5 Signs That Household Mold Is Making You Sick, According to a Doctor

From rashes to sniffles, that illness may not be what you think it is.

No one likes the sight of mold, whether it's between the tiles in a damp bathroom or a greenish fuzz on the bread you were about to use for a sandwich.

But mold isn't always a bad thing, advises Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, Medical Toxicologist, Co-Medical Director, and Interim Executive Director of the National Capital Poison Control Center in Washington, DC. "Mold is often thought of as an unwanted nuisance, but it's important to remember that not all mold is bad," Johnson-Arbor says. "Mold is used to make beer, bread, cheese, and other foods that we consume daily."

Noted. However, Johnson-Arbor also points out that some types of mold can be dangerous and "cause disease in humans, especially in people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions like diabetes or cancer." Plus, mold spores can be so small they're invisible to us, found in places you wouldn't expect, and even be drug-resistant. So how do you know that household mold is present and making you sick? Read on to find out.

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You have cold-like symptoms.

Woman with a cold blowing her nose.

Winter is certainly the season for illnesses such as COVID, RSV, influenza, and the common cold. But sickness caused by mold allergies can cause similar symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose. So how can you tell the difference?

"​​Unlike the common cold that lasts a few days, allergy symptoms tend to linger," explains the Asthma and Allergy Center. "Mold allergy can be identified by a complete patient history and some basic skin testing."

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You have allergies.

Woman with sinus headache and allergies rubbing at itchy eyes.
Pheelings Media/iStock

An allergy to mold is still an allergy, so it makes sense that it may manifest with the same symptoms you might get from being exposed to seasonal triggers, dust mites, or other allergens. But pay attention to your signs and when those symptoms are occurring.

The Mayo Clinic notes that mold allergy symptoms can be varied. "You might have year-round symptoms or symptoms that flare up only during certain times of the year," the site says. "You might notice symptoms when the weather is damp or when you're in indoor or outdoor spaces that have high concentrations of mold."

You have asthma.

Woman using an asthma inhaler.

Exposure to mold can cause asthma symptoms and breathing problems. "People with asthma or other lung conditions may experience allergic reactions, asthma exacerbations, or wheezing after inhalation of mold spores," says Johnson-Arbor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that even people who have no known allergies can be affected, and "studies indicate that exposure to molds in the workplace can make pre-existing asthma worse."

"Mold can easily enter homes through open doors, windows, and HVAC systems," Johnson-Arbor cautions. "Because mold is found throughout the environment, it's also possible for shoes, pets, bags, and clothes to carry mold from the outside into homes and other buildings."

You have a rash.

Woman in bed scratching at her arm.

Like other allergens, mold can cause a skin rash. "A rash caused by mold exposure resembles other types of rashes caused by allergic reactions," says Heathline. "It's unlikely that you or a doctor will be able to diagnose a mold rash just by looking at it." The site explains that some rashes caused by mold can result in symptoms including dry skin, sensitive skin, and "small raised bumps that may leak fluid."

"A doctor may be able to diagnose a mold allergy from your symptoms and by reviewing your medical history," Heathline advises. "If the doctor suspects that you may have a mold allergy, they'll likely perform several tests, including a blood test or skin prick test."

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You have digestive issues.

Doctor talking to patient with stomach pain.

"Mycotoxins are poisonous substances produced by fungi or mold [and] can be toxic for humans when they are eaten, absorbed into the skin, or inhaled," says WebMD. Poisoning by these substances is called mycotoxicosis.

"While different strains of mycotoxins produce varying symptoms in people, many of the main symptoms are difficulty with digestion; difficulty digesting proteins; damage to the immune system; damage to the lungs," WebMD explains. "Treatment for mycotoxin poisoning involves treating whatever disease is being caused by it and minimizing exposure to mycotoxins."

If you think you may be suffering from symptoms of household mold exposure, see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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