Updated: Oct 9, 2018
Mold is a natural inhabitant of our world, and unfortunately it’s something that many of us live with, without realising just how damaging it can be to our health. Mold loves to grow in damp places, and isn’t the non threatening, natural issue we have been led to believe. Black Mold looks sinister and unsightly, but the worse threat is unseen mold, and dead mold.
Mold has become a tremendous problem for multiple reasons, mold resistant paints have allowed resistant species to thrive, an obsession with antibacterial sterile environments takes away the natural competitors of mold like bacteria, poor ventilation and poor building practices lead to damp, moisture ingress or leaks. Because many people don’t realise how dangerous mold is, it’s often left alone and accepted as a normal part of life.
Mold thrives in water damaged buildings, and is kryptonite for an estimated quarter of the population of humans! It’s been speculated that about half the buildings in the US are moldy and water damaged. The definition of a water damaged building, is a building that has suffered moisture damage for 48 hours or longer, which is when microbial growth like bacteria, fungus (mold and yeast), and parasites proliferation starts.
These microbes, either living or dead can release substances that are toxic to humans. Dead mold is in fact even more volatile than living mold, as dead mold fragments into 500 pieces. Mold specifically releases mycotoxins, and is a big problem for many people.
We have been unfortunate enough to learn first hand the dangers of Mold over this last year. It’s an expensive, and distressing process, and it's very hard to find good resources or professionals who understand the health costs of Mold, and the proper remediation process. At the peak of our Mold issue, I was vomiting almost daily, constantly felt drunk, starving for sugar, moody, dizzy, had nightmares, difficulty breathing, tremors, and generally felt distressed, depressed and fatigued. Mold is no joke!
How do you tell if you are affected?
Ever been in a building and felt terrible, only to feel better when you leave. This is called Sick Building Syndrome, and for some particularly observant people, can be a reliable indicator that they are allergic to the building. Or if you go on holidays and feel great, only to have symptoms return when you get home, again, it’s worth investigating mold. Just because there is no visible mold, or your house is new, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
If you generally feel unwell despite extensively cleaning up aspects of your lifestyle, then it may be time to investigate mold as the cause of your health issues. Another worthy point is that not everyone in a moldy house will respond the same; one person may be extremely sick, another may have no symptoms, further confusing the diagnosis.
Chronic Inflammatory Response (CIRS)
Mold Illness is known as CIRS, and 95% of the time, CIRS typically occurs in people who have a specific susceptibility in their HLA DQ/DR genes. Gene testing can hone in on the whether you have this very common gene, and are susceptible to mold illness. Mold isn’t the only thing that causes CIRS, a tick bite, or Lyme disease can also ignite the inflammatory process.
When a person with CIRS is exposed to a trigger like mold, their immune response is chaotic and ineffective at neutralising, and removing the toxin from the body. Rather than a proper antibody immune response, systemic inflammation is triggered, and the inflammatory cascade becomes difficult to switch off. The inflammation response isn’t just ineffective, it also causes a plethora of symptoms, further hindering hormonal, neurological, metabolic, genomic, and many other physiological processed. Hence CIRS is a multi symptom, multi-system illness.
Memory and concentration problems,
Disorientation and confusion
Headaches and irregular pains
Vertigo and dizziness
Aches, cramping and joint pain
Hypersensitivity to bright lights
A propensity to static shocks
Asthma like symptoms, shortness of breath, chronic sinus congestion
If it smells musty or damp, there is probably a hidden mold problem,
Fast or irregular heart beats.
A person with CIRS tends to have some symptoms from at least 6 of the above symptom clusters, and more commonly will have up to 10!
To diagnose CIRS, a series of complex and expensive blood markers are involved, which are often extremely expensive and hard to get in Australia. Failing the blood test diagnosis, symptoms are correlated as above, and a Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test may be taken. The VCS test costs around $15 US and is a neurological eye test that can be taken online, or in person to test the degree to which a person is effected. ‘Dr Richie Shoemaker has document that 92% of people with biotixin associated illness have impaired visual contrast’ – Dr Gupta, Mold Illness Made Simple Course
This non-invasive test screens for shades of grey and patterns, as CIRS patients often have impaired visual contract. The VCS test is used throughout the protocol to check in on progress.
CIRS can also be diagnosed with a NeuroQuant brain MRI which shows the structural changes in the brain from chronic inflammation which causes symptoms like depression, anxiety, tremors, tics and fascial spasms, trouble speaking and more.
The Shoemaker Protocol for CIRS
Dr Shoemaker is the world expert in CIRS, and his protocol for treating CIRS is highly successful. The protocol is complex and thorough, and some people may never actually complete it. It starts with total avoidance of mold. Some people who are extremely sick at this stage need to leave the building and not take any possessions. The second step is binding biotoxins using prescription medication cholestyramine. The third step is addressing a confection in the nasal passages calls MARCONs (Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Coagulase Negative Staphylococci.
There are multiple further steps as per the diagram. Any re-exposure to mold means starting from the beginning again. The binding drugs are extremely unpleasant, and cause severe gastrointestinal issues. Also sadly they are made with aspartame in Australia. A compounding pharmacist can make an aspartame free version which is not affordable for most CIRS patients who are suffering greatly financially.
At the time of writing, the main CIRS specialist in Australia charges upwards of $800 for a consultation, and the CIRS blood panel tests cost well over $1000! Getting good help is hard, especially when most professionals are not aware of CIRS in the first place! Having completed the Mold Illness Course, I'm happy to help anyone reading if you are stuck.
Testing For Mold
Buyer beware, there are many mold scammers around who will use your fear and perform inefficient testing and demand you remediate. A proper remediation specialist should understand the mechanisms of CIRS, and know the correct protocol for removing mold.
The current Mold testing standards recommend air testing, which takes air samples and attempts to culture any mold species. Air testing is problematic because some molds can’t be cultured, and as much as 99.8% of indoor mold may be fragments from dead mold, which as we discussed are more harmful than living mold. Also air samples only look at a snapshot in time, and will often get different results on varying days, or different times of the day. Unfortunately the many remediators we attempted to work with only used air testing.
A mold inspector or hygienists should also be testing with thermal infrared cameras to look for water damage, or moisture meters. Any moldy areas need to be contained safety, and air scrubbers, or HEPA filters need to be used to trap mold spores and fragments. If the area is water damaged, air blowers are needed to dry wet areas.
If you wanted to run a home test to get an idea of whether you might have an issue, you can run a HERTSME-2 (aptly named!) or an ERMI (Environmental Relative Mold Index) test. The ERMI test is more expensive at $400, but screens for 36 species of mold. You simply order a test kit, collect dust from around your home, or a suspected zone, and send it in for testing. The ERMI tests for both living and dead mold, and can detect certain species of mold that are hard to culture.
The ERMI lab will provide you with a full report of the species found and the water saturation level they typically thrive at, and provide an overall score of the likelihood your house is moldy.
The HERTSMI-2 test is cheaper than an ERMI, but only tests for 5 of the major mold species that are associated with water damaged buildings, and known to produce toxins and inflammagens toxic to people with CIRS. You can order these tests here.
All porous or semi porous items need to be disposed of. It’s very important to avoid cross contamination of moldy items, into a remediated area. It’s better to be safe, and dispose of suspect items. Clothing can sometimes be washed in detergent, vinegar or borox and dried in the sun, dependent on how bad the mold is.
The recommended cleaning steps are as follows:
HEPA vacuum all surfaces
Damp wiping using a mild detergent to physically remove mold, not kill it
Damp wiping anti-microbial (alcohol, vinegar, peroxide, napisan, ammonium)
If available use borax fogging
Dry Wipe with a Swiffer cloth to remove borax residue
*Steps 3-5 are optional
Bleach is not recommended as it strips the colour from mold, and adds moisture to the surface, not to mention it doesn't remove or kill. Avoid essential oils completely as they can actually provide nutrients for the mold and help it grow.
What you can do to avoid Mold, microbial growth or VOC’s
Ventilate your house well. Always open windows or doors, use exhaust fans
Dry clothes outside to avoid moisture build-up indoors
Avoid hoarding possessions which leads to dust buildup
Vacuum regularly to avoid dust build up
Seal and wet areas properly
Avoid leaks and if found treat them with a respected remediator who understands the true dangers of Mold and CIRS
Avoid humidifiers and steam machines
Use moisture absorbers in any areas prone to poor ventilation
Get a good quality air filter that trap particles 01-0.3 microns (Air Oasis is a commonly recommended model)
Throw out anything porous that is exposed to mold
Increase direct sunlight to rooms where possible as mold hates sun
Avoid moldy foods like grains, cheap coffee, nuts, mushrooms, cheap herbs
CIRS patients often do well with a low Amylose diet, or a ketogenic diet
Best wishes to you all in avoiding malicious mold. There is light at the end of the tunnel if you are suffering from CIRS or mold illness. In the middle of it all it can be so overwhelming and distressing, but there is a way forward when you find the right help. A mold sabbatical (a camping trip) can be a good solution if it all becomes too much, and you need to escape to a clean mold free environment. Prevention and knowledge is key in handling this sinister fungus.