Allergies to Molds

Allergies to molds are very common in the U.S. and around the world. Mold allergies are responsible for a great deal of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma that affects so many individuals. Molds are fungi that grow in the form of multicellular strands called hyphae.  Fungi that propagate in a single celled atmosphere are called yeasts. Molds can cause both annoying symptoms that are bothersome to an individual as well as more severe symptoms that may result in severe consequences to another individual. There are basically 3 major ways in which molds may affect people. They may cause either infections, allergic reactions, or irritant responses.

Molds or fungi can cause infections in certain individuals. Many times the person who gets infected are immunocompromised or have a “low” immunity. They can be immunocompromised for various reasons which may include immune defects (e.g., common variable immunodeficiency, IgG subclass deficiency, hypogammaglobulinemia, Bruton’s agammaglobulinemia), immunosuppressant medications (e.g., corticosteroids, cyclosporine, tacrolimus, azathioprine, biological monoclonal antibodies), cancer, radiation, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, stress after surgery, and old age, to name a few. Fungi tend to infect the sinuses, lungs, esophagus, brain, bloodstream, eyes, tongue, skin, and nails. One can have a superficial or systemic fungal infection. Systemic fungal infections tend to occur more in immunosuppressed individuals and may be life-threatening. It is important to note that superficial fungal infections of the tongue, nails and skin are common in normal individuals without compromised immune systems. It is the sinuses, lungs, esophagus, brain, bloodstream, and eyes that are more of a problem and tend to occur more in individuals with weakened immune systems. Treatment varies depending on the location and severity of the fungus. Antifungal medications can be given topically, orally, and/or intravenously.

Allergic reactions to molds mainly arise as allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and/or asthma. Allergic rhinitis or hay fever symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, puffy eyes, itchy throat, snoring, sinus congestion, sinus headaches, and/or fatigue. Asthma symptoms generally may include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and/or coughing. As a result of mold allergies, it is not uncommon to develop recurrent or chronic sinus infections or nasal polyps. The diagnosis of allergic rhinitis is made by a board certified allergist like the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy and begins with a comprehensive history and physical examination. Afterwards, allergy testing, usually by skin testing and alternatively by blood testing, is performed in order to determine if allergies are present and causing symptoms in the affected individual. For asthmatics, a pulmonary function test is also done in the office in order to evaluate one’s respiratory status. Occasionally, a chest X-ray is ordered to evaluate the lungs, if necessary. Once the allergens are identified, preventing exposure to the allergens is strongly recommended, if one is able to do so. If one is unable to avoid the offending allergens or avoidance does not alleviate the symptoms, there are a host of medications available to help mitigate the bothersome symptoms. The array of medications to treat allergic rhinitis and/or allergic conjunctivitis may include oral antihistamines, oral decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergics, topical antihistamines, topical mast cell stabilizers, topical corticosteroids, topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), leukotriene antagonists, and/or allergy shots (i.e., allergy injections, allergy immunotherapy, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization). Medications used to treat asthma may include inhaled corticosteroids, inhaled beta-agonists, inhaled anticholinergics, leukotriene antagonists, methylxanthines, biologicals [e.g., Xolair (omalizumab), Nucala (mepolizumab), Dupixent (dupilumab)], and/or allergy injections. Allergy shots are very effective and help patients with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma in 80-85% of the cases. Allergy shots have been utilized in the U.S. for more than 100 years.

Toxic mold syndrome: It should be noted that mold allergies may be responsible for more than half of the cases in the controversial syndrome named “toxic mold syndrome.” The symptoms of toxic mold syndrome range vary greatly and may include runny nose, itchy eyes, red eyes, sore throat, nosebleeds, rash, hair loss, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, urinary tract infections, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, shakiness, weight loss, inability to focus, lack of concentration, mood swings, fatigue, loss of appetite, and memory loss. Toxic mold most commonly grow on moist walls and is often accompanied by black, brown, or green patches along with a musty odor. The syndrome sometimes is also referred to as sick building syndrome. Some people feel that toxic mold produces spores and chemicals which are released in the air and when inhaled cause the symptoms mentioned above.

Molds may also bother individuals by causing an irritant reaction. To many individuals this irritant reaction mimics an allergic reaction, however, it is not an immunologic reaction and cannot be treated by allergy shots. An irritant reaction occurs when the mold is irritating to a patient, but no allergy exists. Examples of irritant reactions include watery eyes from freshly cut onions or a runny nose after eating hot peppers. In cases of irritant reactions to molds, the best treatment is prevention by avoiding molds. If this cannot be achieved, there are some medications that may help reduce the symptoms of this nonallergic rhinitis. Such medications may include oral decongestants, nasal antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, and/or nasal anticholinergics.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy diagnose and treat mold allergies in both children and adults and have been doing so for more than 50 years.  Our 3 offices are conveniently located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  We have parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  If you suspect mold allergies or have hay fever, eye or skin allergies, or asthma, please call us to schedule an appointment.  Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond back to you within 24 hours of the next business day. The allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy hope to serve your allergy and asthma needs in our state-of-the-art medical facilities while continuing to provide you with a friendly and welcoming environment.