Recent heavy rains for weeks on end and flooding in Australia, I’m predicting are just the beginning of wild weather patterns that will be ongoing that some environmental authorities are saying are evidence of climate change that policymakers are still refusing to acknowledge.
If rising greenhouse gases and warmer temps are expected to be the new norm, then we had better get used to mould being a part of our lives!
When damp, flooding or water leaks impact your home, within 48 hours, you are likely to see mould beginning to move in and flourish.
Mould carries toxicity that is known to impact our immune system and health. For most, it may be mild such as :
Postnasal drip and runny nose,
But it can play havoc for individuals with existing conditions like asthma, eczema, inflammatory issues like migraines, fibromyalgia and chronic infections like sinus issues triggering a worsening of symptoms and making life unmanageable without high prescription medication use - and often then even medication proves to be unhelpful at holding back the overwhelming barrage of symptoms.
What is Mould Illness and how does it present ?
In a small percentage of the population (about 5%), mould can trigger multiple disruptions to body systems and pneumonia and life threatening infection in immunocompromised patients. Some of these mould sensitive individuals will develop chronic illness collectively referred to as CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome). CIRS has a range of often debilitating symptoms such as :
chronic sinus inflammation,
Photophobia and visual disturbances,
Temperature regulation problems
Changes in appetite
chronic headaches, migraines and facial pain,
muscle and joint pains,
cognitive impairment, difficulty with mental focus and memory issues
Extreme mood swings
Chronic cough and shortness of breath,
Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain
Sleep disturbances and waking to urinate frequently
Excessive thirst despite frequent hydration attempts,
Malaise or generally feeling unwell all of the time’.
However, the Department of Health acknowledges commonalities between many of these symptoms above and those associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Lyme disease. It’s been reported to associations that support sufferers of these conditions that individuals surveyed with chronic fatigue and Lyme disease that a high percentage of these sufferers have mould in their living environment; a mould exposure at the time of becoming ill; and are still recovering after moving out of a mouldy environment, so several conditions are ‘known to commonly intersect with CIRS’, or that are ‘likely to be worsened by co-existent CIRS.’
A sad and uncomfortable truth.
The harsh reality for sufferers is that CIRS is neither recognised nor has it been made legitimate within medicine or the broader, mainstream academic community. For individuals dealing with CIRS type symptoms who have also had mould exposure either currently or in the past, this is incredibly frustrating as medications will only ever attempt to suppress symptoms. Still, if the trigger (say mould in the home, workplace or aged care facility) is not addressed and properly cleaned and removed as a biohazard, symptoms are likely to continue.
To address this inconsistency, a researcher and leading authority on mould illness and CIRS, Dr Sandeep Gupta, has made an appeal to the Australian Health Department recommending that CIRS become ‘a recognised medical illness’ and that ‘training for medical practitioners in CIRS needs to be endorsed and funded as a priority so that CIRS diagnosis and treatment information be included in the medical curriculum at universities.’
MouldLab, a US laboratory committed to mould illness, functional diagnostics and research, stated that due to the wide variety of symptoms that have been associated with CIRS, ‘patients are often misdiagnosed and eventually mistreated, due to the wrong diagnostic.’ These misdiagnoses include but are not limited to:
anxiety and depression,
attention deficit disorders,
post-traumatic stress disorder,
irritable bowel syndrome,
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS),
Hypervigilance, psychological distress and hyperchondia
Unfortunately for those with symptoms of mould related illness or CIRS, the symptoms can be so debilitating that it can impact their ability to work and severely hamper their quality of life. Still, without recognition from the government or medical fraternity, this means differential laboratory testing and resolving the cause of illness (which might mean costly building repairs or moving out of the affected housing) out of pocket expenses are not covered by government agencies like Medicare, NDIS or Centerlink, so unfairly those most impacted may not be able to afford or access treatments.
Prevent where you can. A naturopath can help !
In light of this disparity, the best we can do is be aware of such matters and understand prevention is always the best approach.
As a naturopath, I take a complete and very thorough case history when assessing my client’s health. A group of symptoms listed in varying degrees that I recognise as very "CIRS-like" can often give me clues that someone may be dealing with mould toxicity in their home. With recent heavy rains in NSW without enough sunshine and rain-free days, I have had a larger than usual number of people presenting like this, and it is not surprising.
If and when appropriate, I may refer someone to have some functional testing completed to screen urine for specific biological acid markers that indicate the presence of mould in their system. Supporting someone after mould exposure and ensuing illness that can often follow years in the future can be quite complex.
Wholistic approaches would always involve a combination of health aspects - not one factor can be overlooked :
Limiting ongoing exposure and taking preventative measures. There is a minimal point in treating someone with lots of costly natural medicines if they live in a house with ongoing mould issues - it needs to be identified and remedied immediately at the source, or they need to find somewhere else to live. Otherwise, health complications are likely to be ongoing without much relief. It is worthwhile contacting a building biologist in your area to provide a professional assessment https://aces.edu.au/links/find-a-consultant/building-biology
Proper air filtration is essential even if you no longer have ongoing exposure. With health conditions that affect the respiratory system, anything you can do to reduce the workload on your body organs from the outside is a good thing! These technologies are worth investing in for good health. You can read more about choosing an air filter that is right for you here: https://sgeas.unimelb.edu.au/engage/guide-to-air-cleaner-purchasing
Using refillable moisture absorbers that are easily purchased in supermarkets and hardware stores can be used around the home and in wardrobes and drawers are helpful and can indicate just how much mould causing moisture you are living with. Some places will fill and need constant replacing surprisingly faster than others.
Boosting the immune system with echinacea, astragalus, medicinal mushroom extracts and essential nutrients like vitamin A, C, D and Zinc
Strengthening the first line of immune defence is our mucous membranes in the respiratory system - nose, throat and lungs and digestive system to trap and limit the entry of inhaled spores. Vitamin A and D and N-acetyl-cysteine and N-acetyl- glutamine are critical to supporting the usual health and function of mucous membrane structure and integrity.
Essential oils have potent antimicrobial activity and can be added to cleaning sprays and vaporisers as an alternative to chemical cleaning products and allergy triggering synthetic perfumes. Such oils must be of good quality and include Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Thyme, Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon Myrtle, Clove and Cinnamon; However; it must be noted that mould is not "killed off" in the air; the mould spores must be "physically removed". If ongoing musty smells are evident, then the source of the mould has not been removed.
Gut health screening and stool analysis may be warranted to indicate disruptions and impacts to the gut microbiome. Prescription of antimicrobial agents like oregano oil, nigella seed, citrus seed extract, berberine, garlic and philodendron may be required and replace beneficial bacterial colony counts with probiotics and prebiotics.
Herbs and nutrients that provide symptomatic relief of anxiety, cognitive function, restlessness and insomnia, systemic inflammation and comfort of chronic pain are essential for managing and improving wellbeing.
Buteyko Breathing is a form of breathing retraining focused on exercises that reset the nervous system and improve the functioning of the respiratory system after it has been impacted by inflammation, infection and obstructions to improve oxygen efficiency, which may help in reducing symptoms related to asthma, postnasal drip, swollen tonsils and adenoids in as little as five sessions. If you are interested in learning this very effective technique as part of a chronic health management plan, you can book a one on one assessment and course with me here: https://p.bttr.to/3Iqizq9
With systemic conditions such as CIRS or chronic mould illness, it’s important to find health practitioners who can form part of a professional healthcare team to get the proper support and not feel like you are being treated like a hypochondriac. Working with a psychologist and having regular counselling so you can feel heard without burdening friends and family who may not completely understand or be able to empathise with your "hidden illness".
If you are concerned about current or previous mould exposure and can relate to any of the symptoms of mould related illness, contact me about creating a tailored and individualised plan that can help you increase wellbeing and move you towards wellness. Book a time for an obligation free chat with me here: https://p.bttr.to/3hm0TAf
Bijilsma N. Healthy Home Healthy Family. 3rd ed. Warrandyte, Victoria: Australian College of Environmental Studies; 2018.
Mould at work [Internet]. NSW Government: SafeWork; 2020 [cited 2022 February 14]. Available from: https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/mould
Ratnaseelan AM, Tsilioni I, Theoharides TC. Effects of mycotoxins on neuropsychiatric symptoms and immune processes.Clin. Ther. 2018;40(6):903-917.