Making Mold and Environmental Illness Part of the Conversation
By Catherine Fruechtenicht
This week, September 23-27, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared its 3rd annual Fungal Disease Awareness Week. The CDC’s campaign is centered around building awareness, education, and vigilance around the topics of fungal infections and disease. The tag line, “Think Fungus”, is used to promote the notion that if you are sick and experiencing health symptoms that do not go away or respond to “typical” treatment, like OTC medications or antibiotics, you should be tested, evaluated, and treated accordingly for a fungal infection. By increasing the public’s fungal awareness, the CDC hopes to mitigate the rise in fungal infections and disease and to be better equipped to deal with antifungal resistant pathogens, like Candida Auris, that cause systemic infection and eventually death, if left undiscovered and untreated.
The Public Health Approach to Fungal Disease
The CDC is a government agency, so its members obviously approach the topic of fungus from a public health standpoint; their aim is to keep the population safe and informed. Included in the week’s educational materials are information on:
- Opportunistic fungal infections, like cryptococcosis and aspergillosis, and why they are becoming increasingly problematic;
- Hospital-associated infections, like candidemia, and why they are becoming drug resistant and harder to protect from and treat;
- Community-acquired infections, such as Valley Fever, blastomycosis, and histoplasmosis. This part is aimed at educating the public about the environmental fungi that cause these infections and the specific geographic areas where they are located.
There is also ample information on the website about what the CDC is actively doing to find, test for, protect against, and treat these fungal infections and diseases. Much of the material, as it should be, is based on “best practices” for not spreading infections, and for protecting yourself, especially if you are among the most susceptible population for fungal diseases (elderly, very young, immunocompromised, hospitalized, or on immunosuppressant medication for conditions, like Crohn’s disease), or for alerting your doctor if certain symptoms of fungal infection arise (fever, flu-like symptoms, pneumonia that does not resolve with antibiotics, etc.). But, while all of this information is tremendously educational and helpful, and a true WIN for a movement forward in healthcare, there is still A LOT missing when it comes to fungus.
But, Where is the Mold?
If you explore the CDC website, you can definitely find wonderful information on mold in indoor environments and the dangers of mold exposure after hurricanes and flooding, but direct mention of mold and mold-related illness is not present on the Fungal Disease Awareness Week page. The indoor mold piece that should be connected with “think fungus”, in my opinion, is glaringly missing.
Why is no one mentioning or talking about mold-related illness and toxicity? Why isn’t there mention of the connection between Candida overgrowth, yeast and opportunistic fungal infections with inhaled mold spores from a “sick” indoor environment? My best guess is that these topics are vast and controversial–environmental mold is still not accepted by the mainstream medical establishment as a cause for non-allergic or asthma-related sickness and disease.
Also absent is mention of the connection between inflammation and lowered immunity to fungal infections that is caused by living in a moldy indoor environment. In other words, fungal infections and disease might not be such an issue if we weren’t living in working in sick, water-damaged homes and buildings. If we are spending more and more of our time indoors inhaling fungus, I have to think that there is some causal relationship. I know it seems to be a chicken-or-the-egg question that can never be answered, but, to me, it is worth a mention, especially when public health is the concern. With so many people these days battling autoimmune conditions (myself included), chronic illness, and the resultant suppressed immunity, our defenses for these fungal pathogens are decreasing rapidly, or are just plain shot from the get-go. I can’t help but think of Olivia Paregol as I write this. Her story is tragic, and although it was never labelled as such, was, in my opinion, triggered by the high levels of mold in her dorm room.
My Mold Illness Story
I want to acknowledge how wonderful it is that this week of free information and resources is even occurring. When I think about how far I have come in my personal journey with mold-triggered illness, having fungus as the weeklong focus from a trusted medical resource, like the CDC, is validating and hopeful, even if I feel that the total “fungal picture” of illness and disease isn’t being talked about.
You see, only a few short years ago, my family and I were in the throes of a mold nightmare of our own. We were plagued with medical problems and sickness that no one could really figure out or treat successfully. We had a difficult-to-impossible time of finding doctors or health care practitioners who would take us and our debilitating symptoms seriously.
I remember the mere mention of mold as a possible trigger for our failing health being met with skepticism and swift dismissal from our doctors. I was told that indoor mold could cause asthma and respiratory issues, but not the intestinal and digestive problems, anxiety, skin reactions, insomnia, joint pain, extreme fatigue, and headaches that we were experiencing. But, with our constantly changing and worsening symptoms, I felt like, maybe, I was onto something with the mold, even though no one was listening or concerned.
Today, I am glad that I wasn’t complacent. Today I am glad that I proactively “thought fungus” for my family. It was in doing so that I finally found a doctor who listened to my worries and asked specific questions about my symptoms in relation to my environment. He also cultured my nasal passages, and ordered urine mycotoxin testing on me and my children. By doing so, he found inflammation, infection, and the pathogenic mold that seemed to be the source of our health problems. That led to a thorough investigation of our home and to us getting out of the environment that was making us sick. That was, of course, only the beginning of a VERY long road to back to health, but it was the start that we desperately needed to heal. If no one had ever treated us for the mold and if we had continued living in the moldy environment, we would all be in a very bad place today.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It is often helpful to start the “fungal awareness” conversation with some “big picture” basics. These ideas are established and accepted on the larger scale, so they are easier to talk about. They also help to start the conversation about fungus. Knowing the following facts will help you to identify fungal infections and illness and obtain proper treatment.
Fungal awareness basics:
- Fungal infections like Candida in your bloodstream are less common, but can cause serious illness or even death!
- Inhaling fungal particles in the air or simply touching fungi on surfaces can cause fungal infections.
- Serious fungal infections are more likely to develop in people with weakened immune systems, or those taking immune-inhibiting medications.
- Fungal diseases are often not diagnosed immediately, because their symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases.
The Mold-Triggered Illness Conversation
Now, let’s zoom in a little, to focus on mold and mold illness more specifically. Symptoms of mold illness may not be as pronounced or as seemingly urgent, but, if left untreated, are equally as damaging. Mold illness symptoms tend to be chronic and debilitating and do not respond to typical medical treatment and interventions. Thus, knowing what steps to take to get a proper diagnosis and to find the right help are the MOST important pieces to the puzzle.
What follows are steps to take to begin the “mold” conversation with a loved one, or to help determine whether or not mold is affecting your health:
1.) Ask the right questions about symptoms AND environment.
Start with this basic list. Go down it and mark your answers. I included a straightforward range of common mold-related symptoms and common environmental cues that indicate mold. If you find yourself saying, “yes,” to 5 or more questions on this list, it is likely that mold may be a factor in your illness.
Questions to ask:
(Note: This is not a comprehensive list. Just some key indicators.)
- Has my home or living space had water damage?
- Does my home smell musty?
- Does my home have humidity over 50% indoors?
- Is there water in my crawlspace or basement?
- Is there condensation on my indoor vents or windows?
- Is there discoloration or water staining on ceilings or walls?
- Is there visible mold anywhere inside my home?
- Are my symptoms multi-system and not necessarily confined to one part of my body?
- Do I feel better when I spend time away from home?
- Has my level of thirst increased or do I feel constantly dehydrated?
- Am I consistently having sleep issues?
- Am I experiencing sudden weight gain or weight loss, but my diet hasn’t changed?
- Am I having trouble remembering names, directions, words?
- Do I feel wired and anxious, but physically exhausted?
- Has my tolerance for exercise decreased?
- Are foods that I used to eat without problems causing discomfort, gas, bloating, diarrehea or constipation?
- Do I have joint pain or increased inflammation?
- Have I been on multiple courses of antibiotics for infections without improvement in symptoms?
- Have I recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition?
- Do I get frequent static shocks?
- Do I have chronic sinus symptoms, sinus infections, or strep throat?
- Has my level of anger, agitation, or depression increased?
- Do I crave alcohol and sugar?
- Do I have acid reflux or frequent burping?
If you were saying, “yes,” to many questions on this list, keep working your way down.
2.) Take a Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test (VCS Test).
Test results can be a strong indicator of mold- or biotoxin-related illness. Many free or inexpensive version of this test are available online. For best and most accurate results, perform the test under the guidance of a mold-literate doctor in their office.
3.) Do some inexpensive testing and detective work of your environments.
Before you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on mold testing or inspections, you can do some basic looking around and testing yourself. You have nothing to lose. This will not give you diagnostics or solutions, but it will give you insight and answers that you did not have before. You can:
- Use mold test plates to test your home, car, work, school, etc. You can purchase these very inexpensively and have a field day testing any place you spend time. They are not perfect and will not pick up everything, but they will give you a decent indication of whether or not there is a problem.
- Walk around your home and look for signs of mold and water damage. Most mold is hidden, but many times, you will see indicators of that hidden mold. It may be peeling paint. It may be discoloration. It may be warped building materials. There are many helpful websites and articles that can help you know what to look for and where to look.
- Inspect your mechanical systems. Your HVAC and water heater need your attention. Get up close and personal with them and see if you see signs of mold.
- Pull out your appliances and look behind them. It is a pain, but most people never look. Pull out your washer, your refrigerator, and your dishwasher. Look behind them for leaks and signs of water damage.
- Take notes of where you feel the best and worst in your home. This becomes important if you find a problem or are sick, but cannot find a problem. Your notes might lead you to the source of the hidden mold issue.
4.) Do some simple mold-focused interventions to see if your symptoms improve.
It isn’t rocket science, but initiating some mold-focused interventions to see if you get health improvements can give you a lot of information about whether or not mold is causing your symptoms. (Note: Some of these are for your environment and some are for your body. None are off-the-charts expensive.)
- Take a mold sabbatical. That’s right–leave your moldy environment and take nothing with you to see if your symptoms improve. You cannot know if your environment is causing your health issues if you don’t get out of it. Leaving for at least 5 days without anything from the moldy environment can tell you a lot about how your health is being affected by it.
- Wash your nose out 2-3 times daily with an added natural antifungal. The nose is a major entry point to the body for mold spores and fungal fragments. Washing frequently with nasal rinsing system and adding an antifungal will give you relief, even if sinus symptoms are not your major problem. The rinsing stops the mold from getting in a wrecking havoc on your body. It is not a cure, but it is a reprieve.
- Increase your immunity to mold, while decreasing your inflammatory response to mold. Sinus Defense is a homeopathic and safe product that works similarly to the way that immunotherapy works by using transfer factor to increase the innate immune response to mold antigens. By increasing the innate response, the inflammatory response decreases. This can significantly improve symptoms, because as the body becomes less inflamed, it can heal.
- Take steps to address mold in your indoor air. Start treating the inside of your home for mold to see if you feel better. This will not remove the cause of the mold in the first place, but will help you to start recovering. Things you can do are burning EC3 Candles in your living areas, fogging your rooms and things with EC3, reducing indoor humidity with dehumidifiers, using air purification and filtration devices to clean the air, HEPA vacuuming to remove dust and dirt, washing laundry with EC3 Laundry Additive to remove mold from clothing and bedding, and using EC3 Mold Spray on rugs, furnishings, pets, and inside your car. All of these actions will lessen the indoor mold load and will help you to see if mold is, indeed, the major problem for your health.
5.) Find qualified, trained professionals who can help you test and treat your home and your body.
Once you know that mold in your environment is affecting your health, you may need qualified professionals to help you navigate mold remediation and/or medical treatment. What follows are resources for locating people that can help you.
Environmental professional resources:
(Note: Make sure that anyone performing mold testing on your home does not also do the remediation work. That is a conflict of interest.)
- The Indoor Air Quality Association
- American Council for Accredited Certification
- The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification
- Building Biology Institute
Medical practitioner resources:
- The American Academy of Environmental Medicine
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
- The International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness
- My blog post on finding a practitioner
- Blog post on Paradigm Change (which is also an excellent resource on mold illness in general) on finding a mold-literate practitioner
Was this information helpful and informative? I hope so. If you would like to read more articles like this or learn more about me, visit Mold Free Living. You can also comment below or email me directly at email@example.com.
Please Check Out the Other Articles for this Week: