Could it be mold? What to do if you suspect toxic Mold
So you think you might be dealing with a mold issue. Maybe you found visible mold in your house and you’re wondering if it’s making you sick. Or maybe, like me, you’ve been dealing with mysterious symptoms that no one’s been able to diagnose for you and you’re starting to wonder if something deeper is going on.
When I found out toxic mold was behind years of mysterious symptoms, I was both relieved and terrified. I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis after being brushed off by doctors. But I was terrified and confused at what to do next and what this meant for my body, my family, and my home.
I thought it would be helpful to share the steps I took to come to this diagnosis and to resolve it and move forward. Though as I’m writing this I’m still very much in this mess, I’m starting to come through and see the light on the other side. Here are the steps I took and things to consider if you suspect mold is a problem for you.
TEST YOURSELF FOR MYCOTOXINS
If you’re wondering if mold is causing your health issues, you should start by testing your body for mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals that are released into the air by mold and fungus, kind of like a toxic off-gassing. You can’t see them, but if there is mold, there are mycotoxins.
It’s estimated that 25% of the population has a genetic predisposition that makes it very difficult for our bodies to rid themselves of the mycotoxins once exposed. As a result, they can colonize and begin to wreak havoc on our bodies.
A mycotoxin test is a urine test that can screen for the presence of mycotoxins in the body. This is helpful for two reasons: 1. it’s a diagnostic tool and tell you for sure if mold is making you sick and 2. it can be cross-referenced with a mold test in your house, car, or workplace so you can confirm where your exposure is likely coming from.
I use Great Plains Labs Mycotox Profile for mycotoxin screening. This can be ordered by Naturopaths, Functional Medicine Practitioners, some NTPs (like myself), and others and retails for $300.
If you already know you’re in a place with mold and you don’t feel well, chances are good you will find mycotoxins in your body. You could still test just so you know what your levels are and what kind you’re dealing with, but if you’re looking to save money, you could probably forego this and move on to step 2.
FIND THE SOURCE
Once you get your Mycotox results back and you know mold is causing you problems, the very next thing you need to do is find the source. Sometimes mold is very visible and obvious. Other times, it’s hidden behind walls, behind wall paper, under carpet, in crawl spaces or basements, in the HVAC system, in your car, etc.
Mold will thrive in damp, humid places. If you’ve ever had water damage to your home from flooding, a burst pipe or leaking appliance, or a leaky roof, those are all good places to start investigating.
If you can see visible mold, you should start by calling a mold remediater in your area to come assess the area and look for any other signs of possible water damage and mold growth. It’s best to get several opinions as not all mold remediaters are created equal. In fact, many of them don’t understand just how sick mold can make some of us. You need to find someone who takes this seriously, understands the dangers of mold, and will remediate appropriately.
If you’re in Northwest Ohio or Southeast Michigan, I used Mold Pro, LLC. I cannot recommend them enough. They were extremely knowledgeable and helpful throughout the whole process. They also perform chemical free remediation, which is important as most people dealing with mycotoxin illness have developed multiple chemical sensitivities, and harsh chemicals sometimes used to clean mold can make us feel worse.
If you tested positive for mycotoxins yet have no idea where the mold is coming from and how you’re getting exposed, a good next step would be to test your home, car, and workplace for mold spores.
There are a few different mold tests on the market, all of which have their pros and cons.
One option is air testing with agar plates through Immunolytics labs. This is what we did as it was a more affordable option and allowed us to test specific rooms, our cars, and workplace for mold.
These are basically petri dishes that you sit out for an hour to catch any airborne spores. Then, you wrap it up and send it back to the lab for analysis.
You’ll put one plate in each room you want to test. It’s recommended to test your main living spaces you spend the most time in, your car, your workplace, and your basement or crawlspace, if you have one.
Air testing will give you an idea if you need to further investigate specific rooms for mold that might not be visible to your naked eye. Its biggest flaw is that some spores are heavier than others, and therefore are not as airborne and might not make it into the petri dish, which could give you a false negative reading.
One room in our house ranked only moderately high from these plates, but once we began remediation and took up the carpet, we revealed a LOT of mold - far more than we expected. Since the mold was trapped under carpet on the subfloor and behind the baseboards, there weren’t a lot of airborne spores. But mold was still there. This is why some people suggest using a dust collection method of testing, such as the ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index).
The ERMI works by collecting dust in your home, preferably from your carpet if you have any. Dust collection is thought to be a more accurate representation of the mold spores in your home over a longer period of time, where air sampling gives you a picture of that exact moment in time.
The sample is then analyzed and a simple algorithm is used to calculate a ratio of water damage-related species to common indoor molds and the resulting score is called the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index or ERMI. The ERMI value is typically between -10 and 20. The higher the score, the more moldy your environment.
This biggest flaw with the ERMI is you’re not able to differentiate between specific rooms in the house, your car, or your workplace. It’s also more expensive than air testing. If you want to test multiple locations, it’s going to get really expensive as the ERMI runs for around $200-$300. So, it would give you an accurate picture of the moldiness of your home, office, or car, you just won’t know what room the mold is coming from unless it’s visible, and may require a professional to come in and thoroughly examine your home for sources of mold.
ELIMINATE THE SOURCE
Once you’ve identified where your exposure is coming from, you need to eliminate the source. This is where it’s super important to find a qualified mold remediator who can effectively remove the mold safely, without stirring up more spores into your environment.
If your remediator goes into your moldy basement and doesn’t bother to wear a respirator, or at least bring one with him to your appointment, that’s not a good sign. To me, this shows they don’t consider mold a health risk. You also don’t want your remediator to say things like “this isn’t stachybotrys (“black mold”) so it’s nothing to worry about”. Black mold isn’t the only type of toxic mold!!
You’ll want to ask them how they will perform the remediation. They should create a negative pressure seal in the room they’re remediating which draws the air away from other rooms in the house as to not cross-contaminate. Use of HEPA air scrubbers is also a good indication.
CLEAN YOUR BELONGINGS THOROUGHLY
After the mold has been removed, it’s important to thoroughly clean all of your belongings for any lingering mold spores. For people who are really sensitive to mold (usually the same ones who get sick from mold besides basic respiratory issues), lingering spores can continue to cause problems.
Some practitioners suggest throwing away all your porous belongings. This means clothes, cloth furniture such as couches and chairs, mattresses, pillows, even books and other paper items. If you have the financial means to do this, then be my guest. It would be the safest route to take.
However, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have thousands of dollars laying around to replace virtually all of my belongings. You should toss anything that has visible mold on it. Then, wash everything that can be washed (clothes, blankets, drapes, couch covers, etc.) with ½ cup of Borax added to the load. You can also use EC3 as a laundry additive. The goal is to kill any lingering mold spores in the materials.
Anything that is hard (i.e. tables, chairs, etc.) you can wipe down with a mold cleaning solution. We used this mold concentrate from Citrisafe. You can use EC3 for this too. Then, we plan to fog everything with a fogger from BioBalance Now, which is a citrus-based dry fogging solution that is said to kill any airborne spores and can get into some of your porous furniture that can’t be washed.
If we do all of this and I’m still symptomatic, we will then look at getting rid of items. But I didn’t want to start with that extreme measure if it wasn’t necessary because it’s expensive.
WORK WITH A PRACTITIONER TO HEAL YOUR BODY
You can also do this simultaneously as you work through remediation in your home (trust me, it takes longer than you want it to and think it should). I recommend working with a qualified practitioner such as a Naturopathic Doctor of Functional Medicine Practitioner.
Typically, mold detox includes taking some sort of binder to bind to the mycotoxins, lots of liver support, anti-fungals, eating and drinking plenty of good, clean food and water, rest, and other detox support such as dry brushing, saunas or other methods of sweating, coffee enemas or colonics, castor oil packs, and more.
Unfortunately, not all doctors are well-versed in mold illness and what is needed to help the body heal after mold exposure. Do your due-diligence to find a doctor in your area or online that can help you. You will likely have to look beyond your traditional family physician and into the alternative and holistic health space.
GIVE YOUR BODY TIME AND SPACE TO HEAL
Lastly, healing from mold (or anything for that matter) is not an easy, straight-forward process. You will have ups and downs. Detox is tough and feels yucky as the body is literally riding itself of being poisoned. Mold remediation takes time and is not cheap.
But the good news is. YOU HAVE AN ANSWER and YOU CAN HEAL. Your body wants to heal. And it will. You can get through this, I promise. Just give your body grace and have patience with yourself.