Today you may be exposed to as many as 200 types of mould. OK, that is unlikely, but you will absolutely be exposed to some of them. That is how common mould is in our environments.
While most of them will do little that affects you, some are less forgiving.
Mould is the common word for any fungus that grows on food or damp materials. It can be black, white or almost any colour and often looks like a stain or smudge. Mould is naturally occurring and ubiquitous, both indoors and out. That means exposure is unavoidable. Mould is neither a plant, nor an animal. It is a fungus.
A number of elements are needed for mould to grow. It needs a suitable climate with moisture and warmth, along with something to live on. Common places for mould to grow indoors are on window sills, fabrics, carpets, and walls in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry areas. Once established, mould releases spores into the air.
Some moulds produce mycotoxins (a fancy name for any toxic substance produced by a fungus), but all moulds can potentially affect health. The main way to be exposed to mould is by breathing it in, but exposure can also be via ingestion (mouth) or touch as skin comes into contact with mouldy surfaces.
While exposure to mould does not specifically cause any health issue (there is no causal relationship), it has been associated with asthma symptoms, upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughing, wheezing and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible people. There is clear evidence that dampness contributes to illness, the exact agent has not been identified.
Cleaning up mould should not be onerous. For small areas (fewer than three patches, with each patch less than one square metre), use a household cleaner. Start by scrubbing with the detergent, sponge away with a clean, wet rag and follow up with a thorough drying of the area. While cleaning, always wear a disposable dust mask and household rubber gloves. If mould extends to larger areas, leave the cleaning to professionals.
Once you cleaned up the mould patches, or before they can ever form, there are things to do that will prevent a resurgence. Because the prime requirement for mould is dampness or humidity, limit the use of humidifiers and the number of fish tanks and indoor plants as all of these can raise the humidity level in your home. Proper ventilation contributes, too. Turn on exhaust fans, particularly when bathing, showering, cooking and doing laundry. When weather permits, open windows.
Doing all these things will mean nothing if the source of moisture is not controlled. In other words, repair any leaks or plumbing problems, clean and dry water-damage carpets and other materials. If it cannot be properly cleaned and dried, discard it (yes, that means the big, expensive rug in the bathroom, too.)
None of these steps is especially hard to implement, and the payoff is well worth the effort. In the meantime, if you suspect that someoneís health is being affected by mould, talk to your physician as soon as possible.
Editorís note: Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.