5 Silent Signs You’re Being Exposed to Mold

Updated: Oct. 13, 2022

Mold toxicity symptoms mirror symptoms of common health nuisances...but a nationally recognized mold remediator says mold exposure can lead to much greater health issues.

Mouldy orange, close up

Sneezing, coughing, feeling down and tired? While these sensations might make you think, Cold or fall allergy symptoms!, you may want to keep an eye on how you feel over time. If they tend to linger or get worse whenever you’re at home, this could be a sign that you’re being exposed to mold.

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest spoke with Michael Rubino, a mold and air quality authority as well as author of The Mold Medic, an Expert’s Guide on Mold Removal. Rubino points out that in addition to respiratory issues, mold exposure has actually been linked to early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s in previous research. “We spend 90% of our time indoors,” he says. “We’re learning new things every day about all the effects our homes can have on our health, but all signs are kind of leading into the same place that if we want to improve our health, the air we breathe has a very profound effect on it.”

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It’s true: especially if you haven’t been paying attention to the sneaky spots mold grows, being exposed to mold over time can lead to serious consequences. (And, here’s what happens when you eat mold.) While routinely cleaning is extremely important for controlling the mold in your home, also be aware of these silent signs of mold exposure before any illness gets worse.

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Sick woman blowing her nose on the couch
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You may experience allergy-like symptoms

While allergies are growing more common, allergy-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and throat, stuffy nose, skin irritation and rashes are also early signs of mold exposure—also known as mold toxicity. “Usually it starts off with unusual allergies,” says Rubino. “They notice they’re getting sick more frequently; maybe their nose is stuffy [or] they’re having allergic-type symptoms.”

Rubino says these mold exposure symptoms can pop up with various timelines—sometimes immediately, or sometimes with delayed reactions. If you’re experiencing chronic allergy-like symptoms while you’re at home, talk with your doctor.

14 Health Effects of Mold in Your Home, from an Air Quality Scientist

I'm having a little trouble breathing
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You may have trouble breathing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to mold can also trigger asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing. This can be a common symptom of mold exposure even for those who don’t experience allergies on a seasonal basis.

The CDC also points to previous research that found exposure to mold can make any pre-existing asthma worse.

7 Best Ways to Manage Your Fall Allergies, from an East Coast Allergy Specialist

The man is waking up in the hotel room
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You may feel fatigued

Let’s face it: fatigue is a common symptom for lots of us. But Rubino points out that feeling fatigued is also a common result of exposure to mold at home.

A 2013 study published in Toxins found exposure to different kinds of mold—especially mycotoxins, the kind of mold that can grow on food as well as under warm and humid conditions within the home—can cause feelings of chronic fatigue.

Worried student sitting with head in hands at desk experiencing brain fog
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You may experience brain fog

Along with fatigue, being exposed to mold can also cause feelings of brain fog, which results in feeling sluggish and even forgetful. Rubino points out that it is typically a result of inflammation the body is experiencing when exposed to mold: “You start to experience gut issues due to the inflammation that mold and toxins can cause. Gut inflammation can lead to brain inflammation which then can cause a whole host of neuropsychiatric symptoms.”

Experts point out that mold is an irritant to the body that can cause an inflammatory response. Just as one example, one 2009 neuropsychology study suggested that when the brain is chronically inflamed due to mold exposure, this can even lead to long-term cognitive impairment.

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Young woman looking sad depressed and alone in bed
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You may feel particularly anxious or depressed

“We are seeing a lot of studies that show that [mold is] impacting people’s mental health [through] people’s anxiety and depression,” Rubino says. According to an article published through Environmental Health Perspectives, those who are exposed to damp, moldy households have a 34% to 44% higher risk of depression.

Further studies in recent years, such as one in 2020, have demonstrated that mold exposure can increase anxiety-like behavior.

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