Black mold poisoning is a form of mycotoxicosis, which may occur if a person breathes in too many mycotoxins over an extended period. Mycotoxins are the toxins that some molds release.
The symptoms of black mold poisoning can appear similar to those of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as the flu or common cold. People with other health conditions or a weakened immune system may experience more severe symptoms.
The symptoms of black mold exposure may include:
- a stuffy nose
- a runny nose
- red eyes
- itchy skin or eyes
- a sore or itchy throat
Black mold exposure can also potentially worsen the symptoms of other respiratory conditions. For example, a person with asthma or a respiratory allergy may find that their symptoms worsen or they experience new symptoms, such as:
- persistent coughing
- frequent chest colds
- difficulty breathing
- allergic reactions
- inflammation of the sinuses
- general fatigue and lethargy
In rare cases, long-term exposure to high levels of these toxins may lead to more severe symptoms, including:
- memory loss
- trouble concentrating
- sensitivity to light
- nerve issues, such as numbness in the hands and feet
- general pain and cramps
- unexplained weight gain
Some people may have a higher risk of developing symptoms than others. At-risk groups include people with:
- seasonal allergies, such as hay fever
- mold allergies
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
People with a weakened immune system also have a higher risk and may need to take extra care to avoid black mold exposure.
Black mold exposure may be more harmful in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some research suggests that young children who inhale mold toxins early on in life may be more likely to develop asthma. This seems to be more of an issue in children with a family history of asthma, but additional research is necessary to understand the risks better.
How dangerous is black mold to health?
For people with respiratory conditions, inhaling black mold toxins may trigger flare-ups.
Black mold exposure has the potential to be harmful in the long term, particularly in people with respiratory conditions and other risk factors. However, there are many exaggerated claims of the dangers of black mold on the internet.
In otherwise healthy people, short-term exposure to mycotoxins is unlikely to cause harm. It generally takes time and consistent exposure to black mold for symptoms to develop.
In people with respiratory conditions, such as COPD, asthma, and respiratory allergies, inhaling black mold toxins may have the potential to worsen symptoms or trigger flare-ups.
The main symptoms of mold poisoning are common to other respiratory disorders, which can make diagnosis difficult.
If a doctor suspects that a person’s symptoms are due to the inhalation of mold toxins, they may order a test to check the levels of mold in their home.
A doctor may also recommend allergy tests or blood tests if they think that an individual has a mold allergy.
Blood tests involve taking a small sample of the person’s blood and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Doctors use these tests to check for the presence of specific antibodies that the immune system produces in response to mold toxins. They may also check for the mold toxins themselves.
Skin prick tests are a standard method of allergy testing and can help determine whether a person is allergic to mold.
During this test, a healthcare professional will place a drop of liquid containing the mold onto the skin on the individual’s arm or back. They will then prick the skin beneath the drop with a small needle. If the person is allergic to the mold, an itchy, red rash will usually develop within a short time.
If a person’s symptoms are due to a mold allergy, the following treatments may help:
- Antihistamines. These medications are available both over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription. They come in a range of forms, including tablets, nasal sprays, and eye drops. A person can use antihistamines to treat symptoms and prevent allergic reactions.
- Decongestants. A person can use OTC decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), for the short-term relief of blocked nasal passages.
- Steroids. These medications can help reduce inflammation of airways and relieve rashes. Steroid medications are available as sprays, drops, creams, or tablets. However, some are only available on prescription.
- Immunotherapy. Also known as allergy shots, immunotherapy builds a person’s tolerance to an allergen by exposing them to gradually increasing amounts. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that requires regular injections over several months.