Most of the time, mold exposure doesn’t require medical attention. But if you have asthma, a compromised immune system, or an allergy to mold, you may need treatment.
If you’ve ever dealt with a mold infestation, you might have had some concerns about the effects of mold exposure on your health. Perhaps you even wondered if you needed to take steps to purge mold’s effects from your body.
Mold is fairly common. According to 2016 research, anywhere from
Molds are also a normal part of the outdoor environment. For this reason, it’s not really possible to avoid all exposure to molds.
Many people point to black mold as the key culprit of mold-induced maladies, from brain fog to autoimmune conditions. But a 2017 review suggests that little evidence supports this claim.
Plus, as the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)notes, mold color doesn’t always determine its toxicity. What most people consider black mold may actually be many different species, in fact.
Exposure to mold spores can cause symptoms for people with mold allergy and respiratory conditions like asthma. For others, mold can sometimes be an irritant. In rare cases, mold can cause infections or other serious reactions.
Some molds also have the potential to produce toxic agents called mycotoxins. Some mycotoxins can make people sick, but experts are not sure how often mycotoxin exposure actually leads to illness.
To be on the safe side, it’s best to avoid breathing in large amounts of mold, for instance if you’re cleaning up after major water damage.
In rare cases, some people may need medical treatment due to the effects of mold exposure. But there’s no evidence that “detoxing” from mold is necessary or effective.
Below, you’ll find details on possible health effects of mold, plus some guidance on when it’s time to get medical treatment.
People are exposed to small amounts of mold all the time in our everyday lives, usually without noticeable effects.
Exposure to mold is more likely to bring on symptoms if you have:
- asthma or other respiratory conditions
- mold allergy or sensitivity
- hay fever
- a condition that affects your immune system, or you take medication that suppresses your immune system
In some cases, mold exposure may also worsen conditions like asthma and allergies.
In most cases, mold exposure mainly appears to affect the respiratory system, but it can also affect your eyes or skin.
Some common symptoms of mold exposure or sensitivity include:
Sometimes mold exposure causes more severe symptoms, like breathing difficulties or fever. These symptoms tend to show up more commonly when:
- You’ve spent a long time around large amounts of mold.
- You have asthma, allergies, or another condition that leaves you more vulnerable to mold.
In some rare cases, it can lead to pneumonia.
In people who are immunocompromised, a common mold called Aspergillus can sometimes cause serious infections in the lungs.
Your primary care doctor or another healthcare professional can diagnose underlying conditions like asthma or infections. A doctor or clinician can also help pinpoint symptoms caused by mold exposure.
How to spot mold indoors
Knowing how to identify mold in indoor spaces is another important step toward ruling out causes of unexplained respiratory symptoms and taking steps to address them.
Key signs include:
- discoloration in damp, warm, and dark areas of your home, such as bathrooms, closets, laundry rooms, or kitchens
- mold growth in areas where water may pool up or condense, such as your bathroom ceiling, cupboards under sinks, and drywall near water sources
- staining that seeps out of a wall or keeps coming back when you try to clean it
If you have a compromised immune system or preexisting respiratory condition, you may have a higher chance of experiencing a mold-related health condition.
A 2015 review estimates that 3 to 10 percent of people have a higher sensitivity to the effects of mold. If you have mold sensitivity, you might show signs of an allergic reaction, including itching skin and a watery nose and eyes, when exposed.
Research emphasizes that it often proves challenging to distinguish between mold allergies and sensitivity to other common allergens, like dust, pollen, and pet dander. A healthcare professional may recommend a skin prick test to determine whether mold has triggered your allergic symptoms.
Limited 2016 research also suggests a tentative link between exposure to certain indoor factors, including dampness and mold, in the uterus or during infancy and increased allergies during childhood. However, there is no evidence that early mold exposure is the underlying cause of allergies in children.
Asthma can cause episodes of wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. It
- air pollution
- strong scents
- cold weather
- viruses that affect the respiratory system
And even if mold doesn’t directly cause asthma, exposure to the types of mold likely to cause irritation can still trigger an asthma attack.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes flu-like symptoms, chest pain, and trouble breathing. Its many causes include bacteria, viruses, and, in rare cases, mold.
Research from 2021 highlights specific people who may have a greater chance of developing mold-induced pneumonia:
- people taking medications that suppress the immune system
- people with cancer receiving chemotherapy
- people who have received an organ or bone marrow transplant
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes itchy rashes to break out on the skin.
Eczema involves dysfunction of your skin barrier, which could leave your skin more sensitive and reactive to potential allergens like mold.
No scientific studies have found a direct link between mold exposure and behavioral symptoms, like memory loss or fatigue.
One 2020 animal study found that exposure to both toxic and nontoxic mold spores interfered with the production of neurons, or brain cells, in mice. This could contribute to issues like:
- memory loss
- slow reaction time
- difficulty processing emotions
- vision problems
However, the dose of mold in this study was much higher than would be expected in typical exposures, like inhaling mold spores in a moldy room. More studies are needed before any claims can be made about connections between mold exposure and cognitive symptoms.
In many cases, exposure to mold doesn’t require medical treatment. If you experience cold-like symptoms after exposure to mold, talk with your doctor. They can help determine whether mold allergy could be contributing to your symptoms.
Mold should be removed from indoor spaces whenever possible. But symptoms of mold allergy may persist even after removal, because mold is commonly found in the outdoor environment.
Generally speaking, your overall risk of long-term health effects related to mold exposure is fairly low. That said, experts still have more to learn about the possible health effects of mold exposure.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid long-term exposure to indoor mold. Whenever possible, you should remove mold from spaces you spend time in, and address sources of moisture that could contribute to indoor mold.
Reaching out to a healthcare professional may be a good option if you:
- have a compromised immune system due to another health condition
- have significant trouble breathing
- live with cystic fibrosis
- have allergic symptoms which could be triggered by mold
As for a mold detox? Contrary to some beliefs, there’s typically no need to go on a cleanse or detox in order to heal your body after exposure to mold.
Here’s why: When functioning optimally, your body constantly detoxes itself — and it’s very efficient at this task.
If you have symptoms due to mold exposure, treatments will differ depending on the underlying cause. Your doctor may suggest prescription options, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, or home remedies.
If you have a severe reaction to mold or live with a condition that makes you more vulnerable to mold exposure, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to find the most effective treatment for your needs.
If you’re having a serious allergic reaction or difficulty breathing, get emergency help right away.
While allergy shots are sometimes used to address mold allergy, this approach is controversial. There are no strong studies showing that these shots are effective for mold allergy. However, your doctor might consider allergy shots to reduce symptoms if mold allergies are causing regular allergic reactions.
If you have mild allergic symptoms due to mold exposure, certain at-home treatments might help.
Using a nasal spray or taking an antihistamine could help reduce mild allergic symptoms and discomfort from mold exposure. You can find these medications at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
Some traditional approaches recommend sweating, or using a sauna, to support the body’s elimination of waste products.
But research is limited, and it’s not clear whether sweating is effective and safe for this purpose. There’s also no evidence that sweating can help address the effects of mold.
This alternative remedy, also known as halotherapy, involves breathing salty air. Some people believe this strategy can have benefits for respiratory symptoms. However, there isn’t enough evidence to recommend this approach.
Some proponents of mold detoxes claim activated charcoal will bind to mycotoxins, allowing you to detox after exposure.
While doctors do use activated charcoal to treat cases of poisoning, no research currently backs up the claim that charcoal helps with the effects of mold exposure.
If you want to try this approach, it’s important to talk with your doctor first.
How to get rid of mold in your home
You can do this by:
- enlisting the help of a professional who can inspect your living area and identify mold growth
- removing moisture from the environment using a dehumidifier
- using fans and opening windows to air out areas that tend to get damp, like bathrooms
- replacing carpets, drywall, and insulation in your home if you can’t remove the mold
- using soap or a bleach solution to clean mold from nonporous surfaces like countertops and sinks
If you need to clean up a large amount of mold, wear long sleeves and pants, and use protective gear including an N95 respirator and gloves.
People with asthma, allergies, and certain immune conditions are more likely to develop symptoms with mold exposure. If you have symptoms you think might be caused by mold exposure, a good next step involves checking in with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Courtney Telloian is a writer with work published on Healthline, Psych Central, and Insider. Previously, she worked on the editorial teams of Psych Central and GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include holistic approaches to health, especially women’s wellness, and topics centered around mental health.