DRHOOK- Break the mold: Keep house dry to prevent nasty fungi

the handsome doctor John Hong

Jell-O molds make most people happy. Seafood served in a lobster shape on the buffet table makes the dish fun. Fruit cocktail in a Bundt-shaped green mold is a classic at any potluck. "Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle–"

There's always room for Jell-O, but what if the mold in your house is not Jell-O brand gelatin?

Molds are a category in the fungi family, but the words are often used interchangeably. We all know mold and mildew: in the tub you were supposed to have cleaned over a month ago, on week-old bread, behind the headboard in grandma's house with no AC, on stored ice-hockey gear. (As a figure skater, I can tell when the ice hockey players walk in the rink because their gear smells like death.)

Unlike Jell-O, mold likes a warm, humid environment. A water leak in the house needs to be properly mopped up to prevent mold from having a great party there. 

The most common indoor fungi are Cladosporium, Alternaria, Epicoccum, Fusarium, Penicillium (sound familiar?), Aspergillus, Geotrichum, Rhodotorula, and Chaetomium. (I think the Octomom should give have given these names to her kids.)

Outdoor fungi can come inside through windows or on Fido the dog, your clothing, or tracked-in old wet leaves. But the fungi spores won't go haywire unless the house is warm and humid. 

Mold proliferates through spores that float, like through the air duct system. These spores are invisible to the naked eye, so you can imagine how difficult it can be to eradicate the mold spores in a house. Therefore, even as good as Martha Stewart is, this is a job for an experienced mold expert, who will clean the place and get rid of mold spores in the air ducts. If the HVAC is contaminated, it has to be cleaned or replaced to prevent it from blowing spores throughout the house. 

It's impossible to get rid of 100 percent of mold and spores indoors. Bummer! Nevertheless, absolutely all sources of water leaks or moisture must be addressed to prevent the spores landing on wet surfaces. 

"Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink," said the Ancient Mariner. If a hurricane floods the basement, or the crawl space doesn't adequately drain, you can say your house fits the mold for having mold. 

Household mold has a stuffy, stale smell. Worse, it can cause allergies and asthma attacks. Hypersensitivity disorders can cause a pneumonia-type illness that leads to fevers, fatigue, hacking, coughing, and shortness of breath that feels like climbing Mt. Everest must feel. Sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and sore throat all can occur from being allergic to mold. 

A Fungal Ball is not the Prom. It's literally a ball of fungus that can develop inside the lung, in particular, Aspergillosis.

Molds break down dead organic matter like dead trees and fallen leaves. Likewise, molds will slowly destroy furniture, paintings, and floors. The carpet and furniture can be tough to clean and might need to be tossed out, but hopefully the mold remediation folks can salvage the furniture.

Stachybotrys is the infamous toxic black mold that can cause terrible reactions. (BTW, not all black molds are stachybotrys, and only a culture can determine this.) Stachybotrys gained notoriety in 1993 when 10 infants in Cleveland developed AIPH (a problem of bleeding in the lungs). However, further research did not fully support the association with stachybotrys. This bad boy is also thought to also cause neurological problems. 

You might be a fun guy, but it's time to break the mold– when it's in your house. 

Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.