Outdoor mold counts for the Chicago suburbs hit 30,000 (spores per cubic meter) on July 25, and passed 50,000 on July 28 (the air quality alert level is 40,000 sp/m3). And indoors levels are making many homes “pure poison” in hot, recently inundated areas, according to Midwest mold trackers for the National Allergy Bureau.
In the Chicago area, a record 7 inches of rain fell July 23, and more than 4 more inches fell July 27. The humidity, combined with many 100-plus-degree days has spawned a dangerous situation for those with asthma and allergies, but also for people with heart disease and other chronic conditions, says Joseph Leija, MD, the allergist who performs the Gottlieb Allergy Count, the official Midwest allergy count for the National Allergy Bureau.
And that is just for the air outdoors.
“Many Midwesterners experienced flooding in their homes which can easily cause indoor mold counts to be much higher – even to dangerous breathing conditions,” Dr. Leija warns. “The heat, the rain, now the pestilence of mold is making this a summer of biblical proportions in the world of allergies.... If those with sensitive breathing conditions have homes or workplaces that have experienced flooding, I advise them to get out immediately to a clean, controlled environment or risk injury."
Symptoms of respiratory irritation from mold include nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, headaches and post-nasal drip. “People with allergies must stay in air conditioning and use a dehumidifier,” says the allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.
Mold grows quickly in hot, humid or wet conditions. “The Midwest has been battling hot, humid weather and outdoor mold spores have been relatively high but now with the flooding caused by the recent rainfall, many homes are pure poison for those with breathing conditions,” says Dr. Leija.
“All soaked drywall must be cut out and removed as well as carpets, tile, cardboard boxes and the like to prevent mold.”
Ironically, water is both the perpetrator for mold and the recommended cure.
“Plain water should be used to wash off floors, walls and soaked items, and then everything must be dried thoroughly,” he said. Dr. Leija also recommends allergy sufferers lightly rinse their nostrils with a water-salt solution to rinse off trapped particles and spores.
Black Mold Most Toxic
All molds are not equally dangerous and black mold is the most toxic. “Coughing up blood, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea and even memory loss and pulmonary hemorrhage are symptoms of toxic mold sickness,” said Dr. Leija. The very young, old and those with chronic conditions such as asthma are the most vulnerable.
Those employed as carpenters, carpet cleaners, handymen, plumbers and even gardeners are also at risk for toxic mold inhalation.
“The only way to tell if you suffer from mold allergy is by a skin test performed by an allergist,” says Dr. Leija.
“Allergy shots, medications and antihistimines or corticosteroid nasal sprays can help minimize symptoms.”
For more than two decades, Dr. Leija has performed the Gottlieb Allergy Count, the official allergy count for the Midwest, on behalf of the National Allergy Bureau, Monday through Friday. Each day, at 5 a.m., he gathers air samples from a special pollen-catching machine atop Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park.
Using his microscope, Dr. Leija identifies and counts every single allergen in what can take more than one hour. He then uses National Allergy Bureau-dictated algorithms to arrive at the official allergy count for the Midwest.
The daily Gottlieb Allergy Count is used by the Bureau, and offered for free to the community through the Gottlieb web site (GottliebHospital.org) and Twitter in English, Spanish and Polish as a public service. The count is also available in English by calling 866-4-POLLEN (866-476-5536).
Source: Loyola University news releases, Jul 25, 2011, and warning update Jul 28, 2011