Allergies? Tips to minimize your exposure to mold

Even if you are getting allergy shots or taking medications, the best way to help your shots and other allergy medicines do their job is to reduce your exposure to allergens. Avoidance is the best medicine! The most common symptom is a stuffy or runny nose due to allergic rhinitis. The major categories of allergens that trigger it are pollen (from trees, grass, and weeds), dust mites and cockroaches, pet dander, and mold (the allergy trigger that can be the most challenging to identify).

Molds and other fungi

The spores of fungi (molds, mildew, yeasts, and mush- rooms) are ubiquitous and, like pollen, are very light and travel in the air. Capable of surviving in dry, adverse conditions, fungal spores can live a long time. However, they especially thrive in a damp, warm environment, indoors or out.

Many people are allergic to mold, and in some people it may trigger asthma. Doctors have long recognized the connection between respiratory diseases caused by the inhalation of mold spores and an allergic response.

Outdoor molds include Alternaria, whose spore count peaks in late summer or early fall, and Cladosporium, whose spore count peaks during the summer months. People who are allergic to mold should minimize exposure to airborne molds by avoiding wooded areas or activities like raking damp leaves. Also avoid outdoor activities on windy and rainy days, since mold spore counts increase in warm, humid weather and immediately after summer rainstorms.

Indoor molds are also common, with more than 1,000 different molds found in U.S. homes. Indoor exposure to mold can be linked to not only to rhinitis symptoms, but also coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Tips for avoiding mold

The best way to avoid mold allergens is to prevent mold from forming in the first place. Molds like moist places, so try to find and fix sources of dampness.

Outdoors, sensitive individuals should avoid areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Remove damaged wood, since molds live off dead vegetable matter such as wet, rotten wood.

To minimize indoor mold try these additional tips:

  • Keep humidity levels as low as you can—no higher than 50%—all day long. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months.
  • Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens. Install a bathroom exhaust fan that vents directly to the outside.
  • Clean mold-covered surfaces with bleach and water (1:10 ratio). Don't mix bleach with ammonia. If mold has impregnated drywall and insulation, you'll have to rip it out and replace it.
  • Remove mold-impregnated carpets and upholstery and throw away any moldy items (including clothing, books, and papers).
  • Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paint when redecorating.
  • If you have house plants, don't overwater; it encourages mold in the soil.

For more on pinpointing and treating your allergies read Controlling Your Allergies, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.