Think mold might be to blame for some of your symptoms or issues? Here I’ll walk you through Toxic Mold: From Suspicions to Solutions and share my experiences.
So you’ve been smelling something suspicious in your new home. Or maybe you’ve noticed some weird spots on an interior wall. Or what about your toddler’s nonstop rashes and sinus infections and your migraines that just won’t quit. You’ve seen people talk about mold illness and now you’ve gotten curious. What next? Where do you start?
In this blog post, I want to walk you through common symptoms of mold toxicity, as well as testing methods, along with their limitations, labs that you can perform to find out if you are excreting mycotoxins, as well as treatments that can be helpful. I’ll also tell you some things to look for when searching for a mold inspector and remediator, which by the way, should not be the same company.
Ok here’s the unfortunate part of the story that I’d like to lead with…mold symptoms mimic Lyme symptoms and food intolerance symptoms and infectious disease symptoms. So just by identifying, say, stomach pain and joint pain, you cannot narrow it down to specifically one thing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you DO have mold toxicity, some of your symptoms could still be from another source, since your immune function is likely suppressed in general, causing you to fall victim to more threats and environmental triggers.
Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning what the symptoms CAN BE and as you go through the checklists of other potential causes, to keep mold toxicity in mind. They are:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Headache, light sensitivity
- Poor memory, difficult word finding
- Difficulty concentration
- Morning stiffness, joint pain
- Unusual skin sensations, tingling and numbness
- Shortness of breath, sinus congestion or chronic cough
- Appetite swings, body temperature regulation,
- Increased urinary frequency or increased thirst
- Red eyes, blurred vision, sweats, mood swings, sharp pains
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating
- Tearing, disorientation, metallic taste in mouth
- Static shocks
- Vertigo, feeling lightheaded
- Upper respiratory infections
- Chronic sinus infections
- Nerve and bone pain
- Air hunger
- Anxiety and Depression
- Excessive Thirst and Increased Urination
- Skin rashes
Types of Dangerous Molds
In any living environment, indoors or outdoors, mold spores will be present. They are organic material and are part of a balanced ecology. Some molds indoors are completely harmless and do not typically evoke any kind of symptomatic response when exposed. The problem is when molds overgrow in an indoor environment due to leaks, plumbing issues, previous water damage that’s gone undetected, and even stealthy mold growth in places like the HVAC system. Some molds can be more detrimental than others, like the infamous stachybotrys.
Each of these molds carries slightly different risks and “typical” symptoms that may accompany exposures to them. But honestly, just like with any number of pathogenic exposure, different people may exhibit different symptoms.
Do you have mold illness? How can you find out?
I’m going to walk you through testing your body and testing your home. There are LOTS of testing options between the two and some can be quite costly. Additionally, some personal labs may come back with information that could be the result of another affliction (similar to the overlap with symptoms and diseases). But here I’ll list to a few sources that may be helpful.
CIRS stands for Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, also known as biotoxin illness, describes a group of symptoms, lab findings, and targeted test results associated with biotoxin exposure, especially in genetically-susceptible people. Many of these labs stem from the findings of Dr Ritchie Shoemaker who helped pioneer the research into mold toxicity. You an visit his site here.
Here are the labs:
- VIP – Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide
- MSH – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone
- TGF Beta-1 – Transforming Growth Factor Beta-1
- HLA DR – Your Genes
- AGA IgA/IgG
- ACLA IgA/IgG/IgM
You can read more about what each of these labs measures as well as what the recommended ranges are HERE. Since not all doctors are willing to run these, you might look for an integrative physician, a mold-friendly practitioner, or an LLMD (Lyme Literate MD). Chiropractors are also able to run many of these labs for you.
In addition to the bloodwork listed above, the other test that many have found helpful is to measure the actual mycotoxins released by the body. Mycotoxins are quite literally, the toxins that mold spores (or any fungus can potentially) release. The molds listed above are quite capable of releasing those mycotoxins, especially as they compete for space in a small area with other molds. Urine tests like the two listed below can test for mycotoxins excreted in urine. Keep in mind, if you are knowingly living in mold yet DO NOT excrete the corresponding mycotoxins in your urine after getting test results back, it can actually be because you are having difficulty detoxing on your own. This is a big problem. If you are knowingly living in mold, you SHOULD see elevated mycotoxin output. I’ll address which meds and supplements can help you detox better further down.
The two most popular mycotoxin urine tests are:
- Great Plains offers a couple mycotoxin related tests including Mycotox and Envirotox (which includes mycotoxin testing as well as the Organic Acids Test and a Glyphosate test)
- Real Time is another lab that offers a mycotoxin detecting urine test.
Many of the aforementioned labs can be covered by insurance. While they are potentially costly out of pocket, please inquire with your insurance if they are covered before you rule out testing.
So you’ve tested positive for mold toxicity within your body, what’s next?
Different practitioners who are trained in mold illness may take different approaches. For example, some may say if you have Lyme or other pathogenic infections, that you’d need to address those first. Others suggest that leaving your moldy environment and treating the body for mold first may actually put other infections into remission, or in the least, resolve problematic symptoms substantially. Since I included types of practitioners to seek out above, here I’ll mention popular supplements and meds used to biotoxin illness. I’ll bold the ones that I am personally taking.
- Takesumi Supreme (binds and removes mycotoxins)
- Coconut Charcoal (binds and removes mycotoxins)
- Sonne’s #7 (binds and removes mycotoxins) – made with suspended Bentonite Clay
- Cod Liver Oil (helps with brain healing from mycotoxins and lowers MMP9, one of the CIRS markers)
- Phosphatidylcholine (helps with mitochondrial and brain recovery)
- Chlorella (binds to tricothenes and aflatoxins, 2 of the mycotoxins from mold)
- Lauricidin (kills yeast/fungus along with other gut support)
- Glutathione (master anti-oxidant helps with detox)
- Liposomal Vitamin C (anti-oxidant helps with detox and immune support)
- Probiotics (help crowd out bad bacteria in the gut but also help with yeast/fungal infections which overlap with mold)
- Garlic tincture (strong anti-fungal/anti-mold)
- Milk Thistle (helps support liver since it gets overburdened with trying to detox mycotoxins et al)
- Nasal Spray with GSE (to help kill mold in the nasal cavities, where it loves to hid. Some people also develop MARCONS which can be helped with this or rx spray)
- Magnesium Cream ( crucial for 300+ processes in the body is almost always depleted when the body is sick or under stress. Lotion helps with absorption)
Yes, this is a long list of supplements and I understand that money is a factor in determining what is reasonable. Each supplement plays a role, but in my opinion (which is not a medical opinion of course), binders are one of THE MOST VITAL things a person with mold toxicity can take. Many people who are mold sick do not detox well, thereby holding onto mycotoxins where they recirculate in the system and settle into tissues, exacerbating symptoms even more. Other than removing mold from the home or removing yourself from the moldy environment, binders are essential in helping escort out the toxins. So is helping to support the brain. Other types of treatment, which are more costly, include ozone, IV Vitamin C, IV Phosphatidylcholine, Infrared Sauna, RX meds like Cholestyramine (CSM), Welchol, BEG Spray, and anti-candida meds as well.
Different binders work on different mycotoxins. Please see the chart below from the Townsend Letter that gives at least partial information on what works when and where.
So you’ve had some labs completed on you or your symptomatic family members and now want to figure out how to scope out the condition of your home. Who do you call and how do you find a reputable mold investigator?
Finding a reputable investigator can be quite complicated actually. Unfortunately there are some unethical companies who will tell you they can TEST for mold in your home as well as REMEDIATE the mold in your home if found. This is a conflict of interest and recommend you find two separate companies.
Here are some characteristics you want to look for in a mold investigator/tester:
- Someone who sits down and takes a history of you and your home before they even begin the physical investigation
- Someone who brings the proper tools with them including a moisture meter, relative humidity meter, and thermal imaging camera
- Someone who goes into your attic and crawl spaces looking for visual evidence of mold, rusty nails, wet insulation and more
- Someone who opens up all the components of your HVAC including the coils and ducts to look for signs of mold and moisture (ours was found in the coils and was the ONLY physical evidence of mold inside the house)
- Someone who looks under all sinks, near the washer/dryer, dishwasher, and bathrooms for ANY sign of water damage, past or present.
- Someone who does an outside search of your home looking for suspicious areas.
- A company who is certified by or works with the ACAC.org, IAQA.com, AIHA.org
What are the types of testing that an inspector can use? What can you do on your own if you cannot afford an inspector? What are the limitations of each test?
Possibly trickier than figuring out if mold and mycotoxins are in your body, is determining if and where you have a mold problem in your home. This can be complicated and quite honestly, very expensive. I am going to walk you through some testing below with information that will hopefully help you determine what type of testing is best for you, the benefits and limitations to each test, as well as what to do next.
Types of Testing:
- AIR TESTING (sporetrap)
- ERMI/HERTSMI TESTING
- VISUAL INSPECTION WITH SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGY
- AT HOME TESTING/GROWING
- AT HOME LATERAL FLOW ASSAY
- AIR TESTING: This type of testing traps actual mold spores from the air, aka sporetrap. It is done by a professional and should have an outdoor sample done as a control. Then you should test areas of the house that could potentially be problematic (basement, bedrooms where people are sick, bathrooms, etc). Each test is an additional expense. We chose, in our current house, to test the master bedroom and the outside along with a swab of an outdoor retaining wall covered in growth. Some professionals say air testing is a waste of money. I disagree. It was what eventually helped us determine where the problem was. If you FAIL the air test, it means an indoor count came back higher than the outdoor count. The limitation with an air test is that some molds that are trapped in walls, like the infamous stachybotrys, are heavier, weighted molds and do not always show up in air sampling, which is often comprised of lighter spores like Penicillium and Aspergillus, as in our case. Nonetheless, our Pen/Asp was DOUBLE the amount in our bedroom as it was in the outside control, where you expect to have higher counts, so that was telling. (See image below for our results)
- ERMI/HERTSMI TESTING: ERMI stands for Environmental Relative Moldiness Index. This type of testing relies on a Swiffer type dry cloth to collect the dust in rooms to be tested. If a professional does it, they may use a cassette which can vacuum up dust out of carpet and off of surfaces to be tested. You can order this type of testing at home from sources like Mycometrics, which is where I ordered ours. The ERMI test looks for the DNA of 36 types of mold. The HERTSMI looks for 5 of the most threatening types of mold. The ERMI costs more because it is looking for more molds. The results do NOT show measurements of spores present. The numbers are representative of DNA FROM MOLDS. The limitation of this is that, as a PCR test, it does not necessarily reflect active, reproductive mold. It shows the HISTORY of mold present in your living space. What that means is if your home had prior water damage or mold issues, they would show in an ERMI/HERTSMI potentially, but not tell you with 100% certainty if you have a current mold issue. You cannot determine when the elevated mold spores occurred. (See images below for our results)
- VISUAL INSPECTION WITH SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGY: Finding a good inspector can be tricky, I’ll include further down what to look for specifically. We went through FOUR inspectors before finally finding the source for our mold. We could see it in the testing, but we could not find a single source for it. A good inspector will look with his/her eyes as well as use tools like a 1) moisture meter, 2) thermal imaging camera, and 3) relative humidity meter. These three tools will help your inspector “look” for signs of water damage in walls, ceilings, and more. Sometimes mold is not visual to the naked eye, so these tools along with a good inspector can really help get you answers.
- AT HOME PETRI DISH TESTING/GROWING: This type of testing, found HERE, can be a great start to digging into mold issues. It is cost effective and easy to execute. It will not necessarily give you all the answers but if you have visual mold, it can show you what type of visual mold you have and what general level of growth is happening.
- AT HOME LATERAL GROWTH ASSAY: While not the best test, THIS is another at home test that can tell you whether certain types of molds are present after swabbing. It does not quantify them, just identifies as a positive or negative result (think pregnancy test).
So now you’ve received some type of elevated testing, whether from your home or body, and you’re now looking to remediate. What do you look for in a remediator and how do you know they are doing it the RIGHT way?
First, if you hired a reputable mold inspector, they should be able to recommend a plan of remediation based on their findings. It may include fixing a pipe issue and replacing affected drywall. Or it may involve removing carpet and cleaning the ductwork and coils of your HVAC systems. Proper remediation will look different depending on the source of your mold problem. But here are some things you’ll want to ensure:
- Areas that need to be remediated (like drywall replacement) should be contained (enclosed) with negative air pressure. Ask the remediation company if this is how they remove mold
- The containment plastic needs to be a minimum thickness. It should be at least 6 millimeters
- Air scrubbers should be run to capture airborne mold spores while they are remediating and AFTER the remediation is done for a few days
- Ask the remediators how they clean mold on surfaces. Mold cannot be cleaned with bleach. You can ask what products they use and look them up to see what the general consensus is on them
- Remediators should be wearing respirators, disposable gloves and paper overalls. They should also wear eye protection. These things should be taken off and disposed of properly so that they do not contaminate more of your home
- Infected drywall, flooring, and other contaminated materials should be disposed of properly and should not be dragged loosely throughout the house or to the door.
What other things can I use in my home to minimize mold spore circulation and to help kill mycotoxins?
There are a lot of products on the market that are easily accessible and can help you make your home safer. Here are a few:
- Air Filters – there are several very pricey filters available, some with ozone and some without. They are IQ AIR, Molekule, Austin Air, and Alen Air. You want an air purifier to have True HEPA and possibly a carbon filter. You also want them to capture 99% of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns. Less expensive options include the Germ Guardian (we have this one which noticeably freshens the air in the room) and the SilverOnyx which has most of the bells and whistles for much less.
- Homebiotic – This is a product which is basically like a probiotic for inside your home. It can be sprayed on surfaces of all types including curtains, carpet, linens and hard surfaces. It was partially developed by Dave Asprey and can be found HERE.
- EC3 – This brand of products has multiple items including a laundry additive and a candle. You can also get a home fogger to help with airborne spores and mycotoxins. They also have a mold spray HERE.
- Topical Cleaners – This one HERE is good for cleaning up visible mold topically. Remember that if you have mold on an interior wall, there is a good chance that there is mold BEHIND the wall so you want to be very cautious in ONLY cleaning topically. This is why proper mold investigation is important. However, if you have growth on surface areas like concrete blocks or tile, this can be very useful.
- Foggers – I have used foggers in the past, I do not recall the brand and plan to do so again in this house, but do not currently have one to recommend since I have not used on here yet. I will update this when I do with the results.