Mold Spores: A Tough To Avoid Asthma Trigger
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Mold, mold, and more mold. They produce spores that get into the air and are easily inhaled. They are a ubiquitous (seemingly everywhere) allergy and asthma trigger. They are resilient and very hard to avoid. Here is all you need to know.

Fungus used to be considered plants, although they were ultimately discovered to have unique characteristics from plants. They rely on their environment to obtain necessary nutrients to survive. They particularly love warm, moist environments. Like bacteria, they are considered one of the world’s “primary decomposers.”1

There are two groups of fungi: yeasts and molds.1 Researchers do not know how many varieties of mold exist, although they estimate that there may be greater than three hundred thousand.2,3

Unlike bacteria, molds can be seen with the naked eye. Under the microscope, they look like tiny mushrooms with roots that invade their food source, which includes animal or plant matter. This may include rotting or decaying wood, decomposing leaves, damp soil, piles of cut grass, etc.2

There are also food sources indoors, such as wooden cupboards, walls, ceilings, wood furniture, upholstered furniture, carpet, or foods such as bread, etc. These are all potential food sources given a warm, moist environment.4

They grow where there is standing water from leaks or spills. They also grow on other surfaces, such as walls, ceilings, and wood furniture, because they have the ability to draw moisture from warm, humid air.

Under the microscope, stalks rise up above the food source, and at the ends of these stalks are spores. As the mold colony grows they can be seen with the naked eye.2 They can sometimes be colorful, and this is due to pigments in the spores.1

The spores are necessary because this is how they reproduce. These spores are very resilient and able to withstand a variety of different environmental conditions, including dry or freezing temperatures.2

Because of the resilience of mold spores, a mold is very hard to get rid of. Just because you think you have cleaned up all the mold from a particular area does not mean you have gotten rid of all the mold. Mold spores will wait for the right conditions to once again multiply and spread.4

And it’s the mold spores that cause allergy and asthma symptoms, not the mold itself. They are easily aerosolized and inhaled. In those of us with a predisposition to developing allergies, our immune systems recognize them as harmful and initiate an immune response resulting in allergy and asthma symptoms. I describe this response in my post “Allergic Asthma.”

Since mold can grow quickly and is so hard to get rid of, the best approach is to prevent it from growing in the first place. The best strategy here is to make sure all leaks are fixed and all spills, however small, are immediately cleaned up.2

They thrive when the humidity is greater than 50, so be sure to use a dehumidifier or air conditioner during the hot and humid months of summer to keep the humidity less than 50 in your home. Use exhaust fans when you are using the shower and when you are cooking. Keep the bathroom door open when possible.2

While it can be an arduous task, mold can be cleaned up. Mold is very sensitive to bleach. You can create a mixture of a cup of bleach to a gallon of water and use a rag to wash mold off surfaces. This works for walls, floors, and also for wood surfaces, including antique wood furniture. For sensitive surfaces, you can use soap and water.

Make sure that when you are cleaning mold that you do it in a well-ventilated area. Open windows and doors. If possible, take furniture outdoors. You should also wear a mask. All of this is necessary because, as you are washing away the mold, mold spores will get into the air and are easily aerosolized.

Ideally, if you have an allergy to mold, you should find someone else to clean up mold. However, if you feel you must do the work yourself, these tips should help.

It’s also important to use caution when you are outdoors. You should wear a mask when you mow the lawn, rake leaves, or when you are handling rotting wood or any vegetation that is rotting. Or, better yet, it’s best that you leave such jobs to someone who does not have allergies.

Mold is seemingly everywhere, and where you don’t see mold there are probably mold spores lurking, waiting for the right environment to multiply and spread. Now that you are educated about this common asthma trigger you should be better equipped to prevent them from triggering your asthma.

view references
  1. Alcamo, Edward I, "Fundamentals of Microbiology," 5th Ed., 1997,
  2. USDA, “Mold on food: Are they dangerous?” https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/molds-on-food-are-they-dangerous_/ct_index, accessed 11/27/16
  3. CDC, “Mold Facts,” http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm#mold, accessed 11/27/16
  4. The Remove Mold Guide, “What mold ‘eats’,” http://removemoldguide.com/black-mold/mold-eats/, accessed 11/27/16
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