With months of rain turning our homes mould, a Sydney doctor has issued a warning – urgently clean or face huge health problems.
Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zac Turner talks about the health risks of mold and how it can be removed.
QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, I am fearing for my mother’s health, and it’s all thanks to mould! She lives alone in a tiny little apartment with barely any natural light. You should feel how cold it gets during winter, mountaineers looking to climb Everest could use it as a training ground!
When I was there last, nearly every nook and cranny of her place was covered with clusters of mould, some of it is even black! And when I looked under her fridge I found something that looked like it came from the movie Alien, it turned out to be a piece of cheese she dropped a few years back that grew green hair. Of course I helped her clean a few things – but the mold in Sydney is relentless thanks to all the rain we’ve been experiencing.
She says that mold won’t hurt her, but I fear it will. Is it true that having mold lingering in your apartment can cause quite serious health issues? She’s also a smoker, so I’m concerned her lungs aren’t as pristine as they could be. – Jacob, 39, Sydney
ANSWER: Hi Jacob, to answer your question directly: Yes, mold can cause serious health-problems and I would recommend that your mother get the mold in her apartment removed immediately.
Not many people are afraid of mould, and I believe it’s because not many people understand what it is. It should be on nearly everyone’s radar at the moment because of the weather we’ve been having along the east coast.
So what is mould? It’s included in a group of very common organisms called fungi. We know its distant cousins mushrooms and yeast very well. If left unattended, mold will grow, and create spores which are its attempts at spreading. Think of spores as its sperm, which fly up into the air and look for new spots to fertilise.
Mold is present both indoors and outdoors, and there are actually many varying types. The ones that can typically cause adverse health-effects are found in water-damaged environments, where it grows to release spores that can cause health problems if inhaled.
Spores can trigger allergy and respiratory symptoms, such as nasal congestion, wheezing, itchy eyes, coughing and respiratory infections. Our bodies are designed to be able to put up a defense to irritants like mold-spores, however, too many of them and you’ll have some make it through the barrier.
Many people don’t know this but mold can give you asthma, and in serious cases give you chronic asthma. Some people have even presented to doctors with mold growing in their lungs, because of ongoing contact with spores.
If you have pre-existing breathing conditions, allergies, or have a weakened immune system, your risk of adverse health effects from mold increases dramatically. If your mother is in the older demographic, she could potentially run into some serious health problems.
Many people assume you rid mold from bleach, but studies have shown using bleach will leave a surface level of mould. The trick is to use a vinegar solution! This will take away all the mould, especially the stuff you can’t see.
It sounds like your mother’s home will need the touch of a professional deep-clean, however, there are a few ways to prevent it from growing back.
Control the moisture and dampness in your home
Especially during this period of weather, we have to keep an eye out for any pockets of moisture in your home. You should prioritize the repair of all leaks and plumbing problems. If water does end up in your home, I recommend you clean and dry it immediately and keep an eye on the area for a little while.
Ventilation is key
You should always turn on exhaust fans when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry and drying clothes. And you should keep windows open when weather permits. I understand with your mother that she may not have much ventilation, so you should purchase a dehumidifier for her which will increase ventilation.
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Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors (https://conciergedoctors.com.au/). He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.