can also cause allergic reactions, particularly asthma, as the immune system reacts to the spores when they make their way into the upper airways and sinuses.
Illnesses caused by mould allergy can include allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, asthma and skin reaction. Asthma attacks in particular are common during the spring among people who are allergic to moulds, causing wheezing, non-stop coughing and leading to more serious lung problems.
In our practice we have recently seen increased cases of itchy eyes, sneezing, hives (urticaria), eczema, coughs and asthma. However, people also report symptoms such as constant tiredness, eye and throat irritation, headaches, skin irritation or nausea.
How Can We Help You?
Test and cutting edge treatments:
As we said, some people are more sensitive to mould than others, just as some people get cat allergies and others don’t. First we can do simple allergy tests, either on blood or a skin prick, when we get the results, immediately we know your sensitivities to mould in a scientific way, rather than guesswork.
The problem is, if you are allergic to House dust mite or cat ( the common ones in Hong Kong), you are more likely to be allergic to mould as your immune system is already being overworked.
Once we know your allergies, we can actually treat using the new treatment “immune therapy” drops in the mouth. According to your number of allergies and severity, treatment times vary, but generally not more than three treatments are required.
Tips To Protect Yourself
What Can You Do?
- It’s important to maintain good ventilation and air flow in the home, to prevent the mould spores from taking root on walls and ceilings. Open windows to let fresh air circulate.
- Sunlight eliminates mould, so make the most of natural light.
- Buy heat bars, which are available from Wing On department stores. They are easy to install, cheap and keep the wardrobe dry all year round. A heater bar fitted inside your wardrobe is the best year-round protection against the effects of humidity for your clothes.
- Buy charcoal or silica gel sachets as desiccants in drawers and wardrobes. They last from one to three months. Also good are plastic tubs of desiccants, which have a “full capacity” marker to show when they’re exhausted.
- Of course, dehumidifiers help
- Control humidity levels
- Promptly fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes
- Thoroughly clean and dry after flooding
- Ventilate shower, laundry, and cooking areas
- In older buildings, check for mould in plaster, under paint of walls
- Add mould inhibitors to paints before painting
- Clean bathrooms with mould-killing products
- Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that have been soaked and cannot be dried promptly. Consider not using carpet in rooms or areas like bathrooms or basements that may have a lot of moisture.
If You Think You Have It
If mould is growing in your home, you need to clean up the mould and fix the moisture problem. Mould growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of household laundry bleach in 1 gallon of water.
Mould growth, which often looks like spots, can be many different colors, and can smell musty. If you can see or smell mould, a health risk may be present. You do not need to know the type of mould growing in your home, and CDC does not recommend or perform routine sampling for moulds. No matter what type of mould is present, you should remove it.
If You Choose To Use Bleach To Clean Up Mould
- Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Mixing bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products will produce dangerous, toxic fumes.
- Open windows and doors to provide fresh air.
- Wear non-porous gloves and protective eye wear.
- If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled Mould Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document also applies to other building types. You can get it by going to the EPA web site at http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product.
Why Would I Suspect Mould in My Home?
A number of factors may cause you to suspect mould in your home:
- You see mould growing – white, orange, green or black growth in a moist area
- You smell a musty, mould odor
- You see a discoloration in a wall, ceiling or other part of your home in an area with prior water damage that indicates mould damage.