Health Effects of Damp Indoor Environments

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The Global Indoor Health Network has compiled an excellent overview of the health implications of mold and other indoor air contaminants. The overview includes a number of reports and studies from experts in the field.

One report by Dr. Harriet Ammann, titled Is Indoor Mold Contamination a Threat to Health?, concludes:

Health effects from exposures to molds in indoor environments can result from allergy, infection, mucous membrane and sensory irritation and toxicity alone, or in combination.

The report also notes:

Mycotoxins are nearly all cytotoxic, disrupting various cellular structures such as membranes, and interfering with vital cellular processes such as protein, RNA and DNA synthesis.

Included is this summary of toxins and their targets:

• Vascular system (increased vascular fragility, hemorrhage into body tissues, or from lung, e.g., aflatoxin, satratoxin, roridins).

• Digestive system (diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal hemorrhage, liver effects, i.e., necrosis, fibrosis: aflatoxin; caustic effects on mucous membranes: T-2 toxin; anorexia: vomitoxin.

• Respiratory system: respiratory distress, bleeding from lungs e.g., trichothecenes.

• Nervous system, tremors, incoordination, depression, headache, e.g., tremorgens, trichothecenes.

• Cutaneous system: rash, burning sensation sloughing of skin, photosensitization, e.g., trichothecenes.

• Urinary system, nephrotoxicity, e.g. ochratoxin, citrinin.

• Reproductive system; infertility, changes in reproductive cycles, e.g. T-2 toxin, zearalenone.

• Immune system: changes or suppression: many mycotoxins.

A second report cited by Dr. Ruth Etzel, titled What the Primary Care Pediatrician Should Know about Syndromes Associated with Exposures to Mycotoxins, states:

Disease associated with exposure to mycotoxins is known as the “Great Masquerader” of the 21st century because of its complex natural history involving different tissues and resembling different diseases at each stage in its evolution. It can present with a variety of nonspecific clinical signs and symptoms such as rash, conjunctivitis, epistaxis, apnea, cough, wheezing, nausea, and vomiting. Some cases of vomiting illness, bone marrow failure, acute pulmonary hemorrhage, and recurrent apnea and/or “pneumonia” are associated with exposure to mycotoxins.

Familiarity with the symptoms of exposure to the major classes of mycotoxins enables the clinician to ask pertinent questions about possible fungal exposures and to remove the infant or child from the source of exposure, which could be contaminated food(s), clothing and furniture, or the indoor air of the home. Failure to prevent recurrent exposure often results in recurrent illness. A variety of other conditions, including hepatocellular and esophageal cancer and neural tube defects, are associated with consumption of foods contaminated with mycotoxins.

Awareness of the short- and long-term consequences of exposures to these natural toxins helps pediatricians to serve as better advocates for children and families.

Global Indoor Health Network's Health Effects page can be found by clicking here.