What are the health effects of mould, and how do you get rid of it?

Home Science What are the health effects of mould, and how do you get rid of it?
What are the health effects of mould, and how do you get rid of it?

After months of heavy rainfall and increased humidity along Australia’s east coast, many people are now dealing with an unwelcome and often stubborn house guest: mould.

A type of fungus, mould is present almost everywhere. It lives on plant and animal matter and plays an important role in our ecosystem.

But mould growth inside the home, often brought on by flood damage, plumbing leaks or damp and humid conditions, can be damaging to our health, especially when left unchecked.

“There’s always mould in every house, but it needs dampness to grow, and there’s a lot [of dampness] at the moment because of the floods and rain,” said Holly Jones, a researcher in the healthy housing unit at Melbourne University’s school of population and global health.

“What causes illness is certain species of mould being more concentrated … so by keeping your house dry, you’re keeping that in check.”

Mould can affect everything from clothing to furniture, and is often noticeable as a stain, smudge or discoloured patch.

Black mould on a ceiling
Water stains, condensation, and peeling or cracked paint can also be signs of dampness problems.(Supplied: Gillian Akers)

But it can also be harder to find — behind furniture, at the back of wardrobes, and even inside wall cavities, says architectural scientist Tim Law of Victoria University.

“The problem is mould is not always visible: it tends to grow in the dark, interstitial spaces of a building, so you may not be able to see it,” said Dr Law, who researches how the microbiology of buildings can affect human health.

“You might be able to smell it, but otherwise, it’s usually quite hard to detect.”

What are the health risks of mould?

In order to reproduce, mould spawns tiny particles called spores which are carried in the air.

Sometimes, these can trigger allergy and respiratory symptoms such as nasal congestion, wheezing, watery or itchy eyes, coughing, and respiratory infections. Mould can also worsen asthma and allergic conditions.

“All of our organs and surfaces have barriers, and mould is something that can irritate those barriers and open up that junction,” immunologist and allergy specialist Sheryl Van Nunen said.

For most people, exposure to a very small amount of mould does not have serious health consequences. But how you respond depends on your genetic makeup, underlying health, and how sensitive you are to mould.

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