“Real Talk” With Dr. Susan Tanner About Her Personal Mold Illness Story

By Catherine Fruechtenicht

Personal connection and the comfort of a shared experience can be a powerful thing, especially when you are suffering from a chronic, unexplained illness. Just knowing someone else has gone through the same struggles lessens the feelings of being misunderstood or completely alone. And, even though our doctors are sometimes our best health advocates and allies, it isn’t often that they have also suffered from our same illness and symptoms, but environmental medical doctor, Dr. Susan Tanner, MD, knows mold. She has “been there, done that” when it comes to mold’s devastating effects on the body. You see, some 20-years ago, Dr. Tanner became sick with myriad, scary health symptoms (severe fatigue, sleep disturbances, frequent urination, leg weakness, sinus infections, and impaired balance, just to name a few) from exposure to hidden mold in her home and in the barn on her property where she raised horses. At the time, she, like many of her current mold patients, didn’t know exactly where to turn or what to do. But with the power of suggestion from courses she was taking from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), she investigated and pinpointed mold as the cause and was able to heal her body and fully recover.

Dr. Tanner’s Mold Story

In a previous article, Dr. Tanner wrote about her story with mold, so I will not recount it in its entirety but will say that like most people who suffer from mold illness, mold wasn’t on her radar as a danger to her health until she was sick and looking for answers. At the time when Dr. Tanner first experienced symptoms, she was a busy doctor with a thriving medical practice, two young children, and was running a horse farm. Sufficient sleep, proper eating, and exercise were afterthoughts. When she first started to feel fatigued and “off” and experienced her first sinus infection ever, she just chalked it up to burning the candle at both ends. Then, when neurological symptoms, like balance issues and brain fog started to mount, she knew something more than just life’s hurdles were triggering her immune system to react overexuberantly. It was then that she dug into some of the teachings of her AAEM courses on the toxic effects of mold and consulted her environmental medicine mentor Dr. Alan Liebermann of South Carolina about some of her symptoms. His response? “It sounds like it could be mold.” Soon, a certified mold inspector and building biologist investigated her home and, bingo, a major, but hidden mold issue was found within the walls.

Dr. Tanner’s Approach to Healing Her Body

With mold, an exposure-triggered illness, the road to healing and recovery can be overwhelming. Mold is everywhere, so treatment must include the air you breathe, the food you eat and helping your body to detox the mold toxins (mycotoxins) already overloading and sometimes infecting your system. Even though Dr. Tanner had years of medical training and clinical experience under her belt, treating mold illness was quite new and uncharted territory at the time when she got sick, with little to go by in the way of diagnosis and protocols. Dr. Tanner had to take what she knew about environmental and toxicity-based illnesses and pair it with what she understood about the body’s detoxification systems and initiate her own healing process.

Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Dr. Tanner about the nuances of her mold journey—from dealing with her moldy home and belongings, to finding a new safe place to live, to what detox actions and supplements actually moved the needle in a positive way for her health—she was her own guinea pig, after all. What follows are helpful details on how she healed from the mold. I think our conversation will show that 1.) there is no “right way” or “best protocol” for healing—everyone’s situation and body is different, 2.) despite those differences, there are some pillars of healing from mold that anyone can institute, and lastly, but most importantly, 3.) healing, no matter who you are, IS possible.

Me: Thank you for speaking with me today. I understand from your story that you had to continue living in the home that was making you sick for some time before you were able to move to a safe, mold-free environment. Can you talk a little bit about the Band-Aid approaches you were taking in your home so that you could start to heal while still living there?

Dr. Tanner: We had to find the issue causing the mold in our home first, which we did. We had foil wrap installed on top of the insulation to conserve energy when the house was being built. This had created a huge humidity issue within the walls. The mold was hidden but was evident when we removed things like electrical outlet covers and saw it growing on the other side of them. Since I also had a horse barn on our property, I was back and forth from the house to the barn constantly. The barn flooded every time it rained, so there was a mold issue there too. So, not only was the hidden mold inside our home, but I was also being exposed in the barn and dragging all that mold back into the house with me. Our approach had to take these factors into consideration. I worked with the mold inspector and building biologist to come up with some temporary solutions.

  1. We fogged the home frequently and thoroughly. At the time, the EC3 products that I use now were not available, so we used a thermal fog. It was a natural fog, but we had to leave the home while it was being done. It wasn’t harmful but could be a respiratory irritant if inhaled directly.
  2. We placed IQ Airs in all rooms where we spent a lot of time, especially in the bedrooms. The additional filtration and purification were important since we couldn’t totally remove the source.
  3. I stopped going to the barn completely. I accepted that my horse days were over because I just couldn’t continue to have that constant mold exposure. I also couldn’t continue to bring that additional mold into my home. It was definitely a shift in priorities but had to be done for my health.
  4. I stayed with other people and in other places whenever I could.
  5. We used portable dehumidifiers in many areas of our home to control the indoor humidity as much as possible. We watched the moisture meters and kept the humidity under 50%. I am actually of the belief now that indoor humidity needs to be lower than 50% for optimal health from a mold perspective. I keep indoor humidity at 44% now and tell my patients to do the same.

Me: How long was it until you could get out of your home?

Dr. Tanner: Just over a year. But with those things in place, I was able to start recovering and feeling significantly better. I tell my patients to do similar things when they cannot leave a moldy home or cannot remediate immediately. I tell them to take a similar Band-Aid approach or, at the very least, to make one room their safe place. The bedroom usually ends up being that room. They can purchase an EC3 fogger, wash their clothing and bedding with the laundry additive, and can buy an IQ Air or a less expensive model air purifier—Honeywell makes one that is less expensive but does a good job—to make that a safe place for them. You just have to do whatever you can to start getting out of the exposure. You really cannot start healing until you lessen the toxic assault on your body.

Me: When you left, what things did you do to ensure you were going to a safe place?

Dr. Tanner:  I actually rented until I could find a safe home. I also had the same mold inspector who helped us with our home come to look at houses with me. He was a huge help and could see many things about a way a home was built that were problems or that could be problematic. I now have my own moisture meter and do some real estate as a side business. I won’t even allow my clients to enter some homes, because I know they are not safe from a mold perspective.

Me: What things did you do to heal your body? Was there a step-by-step process or protocol that you were following?

Dr. Tanner: At the time when I was sick, there wasn’t really an established mold protocol in place. There wasn’t even really testing I was able to do or knew about for mold specifically. I had done all the standard bloodwork to rule out MS (multiple sclerosis) because of the balance issues I was having, but, other than that, I just started doing the things I knew to do for toxicity and for fungus. I did learn about Dr. Dennis and the things he was doing to treat mold in his sinusitis patients from an allergist in my office, but that was really all I knew about it at the time. If I had to give you a list, it would be—

  1. Doing the interventions in my home and getting to a safe environment eventually as I said before.
  2. Changing my diet to remove sugars and things that can foster yeast and mold in the body. This also meant incorporating more healthy fats into my diet. I had heard Patricia Kane speak about fats and phospholipids and was taking a lot of her work and protocols to heart in many of the dietary things I was doing. Diet is a big piece of getting better and is not as hard as many people think it will be.
  3. I also did nasal irrigation going by Dr. Dennis’s protocol.
  4. From a sinus perspective, I used antifungals, like Diflucan.
  5. A HUGELY beneficial treatment for me was IV glutathione and phosphatidylcholine. IV pushes made a noticeable difference for me every single time.
  6. Binders for general detox were helpful for me. I used a binder very similar to GI Detox.
  7. Hormonal support was big for me too. I did not have Growth Hormone insufficiency, but I did need to address my thyroid and my adrenals. I still take thyroid to this day.
  8. Sweating—sauna and exercise to help remove toxins.
  9. Emotional support is always important for mold patients. This is something many people and doctors miss and discount too much. EMDR was helpful to me. Meditation is helpful. Craniosacral therapy is also helpful. Whatever you can do to help release all of the nervous energy and the anxiety is helpful for healing. You just have to find what works for you.

Me: What things do you do now to keep yourself well and to avoid going down the “moldy” path again?

Dr. Tanner: I am still very careful about where I go. If I walk in somewhere and smell mold, I leave. My reactions are now a lot less, but I am still careful. I stay on glutathione. I know some people don’t, but I find it extremely helpful. And, as I said earlier, I still take thyroid to help support my body and to keep my energy levels up. I try to exercise or sweat daily—I love Peleton—and keep to a relatively clean diet. I also monitor my sleep and heart rate variability with an Oura Ring. Now I also spend a good portion of my time in Florida and have a home there. The fresh salt air is so cleansing and wonderful for my body and my health.

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