Toxic mold exposure is on the rise, and most people aren’t even aware they’re at risk, according to experts.
“There are millions of people suffering from mold toxicity that don’t know it because it’s going majorly undiagnosed,” said Dr. Neil Nathan, a Board Certified Family Physician and author of the book “Toxic” (Victory Belt Publishing).
Mold, which releases mycotoxins in the air due to water damage, is often invisible with the naked eye, but dangerous to those with toxin sensitivities. Nathan said not everyone who is exposed to mold gets sick.
“We do believe that it’s somewhat genetic so certain people are more genetically predisposed to it than others,” Nathan said. “So you can have several people living in a moldy environment and only one of them will get sick.”
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Doctors estimate 25 percent of the population (or 1 in 4 people) have the gene that makes them more susceptible to mold sensitivities. Some of the symptoms for mold toxicity include fatigue, headaches, nausea, anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, muscle aches, brain fog, weight gain, adrenal fatigue and sensitivities to light and sound. Nathan, who has a website for mold toxicity resources (www.neilnathanmd.com) said it’s never too late to get treatment, but curing it can only happen by clearing all toxic mold from your home, office, car and eventually the body.
“My symptoms got so bad that it affected everything,” said Chicago radio personality Kathy Hart, who discovered she’s one of the “susceptible 25 percent” after being misdiagnosed by several doctors and specialists.
“One neurologist told me I was just ‘stressed’ and that I needed to see a psychiatrist, and I walked out of his office in tears,” said Hart, who was suffering from headaches, dizziness, adrenal fatigue, panic attacks and noise and light sensitivities. “I’d been to two different neurologists, an eye doctor, and they all said it was just stress. It was finally my physical therapist that suggested I look into mold.”
Physical therapist Michelle Dwyer, who initially treated Hart for vestibular symptoms such as vertigo and dizziness, said many of her patients with chronic issues discover mold to be part of the reason they aren’t fully recovering.
“We only have a few physicians in our area who know about mold and the reason they do is because they’ve been through it themselves,” said Dwyer, who was treated for mold toxicity after discovering her home had water damage. “If more medical professionals got educated about mold toxicity and its effects on the human body, there would be fewer cases of misdiagnosis. They came out with studies in 2017 that showed mold can be a direct link to Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia, and once these patients get treatment for mold, their symptoms improved. Cognitive impairment is a big factor with mold. So is muscle and joint pain and lethargy, which can be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, the list goes on.”
Nathan agreed and said many doctors need to consider a person’s environment when assessing their symptoms.
“These illnesses are increasing and if we do not grasp this, take it seriously and monitor our exposure, all of us are going to be sick,” Nathan said.
Here are tips to treat and diagnose mold toxicity/sensitivities.
Dwyer and Nathan recommend www.survivingmold.com or www.ISEAI.org as resources for testing and diagnosing mold toxicity.
“The single most useful way to find out is to do a urine mycotoxin test,” Nathan said. “This is simply collecting the urine, mailing it to the company and then they measure. If you get a positive test in the urine, this means there is an excess amount of toxin in you and you need to get to work on treating it.”
“After you test yourself, you need to have your home checked and there are tests you can do at home where you’re just taking a wipe and wiping the surfaces,” Dwyer said.
Do your research
“Consumers need to be careful because there are some companies who will always find mold and insist that they can remove it for six figures,” Nathan said. “Be discerning and only use people who come highly recommended by trusted sources.”
Don’t rule anything out
Nathan and Dwyer said mold can live anywhere, old or new construction. All it takes is 48 hours for it to develop.
“I lived in a condo that had been rehabbed and it looked fine but I found out the roof had leaked for years before I moved in there so I was slowly getting exposed,” Dwyer said. “And college dorm rooms now are under scrutiny. So many places go unchecked, it’s up to you to be your own advocate.”
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“I know someone who had dogs who peed on the carpet so much that the wood underneath started growing mold and they were affected,” Hart said. “There are so many different sources.”
Dwyer said to get an air purifier in your home and bedrooms with a “good HEPA filter.”
“I also teach my patients to do lymphatic massage on themselves to help with the drainage,” Dwyer said. “And intense sweating from an infrared sauna or Epsom salt bath are great ways to clear toxins out.”
Get inspired to do something about it
“I felt like I was going crazy because no doctor could tell me what was wrong,” Hart said. “Sadly, it’s common for many people to feel that way because much of the medical community isn’t familiar with these mold illnesses. I hope that by sharing my story, it will bring much needed awareness to the condition and help those who are suffering finally get properly diagnosed.”
Jenniffer Weigel is the director of community relations for the Sun-Times and has a lifelong interest in wellness and related topics. She’s a frequent contributor to the Wednesday Well section.