Cough and sniffles? Could a damp home be the cause?
Across many areas of the United States, cooler and wetter conditions have been common since the start of 2019. Excess rainfalls, while good for reducing drought, can also result in water damage to your home. Flooded, damp basements and leaky roofs may be affecting your health in ways you hadn’t thought of – respiratory issues. Respiratory issues of coughing, colds, and sniffles are among the most common health problems after these situations. The trigger for this is mold that develops from even the smallest amounts of moisture from water-related issues in your home.
New study looks at risk of living in a damp home
Living in a home with dampness or excessive moisture does have adverse effects on breathing and lung health. It’s been known that for anyone, children or adults, who already have asthma or lung conditions, can have side effects from exposure to dampness and mold. But a 2017 Swedish study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, found an association of dampness in a home with upper- and lower-respiratory tract symptoms (affecting the nasal passages, sinuses, throat, and lungs) even in healthy adults.
The study looked at dampness in homes defined as water damage, floor dampness, or visible molds. Discovered was people living in these homes had a significant association of developing chronic rhinosinusitis, a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of the sinuses and development of nasal polyps. Polyps are small, painless growths that form in the mucous lining of the nose or sinuses. Symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis (it can last at least 12 weeks despite treatment), include nasal congestion, facial pain or pressure, nasal mucus that drips from the nose or down the back of the throat, and a decreased sense of smell.
An interesting finding from the study was that the link between indoor dampness and chronic rhinosinusitis was just as strong as the link between smoking and chronic rhinosinusitis. It is made even worse if there is a combination between smoking and dampness – there is a higher risk of breathing issues, including wheezing, nighttime coughing, and chronic bronchitis.
How to recognize mold
Molds come in many varieties and can live on different types of surfaces. If you find household mold, this is a sign there is excess moisture, which might include leaking plumbing, a poorly vented appliance, water damage behind a wall, and the aftereffects of flooding. If you live near a wetland or swampy area, homes are particularly prone to mold outbreaks.
To recognize mold, most are black or greenish black and can also give off a distinctive damp and musty odor. The look of mold can appear cottony, velvety, or fuzzy or look like grime and dirt, especially when seen on grout between bathroom tiles. Other areas to consider where mold might grow can include closets, cabinets, window moldings, shower stalls and curtains, and surfaces around air conditioners and ventilation systems.
Symptoms of mold-related allergic reactions
When exposed to household dampness, the health risks can range from increased risk of breathing problems to other allergic reactions. The severity will depend on the amount of moisture and if a person already has existing health problems. People affected the most from living in a damp home are those with asthma and breathing problems and anyone else with a chronic health condition.
Here are symptoms to be alert to that you may notice if living in a damp or water-damaged home:
· Irritated eyes
· Shortness of breath
· Skin irritation
· Sinus pain or congestion
· Stuffy nose
One of the main issues everyone should be aware of when a home has been damaged by flooding or moisture is the risk of mold. Mold begins to grow in as little as 24 to 48 hours after spores are exposed to moisture. The spores are not always easy to see plus they can be hidden inside walls and even in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and appliances that have insulation. If you are being exposed to excess mold growth in your home, it is possible to develop a mold infection in your lungs, especially if you have a chronic lung disease or compromised immune system.
Treating symptoms of exposure to dampness in a home
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms listed, go to your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. They can assess the cause of your symptoms and provide medications to help treat them, such as nasal or inhaled corticosteroids. The best treatment however, is to remove the source of moisture and existing dampness and any mold. Indoor humidity levels should be no higher than 50 percent. To prevent excess dampness and mold development, use the air conditioner or a dehumidifier. Check to make sure there is proper ventilation in showers, bathrooms and cooking areas. It is recommended not to install carpeting in bathrooms or basements and to always remove carpets and upholstery that has been wet. Any sign of visible mold growth on a hard surface should be removed using soap and water, a bleach solution, or products designed to kill mold. For more extensive mold growth of hard-to-reach areas, you may need to hire a licensed contractor to remove the excessive mold growth.