Molds are very small fungi. The spores of molds are airborne and they float in air. Molds grow in damp places where air, food, water and appropriate temperature are available. Molds are usually seen growing outdoors of houses and other buildings.
The spores of molds are breathed in by almost everyone, only the people who are allergic to molds suffer from allergic reaction when they are exposed to molds.
The immune system of the people who are allergic to molds treats the spores as a harmful allergen and triggers an allergic reaction or symptoms of asthma.
Although there are hundreds of types of molds, only a few of them cause allergy. These types include Aspergillus, Alternaria, Penicillium and Cladosporium.
The people having mold allergy may not be allergic to all these types of molds. They can be allergic to only one specific mold or more than one.
The signs and symptoms of mold allergy include the following:
- Postnasal drip
- Runny or congested nose
- Itchy eyes, throat and nose
- Watery eyes
The severity of the symptoms varies from one person to another. The symptoms may be present throughout the year or may appear only in certain times when the weather is damp.
Mold allergy in severe cases can also trigger symptoms of asthma which include:
- Tightness of chest
- Shortness of breath
The physician may first physically examine the patient to identify other medical problems present. Then the physician may recommend any of the following tests to diagnose mold allergy:
- Skin prick test: In this test, diluted amounts of the suspected allergens are applied on the skin of arm or back, with tiny punctures. If the person is allergic to molds, then a raised reddish bump develops at the site of application.
- Blood test: Blood tests help in diagnosing the allergy by measuring the amount of antibodies in the blood of the person which are produced in response to the allergen. This test is also called as radio allergo sorbent test or RAST.
If the symptoms become severe and are not treated for long time, the following complications may develop:
- Mold induced asthma
- Allergic broncho-pulmonary aspergillosis
- Allergic fungal sinusitis
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
The following factors may increase the risk of developing mold allergy or may aggravate the symptoms of mold allergy.
- Having familial history of allergy or asthma
- Working in an occupation where there is exposure to molds. Some of these occupations include dairy work, farming, baking, logging, mill work, carpentry and green-house work.
- Living in area with high humidity and poor ventilation
The best treatment step for allergies is to avoid exposure to the allergy causing agent. However it is not possible to avoid the exposure to molds completely. There is no specific treatment for mold allergy. To control the symptoms of allergy, the following drugs may be given:
- Nasal corticosteroids: Corticosteroids such as ciclesonide, fluticasone, mometasone, triamcinolone, budesonide are given in the form of nasal sprays. These drugs help to reduce the inflammation in the nasal tract caused due to allergy.
- Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamine drugs such as loratadine, fexofenadine and cetirizine can be given to reduce the symptoms such as sneezing, itching and runny nose. These medications can cause little or no drowsiness. Some antihistamines such as azelastine and olopatadine hydrochloride are available as nasal sprays on prescription. Side effects of these nasal sprays include nasal dryness and bitter taste in mouth.
- Decongestants: OTC decongestants are available in oral form and as nasal sprays. The oral decongestants have side effects such as hypertension, loss of appetite, insomnia, palpitations, restlessness and anxiety.
- Montelukast: This drug is given to block the action of the chemicals which are responsible for causing the symptoms of allergy. It is given when the corticosteroids are not effective in reducing the symptoms.
The following steps should be followed to prevent the growth of molds at home:
- The sources of dampness such as pipe leaks should be eliminated.
- A dehumidifier should be used to keep the humidity levels below 50%.
- An air-conditioner with a HEPA filter should be used as it can trap the spores of molds which enter from outside.
- The bathrooms should be well ventilated. The ventilation fan should be used during shower to dry the air immediately.
- Old books and newspapers should be recycled is kept in damp places.
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