Mold is real.
Approximately 1 in 2 buildings has mold—although I believe that number is more like 75% to 90% (at least according to home assessments I’ve done over the past 2 years).
Additionally, at least 10 million people are suspected to struggle with mold illness—a byproduct of mold toxicity from chronic mold exposure wherein your body cannot detox the mold out of your body.
Unfortunately, many doctors (even functional medicine doctors), builders, landlords and relators don’t bat an eye at the word “mold”—chalking it up as “not a big deal,” or as “all in your head.”
I get it. As a clinician, I used to hear the word “mold” and think: “Psh…some black or blue stuff? No big deal!…Just clean it and bada bing bada boom.”
…Until it happened to me.
My Long Mold Story
March, 2018: 2 a.m. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air, feeling like I was having a heart attack. What is happening?!
A few hours later at the E.R., I was informed I had a severe asthma attack…but I didn’t have asthma. In all my 30 years of life, never had asthma. Or allergies. Or any other “chronic disease”—other than the eating disorder I’d battled in my teens and early 20’s.
By this point in the game, I didn’t just have one chronic disease (asthma), but 10–-10 diagnoses I’d been given over the past year and a half…
- Hashimoto’s & Hypothyroidism
- Type 1 Diabetes & Hypoglycemia
- Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Ironically the onset of all 10 diagnoses correlated with my timeline of moving into the new rental home where I had my severe asthma attack.
Hmm…something smelled moldy.
Lying flat on my back in the ER bed as Dr. Hung walked into the room and gave me his prescription: a steroid inhaler and Xanax to chill out my anxiety, something in the back of my mind flickered: MOLD!
Thanks to my background and training in functional medicine, I put 2 and 2 together…
- The smell of must every time I walked up the stairs to my bedroom
- The leaking side wall in the living room every time it rained
- The kick up of dust air after recently turning on the air conditioner for the spring
My body could not take it any more.
Fast Forward: 3 Days Later, Mold Inspection Results Are In
Mold—black mold—saturated my HVAC air conditioning unit, along with aspergillus species infested in the side wall downstairs (a mold correlated with asthma and shortness of breath).
To say the least, it’s no wonder I got sick. Real sick.
My labs showed it—urine mycotoxin and mold tests reveled high levels of 4 toxic molds in my body, along with a host of other functional pathologies (SIBO, SIFO, intestinal permeability, under-methylation, nutrient deficiencies galore).
Little did I realize that discovering toxic mold was only the beginning of my “mold saga”—a journey that would continue for at least the next 2 years to come.
Running from Mold
Over the next 24 months, little did I realize I’d move over 10 times —running into roadblocks of mold in seemingly EVERY SINGLE place I found—most homes built within the past 2 years!
I spent over $10,000 on home mold tests alone—most of which came back with the same results, and another $60,000 on treatments, moving costs, remediation costs and everything in between.
I finally discovered my “dream home”—my dream builder, my dream location, my dream design…toxic mold. Black mold to be exact.
I also completely lost everything I owned—TWICE—including my car, my clothes, my books, my bed, my furniture, my hair dryer, and beyond, with items contaminated by the toxic home environments I found myself in. I developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which made me react to molds and mycotoxins on practically anything and everything—I could even smell it in your hair and clothes if you lived in a moldy home too.
There were the nights I slept on the balcony on the 34th floor of my high-rise condo in downtown Austin…
…The nights I snuck in to the “Media Room” in my apartment complex to get some rest, out of my toxic moldy unit…
…The nights I contemplated sleeping in my car or tent outside, versus no other good alternative….
…I stored my clothes in trash bags and used ziplock baggies for my makeshift wallets—after throwing out 2 expensive Hobo leather wallets and 3 Tory Burch purses.
All because of mold.
It may sound crazy or unreal. But it’s not. It happened to me. And it can happen to anyone—at least if your body or environment is “teed up” to be the “perfect storm.”
The good news? I went through a lot of hell, so YOU DON’T HAVE TO! Experience is the absolutely the best teacher and best medical “textbook” I know.
The Silver Lining: My Angel
I cannot write this post WITHOUT crediting my mentor, my “Karate Kid” trainer, Suzanne—my mold “angel”—who has literally taught me everything I know.
Suzanne is what we folks in Austin call our “mold canary”—a woman in her 60’s who has lived this journey for her entire life…gotten wayyyyy better…and dedicated her own life, expertise and even health to helping others do the same.
I met Suzanne through one of my dearest friends in Austin, who also happened to go through mold illness, and she quickly became my “go to” source and guiding angel through all the mold ups and downs—from accompanying me to search for “mold free” housing (her body can feel mold without testing) to teaching me many of the lessons in this post itself to praying for my health and to find a better path.
Suzanne is literally an angel on earth, and I so believe everything we go through happens for a REASON—to meet cool people like Suzanne.
Now without further ado….
13 Things Most Doctors, Builders, Landlords or Relators Won’t Tell You About Surviving Mold
(Note: trust me, there’s way more, but this is a hit list to get started.
(1.) Most Mold Inspectors Don’t Know How to REALLY Test for Mold
Google search a random “mold inspector” in your town to come to your house and you probably won’t get the most accurate results. Many mold inspectors out there do not test for mycotoxins—the toxic spores from mold itself. They simply run “air sample” tests and look for mold with the naked eye.
However, toxic mold is typically not found in the air because their toxic spores (mycotoxins) are heavy and settle in dust—meaning a cloth dust sample test is more accurate for detecting them.
It’s also important to note that toxic mold is NOT typically seen with the naked eye. In fact, many times it can be hiding in flooring or behind walls in a home for years without ever being seen—even in brand new homes! Other times, it’s in the HVAC (air conditioning system) or even lurking on the items in your home itself (furniture, clothing, etc.) and circulating in the air.
My Home Mold Test of Choice
In my experience, the gold standard tests I’ve used to date as a great “screening” tool for mold are the Mycotoxin ScanTM and mold DNA scan (HC45TM) tests by Global Analytics. Foundater Eric Althouse has been doing mold testing for over 20 years and specializes in helping both individual clients and big entities (hospitals, schools, etc.) assess for mycotoxins, mold damage and get started on the path to remediation. Right now, the company is so busy that he doesn’t even have a website. You can contact my office directly and we will get you set up.
My 2nd Choice Home Mold Test
Real Time Lab’s EMMA Test is the next runner up—a similar dust sample that tests directly for 15 of the most poisonous Mycotoxins.
(2.) Mold OUTSIDE is 100% Different Than Mold INSIDE (Mycotoxins—Not Mold Itself—Is What Makes Mold Toxic)
Mold in the outdoors is natural. Mold inside is not. If left to grow for too long (as little as 24 hours after a leak, water damage or humidity occurs) indoor molds are toxic—releasing mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are potent chemicals that certain species of molds can produce under certain conditions. Mycotoxins are thought to be a kind of “chemical defense system” to protect mold from insects, microorganisms, nematodes, grazing animals, and humans. These chemicals are attached to mold spores, mold fragments and dust particles that blow around and settle out in the household dust.
Over 400 different mycotoxins exist, but the best known ones are aflatoxins (AF), ochratoxin A (OTA), Fusarium toxins, fumonisin (FUM), zearalenone (ZEA), trichothecenes (TCT).
If humans are exposed to them for too long, they can colonize the human body—particularly cavities like your nose, gut, lungs and brain—and result in a host of ill side effects. In fact, mycotoxins are well known for their use as “weapons” in biological warfare.
Some common symptoms of mycotoxin exposure include:
- IBD flares
- Food sensitivities
- Brain fog/Fuzzy brain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Seeing spots/flashes
- Low energy
- Hormone imbalances
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- “Adrenal fatigue”
- Missed periods
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Mast cell activation syndrome
- Multiple chemical sensitivity
- Frequent sinus congestion
- Low immunity/frequent sickness
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Multiple food intolerances/sensitivities
- Autoimmune disease—multiple diagnoses
- Watery eyes
- Dry flaky skin
Mold in the air may make you feel congested…but mycotoxins make you feel toxic.
(3.) Many People Experience Symptoms from Mold Contamination, But Have No Idea…
As described in point #2, the signs and symptoms of chronic mold exposure are vast, meaning many people chalk their ill symptoms as “normal” and easily miss the root cause behind them (mold exposure).
Some folks report noticing they feel better when they are on vacation or not in their usual home or work environment, and this is a tell-tell sign that something may be off indoors.
A great way to see if you have mold exposure is to run a mycotoxin urine test for yourself.
Health Assessment Mold Tests
- Real Time Labs
- Great Plain Labs
Contact my office today and we can get you set up.
(4.) You Can’t Just Clean Mold (& Don’t Use Bleach…No Matter What You Do)
NEVER use bleach on mold. Bleach spreads mold. End of story.
Despite what Dr. Google tells you, when mold and bleach meet, the mold reacts as if it were being attacked.
Spraying the mold down with bleach causes the mold to shoot spores off to protect itself. As a person is wiping the surface, it can spread the mold spores further out. If the rag is used in other areas of the home, it can further spread the mold to areas that were unaffected.
Here’s the low down: You don’t want to clean mold. You don’t want to just kill mold. You want to REMOVE mold and, if you have a big mold problem, you need to remediate the entire home and everything in it.
For this job, the best way to attack it is to hire a professional; if mold is in a small part of your home or just on a few items, you can try DIY with non-toxic cleaning supplies. (Note: DIY mold removal is very rarely a good idea if you have health problems due to mold; DON’T clean the mold yourself).
OPTION 1: DIY
When to Do It: The mold or mycotoxin contamination is pretty small (such as on a door frame baseboard, or a bathroom) & you understand how to properly contain the area.
How to Do It: White vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, clear ammonia or EC3 cleaning solution diluted in distilled water are fairly effective on cleaning up light molds and wiping down non-porous items.
OPTION 2: Hire a Professional
When to Do It: Mold contamination is over 100 feet OR you DON’T know how to properly contain the moldy area and seal off the rest of your house
How to Do It: Call a mold remediation company and make sure they can answer these 3 screening questions: (1.) Why is bleach bad for mold? ; (2.) What are mycotoxins and how do you address them?; (3.) How do you plan to contain the mold and what do you wear?
(You want someone who knows bleach is bad…mycotoxins exist and a full remediation of the home may be warranted…and that a containment must be set up + protective gear worn while addressing mold).
What About Mycotoxins?
Cleaning mycotoxins—the spores from mold—is a bit different than straight up remediation—primarily because you can’t see these spores with the naked eye and they are only “sensed”—causing many symptoms (from headaches to nausea, IBS, brain fog, fatigue, allergies and more).
Mycotoxins often contaminate clothing, furniture, books and circulate in your air throughout the home, and are VERY beastly to clean (if at all)—see point #7.
Mycotoxin contaminated clothes may be salvageable with a good wash (and no bleach as well). Use non-scented organic detergent + EC3 laundry additive or Branched Basics supplies + Borax with a triple wash for your first go if clothing is contaminated.
Additionally, dry fogging can be a mycotoxin symptom-reducer that does not necessarily “fix” the problem, but buys you time.
(5.) Air Purifiers Can Make Things Worse…Not Better (& Expensive Ones Aren’t Always the Best)
The world of air purification is the wild, Wild West. Every company seems to claim “kill mold” or “eliminate VOC’s” or “get rid of 99.9% of allergens”…but do they really work?
Yes. And no.
Air purifiers do work to make your home air cleaner and crisper. However, if you already have a mold or mycotoxin problem to begin with, air purifiers can’t really cover up the damage. In some cases, air purifiers can actually make things worse—filtering out mold toxins and then recirculating them into the air.
Additionally, if you’ve used an air purifier in a contaminated or mold-infested home, don’t take it with you, as you may take along spores from your last place to your new place.
Top Tip: If you ARE living in a moldy home right now, although I LOVE the top quality purifiers (like IQ Air and Austin Air), don’t waste your money on something you may have to throw away. Get a Honeywell air purifier to sleep with by your head if you struggle to breathe (like me).
(6.) Controlling Humidity & Scrubbing the Air Will Get You Far
Mold loves humidity. A de-humidifier can help—as long as you maintain it. An air scrubber adds the one-two punch, turning over the air in the home. Both are helpful for maintaining the home.
(7.) Mold is an OPPORTUNITY to Marie Kando Your Life (Don’t Hold On)
I lost everything…twice. Not because I wanted to. Because I had to. Mold made me a very sick person. The mycotoxins that infested my home via the HVAC and side wall in my rental home had widespread repercussions on my furniture, my clothes, my books, my papers, my makeup, even my car. Most everything that was porous had to go. Eventually even the hard things had to go—my blender, my Instant Pot, my dishes, my pans, my jewelry. I reacted to everything. It may sound extreme, but in order to get well, I needed to start anew—mentally and physically.
I made the mistake the first mold go-around of trying to save things—things I didn’t even need. I brought what I could to my next place, only to quickly discover I became reactive to everything. Fogging didn’t help. Cleaning with EC3 didn’t help. Marie Kando-ing did. Minimalism.
(8.) Conventional Housing is on Mold’s Side
Our homes are built out of paper and wood—a biological food source for water and mold. Over the past 2 years, I have tested over 50 homes and only 2 came back “clean” —in the green from mycotoxins and mold. Is mold everywhere? Yes. Does that mean it is healthy or normal? Not if it’s mycotoxins. Just like Big Mac cheeseburgers are normal for people to eat in the Western world, does not mean they are normal or healthy for you either.
How to Build a Mold Resistant Home
Building a home out of mold resistant construction products would entail things like: mold resistant drywall, which uses fiberglass instead of paper facing, and drywall tape; painting treated with an EPA-registered fungicide, which discourages growth on painted surfaces; mold resistant insulation, such as Nu-Wool; wood treated with anti-mold chemicals such as FrameGuard’s; and mold resistant trim, caulk, and sealant.
For flooring, opt for waterproof concrete used for floors, exterior basement walls, and the foundation, such as with a crystalline waterproofing system, which allows concrete to breathe so moisture doesn’t accumulate. No crawlspaces.
Insulate pipes and water-supply lines to prevent cracks and leaks and install gutters that take water away from the house.
Equip the HVAC system with a filter or electronic air cleaner for catching airborne mold spores and install a programmable dehumidifier to reduce indoor humidity and exhaust fans to prevent moisture.
Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting, or install plastic sheeting and sub-flooring between carpeting and a concrete floor to prevent moisture.
For all the ins-and-outs of building or creating a mold free home, check out my podcast with healthy home builder Adam Reiser.
Renting or Buying a Mold-Freer Home
If building is not in the cards for you, a few things I’ve learned to look for for mold sensitive people include:
- A home that is at least 1-2 years old (to allow for off-gassing of VOC’s)
- No carpets
- Polished concrete floors are really great
- No attached side wall
- Gutters to funnel water away from the home
- Homes tend to have better luck than apartments
- Split AC units are a plus (newer type of AC unit)
- Vents in the bathrooms
- No history leaks/water damage
- Well-sealed windows (caulking)
- Low/No VOC paint
Just to name a few of my essential check-lists.
(9.) Facebook Will Make You Go Crazy
“Moldies” on Facebook can have alot of great anecdotal experience to share…and also alot of doom, gloom and fear. Tread lightly and take anything you read on social media with a grain of salt. Not face value. What works well for one person may or may not work for you.
(10.) Sweat and Poo. Daily.
The reason mold can make you really sick is not being able to detox it—get rid of it—effectively. Toxins get trapped and clogged in your body, triggering an immune response to the foreign invaders. Hello mold symptoms!
Sweating and pooing—daily—can be helpful strategies for keeping toxins moving along.
Daily infrared sauna sessions became like drinking water during my mold detox journey. You can buy a home unit (Sunlighten is the best!) or if you live in a city with an infrared studio, hit it up (I don’t know what I would do without the Ocean Lab).
As for pooing daily, if you’re not going #2 daily, something is off. Some ways to improve your poo include:
- Iberogast (digestive bitters)
- Magnesium Citrate and/or Buffered Vitamin C
- Smooth Move Tea
- Hydration + Minerals
(11.) Healing from Mold is an Inside Job
Getting into a mold-free home is one huge piece of the mold-healing journey puzzle. The other starts inside. Health is an inside job.
Immune system, gut health and detox optimization is the name of the game (your gut is where 80% of your immune system lies).
Mold sensitivity, multiple chemical sensitivity and mast cell activation syndrome are all byproducts of a haywire or overtaxed immune system, often coupled with dysbiosis, poor methylation (detox) and multiple stressors (not just mold itself).
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to boosting your immune system, gut or detox pathways, but some essentials in my mold healing journey include:
- 7-8 hours of sleep in a pitch dark, EMF-free room
- Daily movement (but not overtraining).
- Heated yoga.
- Fresh air walks. Daily.
- Being ok with not doing it “all” in a day.
- Bone broth/meat broth
- Celery juice
- Clean filtered water
- Short-term low histamine diet
- Wild caught fatty fish
- Lots of colorful, cooked vegetables
- Kefir and fermented veggies (as I overcame my histamine intolerance)
- Liposomal glutathione
- Basic Detox Nutrients
- Liposomal curcumin
- Olive Leaf
- Rhodiola (adrenal adaptogens)
(12.) Trust. Your. Gut.
It knows. It knows how you feel. It knows if a home doesn’t feel right. It knows what it needs.
(13.) Pray. He’s Listening. (Spiritual journey)
The #1 thing that has gotten me through the ups and the downs is: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”-Matthew 6:34
Don’t Go it Alone
Are you struggling with mold illness, or think you may be living in mold? Don’t go it alone!
If there is ONE thing I could NOT have done throughout my mold healing journey, it is going it alone.
From the amazing mold-literate practitioners I’ve partnered with…to mentors like Suzanne…my mold “test guy” Eric…my home inspector Jeff…my network of supportive clinicians…and my friends and family, there is strength and numbers, and if you do want to overcome mold, working with a mold-literate practitioner who GETS IT and has learned how to overcome it is one of the best things you can do.
Contact me at my virtual clinic today for a 10 minute complimentary consult and we can discuss how we can help you break the mold. I am excited to announce I have partnered with an amazing team of mold experts who have “walked the walk” and have joined me in my practice as consultants to help my patients too.
Lots in store!