Mold and mildew are caused by fungi that are found both indoors and outdoors. Consequently, during your daily life, you’ll be exposed to fungi through inhalation, ingestion, and touching moldy surfaces. Mold in your apartment usually won’t cause health problem unless the spores land on a damp spot and start growing. When this happens, mold has the potential to cause significant health problems.
Mold Health Hazards
Molds produce allergens (substances causing allergic reactions) or act as irritants. Molds are not toxic, but in certain cases they produce toxic substances known as mycotoxins. Exposure to mycotoxins may cause you to develop headaches, irritation, nausea and loss of appetite. Sometimes, you may experience non-specific symptoms like fatigue or inability to concentrate, but it’s hard to tell if they’re caused by mold or other agents. Health effects from exposure to mycotoxins have been associated with certain occupations or ingestion of mold-contaminated food, but scientific evidence for the reported effects indoors has yet to be established.
If you’re one of the many people who are sensitive to molds, inhaling mold spores or touching mold might cause an allergic reaction. Your symptoms could include sneezing, runny nose, nasal stuffiness, wheezing, red eyes, or a skin rash. You may experience these symptoms immediately or they may be delayed.
Whether you’re mold-allergic or non-allergic, mold exposure can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin. Inhaling mold rarely produces symptoms other than the allergic or irritant type. However, with a serious mold allergy, you may have a more severe reaction such as fever and shortness of breath. If you have asthma, molds can also cause you to have an asthma attack, provided that you’re allergic to mold. Such conditions require prior exposure to the mold to make you sensitized. And, these symptoms may persist long after you’re no longer exposed to the source. In addition, certain chronic lung illnesses (e.g. obstructive lung disease), may cause you to develop a mold infection in your lungs.
The type of mold, the degree of exposure and how susceptible you are to its effects will determine what kind of reaction you have. Evidence linking mold exposure to severe human health effects is documented in reports about occupational disease, where inhalation exposures were unusually high or ongoing. This type of exposure is unlikely to happen in your apartment, since high-level exposures don’t typically occur in residential settings. Even so, if you’re chronically exposed to lower levels of mold, you may still have health concerns.
Be on the Safe Side
Despite ongoing research into the health effects of mold, it’s not currently possible to establish “safe” or “unsafe” levels of mold exposure for the general public. The reason for this is that there is variation in your individual susceptibility and lack of standardized sampling methods. Recent research studies have been ambiguous with respect to concluding whether you’re at higher risk of developing allergies or asthma in the presence of indoor mold. To be on the safe side, keep your apartment as free of moisture as possible. Clean any visible mold promptly and report leaks to your landlord immediately, before mold gets out of control.
Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.