Learning to Live Mold-Free and “Normal” After Mold Illness

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

One of the questions that I frequently get from patients once they have been diagnosed with mold illness is, “Will I EVER live a normal life again?” Mold is obviously a ubiquitous organism and seems to be quite inescapable, especially when one has become hypersensitized to it and is hyperaware of its presence. Thus, this question of being able to lead a “normal” life in a moldy world is very understandable. Also, and equally applicable, is the question of how to protect oneself from subsequent mold exposures once one is getting better or is considered to be getting over the symptoms of mold and mycotoxins. Is normalcy after mold illness ever truly possible? And, if so, what does “normal” even look like?

First of all, to answer the big, underlying question of if recovery from mold-illness is possible, my answer is, “YES!” Getting well from mold and ALL of the downstream effects and symptoms is indeed possible. I know, because I went through it myself and am here to tell the tale. However, what I would like to point out is that health is always a product of total body load. Thus, your daily living environment plays a leading role in your total body load or toxic load.  As a matter of fact, one of the many gifts of going through mold illness is gaining a newfound appreciation for one’s environment. Many of my patients become healthier in the long run as a result of dealing with the mold. Other gifts of mold-related illness are the awareness of how to get and stay healthier, as well as the appreciation for the body’s remarkable resiliency and ability to settle down and heal when given the requisites to do so; these things being clean air, clean water, and clean food.  I actually have had many patients who feel more energetic and demonstrate healthier blood levels of many nutritional and hormonal markers after their recovery than they did before they became ill. There is nothing like losing your health a vitality to truly make you appreciate and safeguard it in the future.

A New Normal

That then leads us to the HOW, as in, how in the world does one live a “normal” life in a moldy world? One of the most important things to remember in living life after mold illness is to never become complacent.  You do not have to live in a bubble, though, to still be vigilant when it comes to mold. Being aware of the presence and impact of mold will always be and SHOULD be important, but fear has no place here. If you are going through healing from mold illness or have been through it, you have the tools to navigate the path of continued wellness. You have experience under your belt and know how your body feels and behaves when confronted with a moldy environment. Trust your body to navigate you and be thankful that you now know a major cause of what sets your body off-kilter.

The MOST important piece of mold vigilance is being aware of the air that you breathe. Ensuring you are breathing clean, filtered, mold-free air in your indoor environments is the first article in maintaining your health going forward. Notice I said, “in your indoor environments.” I specified because if there is mold indoors, it is because of water damage or a mold source that should not be present. The concentration of mold spores indoors is magnified and is much more inflammatory to your body and immune system. It water-damage molds should not be inside your home, and thus you should protect yourself from breathing in those mold spores and the mycotoxins they produce.

A point that was brought to my attention by a well-known and thorough Building Biologist is the fact that we can live without food for over 30 days, and life without water might be sustained for up to 7 days, but life without air is over in about 2 minutes for most humans. This gives some perspective, then, in where we might need to put our first focus, on the air that we breathe, particularly in our homes where we spend the majority of our time.  Lungs immediately disseminate chemicals, including mycotoxins, into the bloodstream that then challenge our various organ systems.   It would then make sense that continued good health is very dependent on the quality of the air in which we are surrounded.

My Tips for Maintaining a Mold-Free and Healthy Home

While many home environments can be made to work to sustain healing and overall health, certainly some are easier than others to maintain within the needed parameters for someone who is especially mold- or environmentally sensitive. From my experience, the following list is a condensed version of “rules” to sustain a mold-free and healthy indoor environment:

1. Control indoor moisture. Mold loves water and any moisture source allows it to grow and thrive. Therefore, controlling these factors is of paramount importance in keeping mold away.  Any water intrusion or accidents must be cleaned and dried promptly. If porous materials have been saturated, such as sheetrock, then it needs to be removed and replaced as soon as possible.

2. Keep indoor humidity levels below 48%. Humidity is moisture and should be included in #1, but humidity levels indoors are so important to be kept down to keep mold at bay that I thought I would give the topic separate billing. During the summer months, controlling humidity can be difficult.  The presence of a basement or crawlspace, if not properly sealed and treated, can be a setup for problems within the house. I advise my patients to purchase several humidity monitors and place them in various locations within their homes. This is an inexpensive way to keep an eye on this potential for mold growth.  If consistent elevations of humidity are present, then installation of either portable or central dehumidifiers will be necessary. It may also alert you to places inside your home where the outdoor air exchange is particularly high and may need addressing.

3. Monitor mold levels with inexpensive testing. Periodically use mold plates to see if your home or belongings have increased levels of mold spores. This is quick, easy, and inexpensive. (HERE is an article for more on this topic.)

4. Use non-toxic mold cleaning products on a maintenance-type approach. Micro Balance Health Products has an EC3 line of environmental products perfect for everyday use. They even sell candles for the air and a laundry additive for clothing and bedding. Let them become a part of your regular cleaning and maintenance routine.

5. Use air filtration devices. You may already have a central air filtration device, such as an Aprilaire unit, but proper maintenance of any filtration unit must be done.  Alternatively, the use of a portable HEPA air filter, especially in the bedroom, helps keep particulates down, which, in turn, can keep respiratory passages less inflamed and less of a target when going into potentially unhealthy air situations that have not been addressed, such as friends’ homes, churches, and other buildings.  Creating an “oasis” in your own home will help your resiliency as you are out and about in the world.

6. Take action to increase your mold resiliency. Your resiliency may determine just how much you can tolerate mold exposures as you travel, visit, and attend functions. I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to listen to your body.  If you feel unwell in ANY environment, leave as quickly as you can.  Then, irrigate your nasal passages with a Nasopure irrigation kit along with several drops of CitriDrops Dietary Supplement.  Use CitriDrops Nasal Spray three times a day, until all symptoms subside.  If you are in a situation where you cannot leave quickly, then get outside, regardless of weather, and breathe outdoor air.  Take extra doses of glutathione and use binders such as GI Detox to immediately address the inflammatory aspects of mycotoxins.  These all need to be part of a “first aid kit” that you keep on hand. Sinus Defense is also helpful to use every day, mold exposure or not, to increase your immune intelligence to mold.

Additional Mold Tips for Renters

For those of you who live in apartments or condos, there are a few things to look for here.  If at all possible, try to live on the top floor and an end unit.  There is less chance of a water intrusion event if no one is living above you.  This position in the building structure also gives you a better opportunity to control your indoor air quality with less chance of mixed air from other units.  Similarly, if living in a townhome, having an end unit is desirable as there is only one shared wall.  Additionally, do not expect that landlords will necessarily be knowledgeable about mold!  Often the solution to a water event is to paint over the damage or to apply bleach to kill the mold. Be prepared to present your case or move out if they refuse to do what is necessary.  Otherwise, do the same things as advised to homeowners above.

On a Personal Note

On a personal level, I can tell you that this is a path I have navigated for nearly 20 years.  Perhaps I am lucky in that when I am exposed to moldy environments, I do get a few tell-tale symptoms that alert me to leave.  I don’t smell mold particularly, but rather feel “off-balance” and a strange tingling in my lower legs and feet. I have personally taken the steps that I outlined above, and have lived in several different locations throughout these 20 years. Each move has required that I do the same property vetting, humidity monitoring, mitigation, and air filtering.  I monitor my home with mold plates, and fog when necessary.  But has it been worth it?  If you consider the fact that I live a normal life, travel when possible, and bounce back from minor exposures, then I believe that answers the question.