Household Mold Can Be Dangerous — Here's How to Get Rid of It

POPSUGAR Photography | Lisette Mejia
POPSUGAR Photography | Lisette Mejia

While many people consider mold to be little more than an unsightly nuisance, the truth is household mold can be a potential health hazard, causing symptoms such as headaches and stuffy noses upon exposure. It's also surprisingly common. Anywhere there's moisture, there's the potential for mold.

Recently, actor Tori Spelling warned parents about the dangers of household mold, opening up about her family's experience leading to a "spiral of sickness," per Spelling's Instagram post. "You just keep getting sick, one infection after another," Spelling said, going on to detail her family's symptoms. "Respiratory infections. Extreme allergy like symptoms too and like my poor [son] Finn skin rashes as well."

The trouble is, symptoms of mold sickness and exposure can look just like regular allergy and cold symptoms, meaning it's common for the problem to go overlooked. This is what you need to know about mold, mold sickness, and how to keep your family safe.

What Is Mold?

"Mold is a fungal growth that forms and spreads on various kinds of damp or decaying organic matter," according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Mold can be "formed by numerous fungi species," says immunologist and microbiologist Andrea Love, PhD, advisory board member for POPSUGAR's Condition Center. These species can "be found everywhere," Dr. Love says. That sounds scary, but she says that "the vast majority of molds pose no harm to humans." That said, it's important to know the signs of dangerous mold exposure.

What Causes Mold?

"Molds are usually microscopic, but visible colonies can form (that's what most people recognize) when certain fungal species disperse spores that attach to porous surfaces such as wood, drywall, etc., especially in warmer (above 39F) and humid environments," Dr. Love says.

Translation: mold thrives in the presence of lots of moisture, so in terms of household mold, bathrooms and kitchens are the first spots you may find moldy areas in your home. A small roof leak or a dripping toilet can also introduce moisture to your home, inviting mold to grow in areas that you might not be able to see. Even your carpet is susceptible to mold growth.

Is Mold Really Dangerous?

Mold exposure indoors does not always present a health problem. In fact, many molds are beneficial (such as penicillium, which makes penicillin), Dr. Love says.

However, some people are sensitive to molds, resulting in stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation when exposed to certain strains. Molds produce allergens and irritants, which can cause reactions in those allergic to mold or those who have asthma.

But black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, can lead to health conditions following exposure. And it can be difficult to distinguish between mold types just by looking at it, so it often pays to be cautious.

If you suspect you have mold growth in your home, you can have it inspected and tested by a professional mold inspector or do it yourself using a DIY kit. But the best practice is just to have it removed ASAP, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "CDC does not recommend mold testing. The health effects of mold can be different for different people so you cannot rely on sampling and culturing to know if you or a member of your family might become sick," the CDC states. "No matter what type of mold is present, you need to remove it."

Can Mold Kill You?

"Mold, broadly, is not going to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality among individuals," Dr. Love says. That said, "If someone has a severe allergic reaction after high exposure to certain species of mold, it could potentially be fatal."

What Are Symptoms of Mold Sickness?

Exposure to mold can cause a range of symptoms or none at all, according to the CDC. For those who are sensitive to molds, symptoms might look like the following:

  • Watery and itchy eyes
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Sinus issues including sneezing, congestion, and rashes

Symptoms of exposure to black mold are similar to those above, per the Cleveland Clinic, and can include sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and red eyes. Exposure to black mold can also trigger or worsen certain asthma symptoms including wheezing, shortness of breath, dry coughing, and chest tightness. And if you have a weakened immune system, from immunodeficiency disorders or immune suppressant medications, exposure to black mold can cause a fungal infection in your airways or other parts of your body, according to Cleveland Clinic.

How Can I Get Rid of Mold?

Addressing mold includes focusing on ventilation and keeping things dry, Dr. Love says. The CDC recommends the following methods for remediation.

  • Keep humidity levels low — between 30 percent and 50 percent. An air conditioner or dehumidifier can help with this.
  • Use exhaust fans to increase ventilation in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Make sure your clothing dryer vents outside your home.
  • Fix any leaks in your home's roof, walls, or plumbing.
  • Consider not using carpet in rooms or areas like bathrooms or basements, which tend to have more moisture.

— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones