June M, in her early forties, made an appointment to see me about a year ago.
“Doc, I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’ve had a remarkably healthy and happy life – almost ideal. But in the last year I’ve had a growing number of things happen.”
When I inquired what was going on, she said she’d had constant sinus problems, shortness of breath, coughing and one cold after another for almost a year. Furthermore, unremitting fatigue was dragging her down, her memory seemed to be leaving her, and for the first time in her life she was experiencing anxiety and the onset of depression.
After further questioning, I learned that her life was otherwise ideal. She was a full-time mom, and had a loving husband and two great kids. Except for perpetually runny noses and allergic skin rashes, her kids seemed to be fine. Her husband had occasional headaches but hadn’t missed a day of work in years.
I began to delve a bit more deeply into her life. Her husband had a sizable income, allowing them to upgrade their lives. They traveled often as a family, and strangely, her symptoms ameliorated while they are on the road.
I learned that her symptoms had begun about a year before her visit, when her family moved into an newly remodeled upscale home on a large lot surrounded by tall, lovely trees.
“Aha!” I thought. In medical diagnosis, when a doctor tries to unravel the mysterious underlying causes of an illness, he looks for etiology and synchronicity – in plain English, what are the possible sources, and what was happening in the patient’s life when the symptoms began to occur.
I suggested that June hire a home environment inspection firm to evaluate if something in her surroundings was contributing to the symptoms she was experiencing.
Sure enough, the results of the inspection revealed that there was significant mold behind the wallboard, and whoever did the remodeling had painted and wallpapered over mold on the exterior surfaces of the wallboard. Thus began a long, costly process of residence de-molding and personal cleansing and health restoration.
When we think of mold, we think of warm, humid places, like the southern states or Hawaii. But mold can exist anywhere, even in desert environments.
At a recent environmental medicine conference, Dr. Connie and I were shocked and dismayed to discover the lack of knowledge among healthcare professionals (including ourselves) about the numerous medical conditions that can be caused by mold exposure.
Hurricane Katrina and the Texas floods heightened public awareness of the sinister health effects of molds.
The symptoms of mold exposure can include muscle and joint pain, headaches, anxiety, depression, memory loss, visual disturbances, immune system disturbances, fatigue, digestive problems, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, sinus problems and post-nasal drip, itchy rashes, joint pain, blood vessel fragility, fertility problems in both men and women, tremors, muscular incoordination, and much more.
But perhaps the most serious danger comes from highly poisonous agents called mycotoxins that are present in common molds.
Mycotoxins interfere with RNA synthesis and may cause DNA damage. DNA damage can lead to severe chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Mycotoxins, even in minute quantities, are fat-soluble and readily absorbed by the intestinal lining, lungs, and skin. Some mycotoxins are so poisonous that they’ve been developed as biological warfare agents!
Everyone reacts to mold to greater or lesser degree. One of the challenges of diagnosing a mold allergy is that the reactions are so variable from one person to another. Some people start having memory problems, while others may experience sudden changes in disposition, such as agitation, anger, panic, or depression. Headaches are common but don’t affect everyone who’s exposed to mold.
If you find echoes in your life to June’s experiences, please ask your favorite healthcare professional about being evaluated for mold exposure.
By the way, over a year later, June is still not back to where she was before the mold exposure began, but her home is close to being mold-free, and her symptoms have dramatically diminished.