After the storms: Mold and misery

When the rain and flooding clear, trouble can remain. Whether it’s a major hurricane like Ian or a strong spring or summer storm, mold can damage or destroy property, and lives. What to know.

After heavy rains, your home can flood with sewage and chemicals, exposing you to viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Then comes the mold, which can be dangerous and, sometimes, life-threatening.

An outbreak can spread quickly after a hurricane or storm, leaving you dealing with spring allergies all while inside your home.

Here’s what to know about mold’s impact on health.

Can you get sick from mold exposure?

Symptoms: Some people are more sensitive to mold than others. But it’s still best to know what symptoms to look out for.

Common reactions to mold include a stuffy nose, wheezing and red or itchy eyes and skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with allergies or asthma may have more intense reactions like fever and shortness of breath.

Though mold comes in different colors, there’s no way to know for sure how dangerous it could be. Mold should always be removed, especially because some can produce toxins.

Though rare, there have been reports of toxic molds found inside homes causing bleeding into the lung and memory loss, according to the CDC. These infections, which can be life-threatening, may present as fever, cough, shortness of breath, night sweats, weight loss, sinus symptoms as well as dark scabs, blisters and ulcers on the skin.

Exposure to mold can lead to increased respiratory symptoms and hospitalizations in susceptible children and adults, said Dr. Trishul Siddharthan, a pulmonologist with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“Mold is a leading cause of atopy, asthma and eczema in our state,” Siddharthan said.

Anyone who has been exposed to mold should seek medical care.

Who is most at risk?

Underlying illness: People who are immunocompromised or have underlying lung disease or respiratory diseases like asthma are more susceptible to mold and other fungal infections.

Children can be, too. Studies have suggested a link between mold exposure and asthma in children genetically predisposed to the condition. The CDC recommends that people with asthma be extra cautious when exposed to mold.

Those most at risk for severe infections include people who have had a transplant, have cancer, are undergoing cancer treatment and take medications that weaken the immune system.

How can I best protect myself?

Pro tips: Completely avoid exposure to mold, if possible. Don’t go into a home after a hurricane or flood.

If you have to enter a moldy home, the CDC recommends wearing goggles, protective gloves, waterproof boots, an N95 respirator, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants while inside.

Make sure to open windows for fresh air and try to reduce your exposure to the fungi by spending time outdoors and visiting public places.

For more health information

Visit the CDC’s page on mold and its health effects.

This story was originally published April 12, 2023, 5:00 AM.

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