These Indoor Toxins Thrive In Winter. Here’s Where They're Hiding

Photo: Jill Chen

As an environmental toxicity expert and a functional medicine doctor, I see toxic mold all too often. It's more common than you may think, and even the healthiest of people can suffer the consequences. Mold causes a variety of health problems like autoimmunity, asthma, fatigue, nausea, weight gain or loss, hair loss, and insomnia, to name a few. Headaches are also a common symptom of mold exposure.

It begins with a feeling that something is "off." That’s when the symptoms pop up like unwanted guests. You know the ebb and flow of your body, and mold toxins can silently wreak havoc on it.

Here are a few areas you'll want to monitor for mold.

Your bathroom:

You might be surprised what your wallpaper is hiding. Humidity collecting between the wallpaper and Sheetrock are all that mold needs to have a party. Consider removing wallpaper and making sure that you have a fan that vigorously ventilates your bathroom. And be sure to use it each time you shower!

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Your transportation:

One client—let's call him Frank—came in to see me a few months ago with intermittent dizziness and nausea as well as changes in his depth perception that made it difficult to read and focus. When we figured out the symptoms got worse when he was driving, he avoided using his car for a few weeks and his symptoms began to subside. He drove his car again, and his symptoms returned. It turned out that a few months before, he'd had his carpet cleaned, and they closed up the car in the heat rather than ventilating it, causing mold to grow in the vehicle.

Any leaky spots at home:

If you've ever had a water leak at home, it means mold could be growing behind the wall. Water leaks should be completely dried up with a dehumidifier, and all wet materials should be removed within 24 to 48 hours. Hiring a mold inspector for further investigation is wise. (I don't think simply putting out plates to test for mold is enough.)

Timing is everything when it comes to mold because the sooner you catch it, the easier it is to fix. You have to open up walls, roofs, and spaces to get it out. Leave it to the professionals to prevent mold spores from spreading during the removal process. Otherwise you can worsen the problem.

Roof leaks are a common space that mold spreads, via the drywall, ceilings, and floors. I have another patient who’s an eager do-it-yourself type. He noticed a roof leak that had been going on for months and took it upon himself to repair it. When he opened the ceiling, his family got much sicker. The leak had triggered a massive growth of toxic mold. Inadvertently, he had spread the mycotoxins throughout his home, where his wife and children became quite ill.

At work:

Your mold exposure could also be coming from your work environment. The EPA has construction guidelines to avoid mold and guidelines to remediate mold, and some states, such as Massachusetts, have recommendations for how to handle water damage in commercial buildings and schools. Unfortunately, though, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no federal standards or recommendations for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores.

If you do discover mold at work, tell your supervisor immediately. Your employer may be responsible for remediation. OSHA also has guidelines for removing mold from workplace environments.

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At school:

If you think your children are being exposed at school, or you are a teacher with concerns about your classroom, the EPA does have indoor air quality guidelines you can reference when you bring it to the administration’s attention. There have been a number of schools in the news that have recently addressed mold problems, from New Jersey and South Carolina to Connecticut and New York.

Wherever you suspect mold, don't second-guess yourself.

My biggest piece of advice is if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, listen to it! The largest study examining water damage in U.S. homes reported that 50 percent of houses have dampness and mold. What makes mold destructive is the equation of exposure plus time plus potency. The longer you wait, the more mycotoxins can build up in your body and the sicker you can become.

Here are a few tried-and-true ways to prevent and treat mold at home.

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