Wet, mild winter may lead to difficult springtime for allergy sufferers.
ANN ARBOR, MI – Geri Isaacson’s son first noticed that something was wrong in their basement. Earlier this year, he discovered a problem with the carpet – a squishiness, a sign of moisture in the house that Isaacson hadn’t noticed previously because of the dark color of the flooring. That early sign of trouble was a bad omen of things to come. When fans and dehumidifiers didn’t take care of all of the moisture in the house, the family began to pry off the trim on a wall. Behind it was something no homeowner wants to see: black mold. An excavator discovered the drain from the gutters was the source of the moisture, and the Isaacsons fixed that problem. But they still needed to repair the pervasive damage to the basement. After all, nothing less than the family’s health was at stake.
“I started to notice a cough and a sinus problem” with her son and daughter, “so I didn’t let them come downstairs,” she says. “And I’m just getting over bronchitis.”
Expect more symptoms like those this spring, says an expert from the University of Michigan Health System. Because of the wet and relatively mild weather this winter throughout much of the country – particularly the Northwest and parts of the Midwest – mold and other spring allergies could be especially bad this year.
“With the dampness and lack of snow cover we’ve had, we may have more molds this year than in years past,” says Andrew Singer, M.D., clinical instructor in the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Allergy and Immunology and in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School.
While nobody knows exactly how many people are sensitized or allergic to mold, it is known to be a common problem, Singer says. Of the patients he sees who have hay fever or nasal allergies, 20 to 30 percent also have sensitivities to various molds, he says, and mold can be a big problem for people with asthma in particular.
Symptoms of a mold allergy, he says, may include a running nose, lots of sneezing, red and itchy eyes, as well as symptoms in asthmatics that may include increased coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a greater need for rescue medications used to control asthma.
Mold can grow outside and indoors, often in places people don’t think to look for it. Outside, it can be found in wet leaves in the fall, in gardening soil and in mulch. When it is relatively dry outside, it may be drifting in the air as mold spores.
Indoors, even people who seem to have clean homes can have problems with mold. It often is found in showers and other parts of the bathroom, in houseplants and on window sills, as well as anywhere affected by burst pipes or other deluges of water.
“Mold can be very difficult to get rid of once it has gotten into your house. I think first and foremost, you should make sure you eliminate the source of the water, fix any leaky pipes and keep the internal environment as dry as you can. “The problem a lot of times is with porous things such as wall board, fiber board and insulation, where you may clean only the surface mold and not touch the mold that’s deep down below the surface.”
As for Geri Isaacson, she’s had enough of the mold and its effect on her family’s health. She plans to have a professional cleaning company remove the mold from the walls and carpets in her basement.