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Mould in the home

Apr 04, 2016
With receding snow and spring weather approaching, mould spores become mobile in the air. Spores may enter a home through an open window or door during spring cleaning and if the right conditions are present, the spores can lead to mould growth.

By Dr. Charles Gardner

With receding snow and spring weather approaching, mould spores become mobile in the air. Spores may enter a home through an open window or door during spring cleaning and if the right conditions are present, the spores can lead to mould growth.

The terms mould and mildew are often used interchangeably. Mildew and mould are types of fungi. Mildew refers to the white discoloration caused by fungi, whereas mould can be a variety of colours and tends to grow on food or damp materials.

Mould can be found both indoors and outdoors. When found indoors, the presence of mould indicates that a structural issue, such as a plumbing leak or problems with the air circulation or ventilation in a home may be occurring. Issues such as these lead to an increase in moisture which can allow mould to grow. Although there are specific species of mould that are more likely to cause health effects, in most situations reducing mould in general in the home is more practical and helpful than determining the type of mould present. 

The impact of mould on health

Not all moulds are harmful to human health; however, after breathing in mould spores some people may have allergic reactions such as eye, nose or throat irritation, and headaches. This could also aggravate pre-existing health issues (such as asthma) or cause other respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. In extremely rare cases some people may experience severe lung inflammation. The health effects experienced depend on a person’s individual health and their level of exposure. If you have concerns about your health it is important to consult your health care provider for advice. 

To control and prevent mould in the home

Prevention and subsequent control of mould is important to reduce exposure. To prevent mould growth:

  • Identify and repair water leaks as soon as possible.
  • Seal areas with caulk around doors, windows, bathtubs and shower stalls.
  • Ensure bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are in good working order and vent clothes dryers outdoors.
  • Reduce humidity. Keep humidity low in the home—40% is recommended.
  • Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months.

Clean regularly and use a disinfectant in areas that may hold moisture. To clean up mould:

  • Use goggles, gloves and an N95 mask. 
  • Clean surfaces with unscented detergent and water, and then wipe with a clean wet rag or sponge and let dry.
  • If the area cannot be cleaned (e.g. wet broken ceiling tiles or cardboard boxes) or is damaged, discard the material and replace with new.

Where mould growth is extensive, such as covering much of a wall, it is recommended that a professional company be contacted to conduct an assessment. It may be necessary to clean the carpets, crawl spaces and/or heating ducts if there’s a widespread mould problem.

For more information on housing and health, visit www.smdhu.org or call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Dr. Gardner is the Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health.


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