Did you know that exposure to moldy, water-damaged buildings has the potential to make you sick? Mold serves an important role in nature by recycling dead organic material into soil and nutrients for new things to grow. To grow, it needs moisture and food in the form of cellulose, starch, or other organic matter. Mold species common in the outdoor environment rarely cause serious health issues for people.

However, mold can also grow indoors, especially in buildings damaged by water. The species of mold that grow inside tend to be much more problematic for human health, and can occur in much higher concentrations because they are in an enclosed space. Most people don’t realize that mold can take root and form a colony within 24-48 hours of water damage happening. Continued growth of some of the most toxic molds only requires high humidity (>60%) or slight, consistent dampness (a slow drip that never quite dries out).

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome

There is a short list of mold species that are known to be toxic to nearly everyone, the most well-known one being Stachybortys. But for about 20% of the population, exposure to a much larger list of molds can cause a pattern of chronic immune dysregulation called Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). CIRS affects many systems of the body, with the primary symptoms manifesting in mucous membranes and the nervous system. Those who are genetically susceptible to CIRS and are exposed to toxic microbes will experience a progression of multiple symptoms, gradually getting worse. They will also become more and more sensitive to other irritants over time including electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), allergies, food reactions, and more.

Like other chronic, multisystem illnesses, CIRS is not commonly recognized by most of the healthcare profession. Because developing CIRS requires genetic vulnerability, it can be quite difficult to identify if the source of illness is a particular building. Since 75-80% of the population does not have this severe immune reaction, it is common that only 1-2 people in a family will become ill. Others will just have mild allergies with the same exposure. Symptoms of CIRS overlap with those of mono, IBS, SIBO, Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, MS, and often include psychological and/or psychiatric manifestations.

Common Symptoms of CIRS

Fatigue (progressive and deep)
Brain Inflammation (brain fog, spaciness, disorientation)
Anxiety, depression
Memory problems, slurred speech, vision changes
Coordination problems, issues with balance
Headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness
Respiratory issues (chronic sinusitis, chronic cough, SOB, wheezing, sore throat)
IBS- or SIBO-like symptoms (cramping, diarrhea, bloating)
Fake UTI (urinary frequency, urgency, burning, but no infection)
Unexplained weight gain or loss
Joint pain, muscle pain, muscle weakness
Muscle cramps, muscles feel wiped out with little effort
Exercise intolerance
Rash, skin flushing
Wheezing, weak voice
Cold and/or heat intolerance
Excessive thirst
Rapid pulse, heart palpitations, chest tightness or discomfort
Swollen ankles
Increased bleeding times (easy/severe bruising, bleeding gums, nose bleeds)
Immuno-suppression (more vulnerable to infections)
Increased static electricity shocks (watches and electronics may be short lived or glitchy)
Increased sensitivity to EMF, food sensitivities, other chemical exposures

Prevalence of Water-Damaged Buildings

It is estimated that around 50% of the buildings and homes in the U.S. are water damaged enough to cause illness. Austin is a particularly moldy city, nearly as moldy as a coastal city, thanks to our heat, humidity, and constantly-running air conditioners. Not only that, but AC ducts most likely don’t get cleaned as often as they should, and with rapid growth in Austin comes buildings being built quickly and with cheap materials more susceptible to mold. The city is also full of flat-roofed buildings, with nowhere for puddled water to go but down into the building. All of these create the perfect environment for toxic mold to grow invisibly, leading many to believe that Austin could have an even higher rate of buildings and homes with water damage.

What To Do

Getting away from the mold and into a clean environment are absolutely essential to resolving CIRS symptoms. Finding well-trained inspectors and remediators can be tricky in Texas due to our unusual building regulations, but it is worth doing the extra work to make sure that the mold is not only identified, but the cause is found and addressed.
Because of the broad symptoms associated with CIRS and mold illness, a practitioner should examine and treat each patient on a case-by-case basis. There is no all-encompassing fix. That’s why it is extremely important to find a mold- and CIRS-literate practitioner to help identify the problem and begin to detox, supplement, and repair neurology and immunity, all of which can be complex and tricky.

To book an appointment with Dr. Becky Andrews or any Peoples Rx practitioner, call 512-219-8600.

Becky Andrews, ND*, L.Ac. received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Masters in Acupuncture at Bastyr University. She specializes in complex, chronic and “difficult” cases, especially relating to digestive health, fatigue, mood and detoxification. She works extensively with MTHFr and genetic challenges. In addition to seeing patients in Austin, she is faculty at AOMA School of Integrative Medicine.

*Naturopathic Doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.

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