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Is Mold the Cause of Our Asthma?

Q: My husband has lived in our rental house for three years, and I moved in a year ago after we married. He has experienced increasingly worse asthma-like symptoms, and I have developed respiratory problems since moving to South Texas. Neither of us ever had asthma before. Our rental house had a huge water leak by the chimney, and we had it tested for mold. Results came back as Aspergillus/Penicillium-like spores, 68,000 counts per square centimeter, and Chaetomium 196,000 counts per square centimeter. My husband complains of chest pain and pressure. We have seen pulmonologists and cardiologists, and they say everything is normal.


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Also, we're both having severe back muscle spasms and soreness. Mine was so bad I had thought I had a kidney stone and went into the emergency room. I am also experiencing slight mental confusion and memory loss. Can any of the symptoms be caused by mold poisoning? We are beginning to think we're crazy. — Amy, Texas

A: Exposure to airborne mold appears to be a common cause of asthma. The increase in the severity of asthmatic symptoms with time could indicate that the causal agent for your husband's asthma is associated with your house. Supporting evidence is your development of respiratory problems as well.

You describe a large water leak by the chimney as well as surface sampling results that are quite high. Such a water leak would be a major risk factor for mold infestation of building materials as confirmed by surface testing.

Both Aspergillus and Penicillium are commonly found growing in and on water-damaged building materials. Exposure to airborne Penicillium spores has been shown to be epidemiologically associated with the development of asthma in children, and it or Aspergillus may be the primary cause of asthma in this case.

Chaetomium is a species that readily grows on paper and paper products (such as the face paper on gypsum board). It produces large spores that are less likely to enter the respiratory tract to cause asthma compared to Aspergillus or Penicillium.

In this case no air sampling results are available. Such testing can indicate the magnitude of exposure and health risk. However, indoor air quality scientists have concluded that the presence of visible mold is a more reliable indicator of mold associated respiratory disease and airborne concentrations. This is primarily because airborne mold concentrations vary so widely over the course of time. Such ups and downs reduce the reliability of statistical analyses that support epidemiological investigations.

Muscle spasms and soreness have not been associated with mold exposures; nor has confusion and memory loss. If such relationships did exist they would be secondary to other symptoms produced as a result of exposure to mold.

No you're not crazy. Such building-related health problems are very common; you're not suffering alone. I recommend you request that your landlord remediate the water damage and mold problem. If not, you should seek alternative housing at your earliest convenience.


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Is Mold the Cause of Our Asthma?:  Created on February 24th, 2007.  Last Modified on January 8th, 2010


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About Thad Godish, Ph.D.

Thad Godish, Ph.D., C.I.H., is professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at Ball State University. He directs the university's indoor air quality/indoor environment research, teaching and public service activities.

His research studies have included: formaldehyde contamination of residences and associated health problems; mold contamination of buildings/sampling methods; building radon; indoor air quality problems in school buildings; emissions from combustion appliances/combusted materials; sick building syndrome; and lead-based paint contamination in residences.

He has served as an indoor air quality and industrial hygiene consultant, conducting air quality investigations in hundreds of buildings including residences, private and municipal offices, schools, hospitals and industrial facilities. He has been an expert witness in numerous personal injury legal claims associated with building environments. He is a certified industrial hygienist.



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