If your child has cold symptoms that just won't quit, it may not be a cold at all. It may be mold.
Allergies to mold can peak in the summer and cause cold-like symptoms all year long. Molds thrive in dark, damp environments, both inside and out. Indoors, molds grow in humid places like bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms. Molds can grow outside in compost piles and on grass and garden clippings, among other places.
The allergy isn't actually to the mold, but to the seeds or spores of the mold. These tiny particles travel through the air where they can be inhaled and cause irritation. That's why, like many other allergies, mold allergies are often worse on windy days.
Symptoms of a mold spore allergy are similar to those of other allergies. A child will probably have an itchy, runny, congested nose and sneezing. Mold spores can also irritate the lungs, causing asthma symptoms to flare up in children who have asthma. Many children who are allergic to mold are also allergic to substances such as pollen, dust mites or animal dander, but a child can become allergic only to mold as well.
If your child has persistent allergy symptoms, especially in the summer, ask your pediatrician about testing for mold allergies. There are a variety of testing procedures available to diagnose the allergies, and treatments can greatly lessen symptoms.
The cornerstone of any treatment plan will be reducing your child's exposure to mold. Inside the house, try to reduce the humidity as much as possible. Central air conditioning is best, particularly if you install a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Window units can also help, but check them frequently for moisture condensation. In the bathroom, install a fan or open the window after steamy baths and showers. Avoid carpeting in bathrooms and laundry rooms, and repair any plumbing leaks as quickly as possible. Scrubbing shower stalls with a solution of one ounce of bleach per quart of water at least once a month will also help. Do not use humidifiers and vaporizers in the rooms of children with mold allergies.
Other hot spots for mold include refrigerator door gaskets and drip pans, kitchen trash cans containing food waste, piles of damp laundry, even stacks of old newspapers waiting to go to the recycle bin. Aggressively ridding your home of mold can go a long way toward reducing symptoms of this common, persistent allergy.
By Dr. Maples is a pediatric allergist/immunologist with Children's Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.
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