Mold illness is a common but poorly recognized cause of many dehabilitating symptoms. As a holistic physician I commonly see many people with “a whole list” of symptoms . These patients have usually spent much money and time seeing many other physicians for a disparate group of symptoms including chronic fatigue, generalized pain, headaches, depression, sinusitis, rashes, anxiety. Allopathic medicine has been unable to medicate away the complaints, and investigations by alternative physicians into hormone deficiencies, heavy metals, food allergies and Lyme have also been unable to solve their problems. One environmental agent that can cause all of these problems, and more, that never seems to be considered in sunny Arizona, is mold.
Mold Symptoms Are Often Misdiagnosed
Mold biotoxins from black mold (Stachybotrys), Aspergillus and Fusarium can cause many disparate symptoms. Dr. Richie Shoemaker, a physician from the Eastern Shore in Maryland, has been researching mold and algae biotoxins for the last 15 years. He states the following symptoms can be consistent with mold illness:
• Breathing: Difficult, Tightness in chest, Asthma
• Diagnosis: Chronic Fatigue, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Fibromyalgia, Lyme Disease, Lupus, MS, Auto-Immune
• Emotions: irritable, anger
• Extremities: Tingling Hands and Feet
• Eyes: Blindness, Pains, Wear sunglasses, Light Sensitivity, Bloodshot eyes, loss of vision, Detached retina
• Fatigue: Chronic Fatigue (some estimate cause of up to 1/3 of chronic fatigue), postexertional fatigue
• Mental: Confusion, Absent mindedness, losing things, brain fog, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression
• Mold sensitivity: Exposure to Damp house, Mold in air ducts, Red Tide, React to mold
• Nasal: Congestion, Nasal soreness, sinusitis. A study by the Mayo clinic found that 96 percent of all sinusitis is fungal!
• Pain: pain in temples, sudden headaches, sudden, sharp, icepick like
• Sensitivity: Car fumes, Smoke, Pets, Feathers, Detergents, Toothpaste, Chlorine, Plastic cups
• Skin: Rashes, Alopecia
• Stomach: Cramps, nausea, Diarrhea
• Taste: Metallic
• Thirst: Dryness, Excessive thirst, excessive urination
• Weight Gain: Sudden, inability to lose weight despite stringent dieting and exercise
From this list of symptoms it is not difficult to understand why mold is commonly misdiagnosed. The symptoms are vague and all over the place, since toxins can affect any body organ. Making matters worse is that only 25 percent of the population seems to be sensitive to mold biotoxins. These 25 percent seem to be unable to clear mold toxins easily and efficiently. Therefore while many people may be exposed to mold in water damaged home or office building, only 25 percent will actually get really ill. Frequently the ones who get ill are considered “head cases”, that is their symptoms are deemed psychological in nature. However Dr. Shoemaker has painstakingly documented that the symptoms are extremely real and damaging. In the most severe cases of exposure multiple sclerosis, blindness and even death can result. A groundbreaking public health study, based on data from 5,882 adults in 2,982 households, has found a solid connection between damp, moldy homes and depression (Stachybotrys chartarum, trichothecene mycotoxins, and damp building-related illness: new insights into a public health enigma.Pestka JJ, Yike I, Dearborn DG, Ward MD, Harkema JR Toxicol Sci. 2008;104(1):4).
To Diagnose Mold You Need to Suspect It
The first step to diagnosing mold illness is to suspect it. However most people often see one doctor for their skin issues, another for their sinusitis and a third for their anxiety. No one puts it together that all the symptoms are being caused by mold, and the patient receives at least three different prescriptions none of which solve the problem. Anyone living in a house with mold, who is suffering from some of the previously mentioned symptoms, should consider getting more testing. One easy way to screen for biotoxin illness is the visual contrast test, which can be taken online for 15 dollars at http://www.survivingmold.com/store1/online-screening-test. Positive results are not specific for mold illness – they can also be due to candida, Lyme, petroleum toxins, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. However failing the test should prompt further investigation from a physician knowledgeable in the field. Urine testing can show the presence of mold toxins, and is done by http://www.realtimelab.com/ in Texas. Since mold toxins cause inflammation through activation of cytokines, there are also a number of lab tests which can show the effects of inflammation. However none of them are definitive by themselves for the presence of mycotoxins.
First Line treatment is removal of mold
The first line of treatment for mold illness is removal from the source. It is impossible to get completely well in a house or office building that is spewing mold toxins. Remediation by a specialist needs to be done in order to keep the problem from getting worse. Since the mold spores may be dispersed through the house like a fine mist it is sometimes necessary to get rid of clothing, linens, furniture and photos. Some people have left their houses and never returned.
The next step in treatment involves pulling the toxins from the body. About 75 percent of the population have immune systems that are much more efficient than others in doing this. Since the toxins are eliminated in bile drugs that are known as bile sequestrants, such as cholestyramine are used. Cholestyramine is a prescription medication. Natural substances that may also be useful are clay, activated charcoal, brown seaweed and zeolite. Antifungal meds may be used for chronic sinusitis. Many other supplements are also useful in improving the immune system, including glutathione and alpha lipoic acid.
Black Mold and Yellow Rain Biowarfare
Mold is an insidious, destructive toxic agent. It has been used in biowarfare. The “yellow rain” sprayed on Cambodians in the 70’s and causing seizures, blindness and bleeding, is suspected of having been made from Trichothecenes, a type of black mold. Mold toxins produce both mental and physical symptoms which can be lethal, yet rarely is recognized. One physician practicing in Florida believes that many cases of ADD and learning disability in children can be traced to mold exposure, often in their schools. It is a politically disruptive topic, because of the cost of mold remediation for office buildings, schools and homes. Toxic mold is believed to exist in over 35 percent of American homes. One study found 80 percent of Boston schools had mold. Although there are many cases in the court system of children and adults who have become severely sickened by mold, remediation and compensation is often denied. The first step in treatment is a high suspicion of the presence of mold, and that will come only from increasing awareness in both physicians and patients of the possibility of mold illness.