Moulds are fungal organisms which exist in various forms and colours. The moulds commonly found in homes are generally grey, greyish-brown, black or greenish-black, and belong to the Aspergillus, Cladosporium and Stachybotrys mould species.
Stachybotrys chartarum (also called Stachybotrys atra) is the more infamous ‘black mould’ as it was the first to be associated with respiratory problems in people exposed to mould in their homes. While it is called ‘black’ mould, it is in fact a greenish-black mould which appears slimy. Under dry conditions, it appears gray and powdery. It grows well on wet cellulose-containing materials such as cardboard, wood, fibreboard, gypsum board, wallpaper, and dust. It requires a lot of moisture and warm conditions to grow and produce mycotoxins.
Aspergillus niger is very common in water damaged homes, and it looks dark gray or black with a dry and powdery appearance. Aspergillus mould also produces toxic mycotoxins and mainly causes allergies and respiratory problems.
Non-toxic black moulds
Several types of black moulds are not toxic at all because they do not produce harmful mycotoxins. However, they can be allergenic. The most common non-toxic black mould is Cladosporium, which is often found both indoors and outdoors. It does not have health effects on most people and causes allergy symptoms only upon heavy or constant exposure.
What signs are there that Black Mould is in my home or business?
If you have toxic black mould in your home or office, there will be several tell-tale signs which can help you identify its presence. However, it is important to remember that conditions suitable for the growth of black mould will also likely facilitate the growth of other types of moulds. According to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the presence of any and all types of mould in your home can lead to health issues over the long term or even immediately. So, it is not important to test whether it is black mould or not. If you notice any of the below common signs for black mould, then it is necessary to first have the mould removed and then address the source of excess moisture to prevent further mould growth.
Moisture: Black mould (and other types of mould) require moisture to grow. In particular, black mould needs constant wet conditions for a period of time to start growing. So, if you have recently had any water problems in your home such as leaks, flooding, or excess condensation, then it is quite likely that black mould would be growing on the wet materials (on the surface, within or behind). Signs of water logging or excess moisture include damp patches on walls/floors/ceilings, water stains, bulging walls, and peeling or cracking of the paint or wallpaper.
Stains on Walls: Besides the water stains, visible signs of mould on the wall should also be checked. This may not always be obvious, as small amounts of mould may be overlooked or hard to see. Also, the mould may not always be black in colour or in the form of large patches. Even small spots of greenish-black or grey mould indicate that there may be more toxic black mould growing within or behind the walls.
Odour: One of the most distinctive signs of black mould in your building is the odour. Black mould has a strong musty smell, and it can also have an earthy odour of dirt and leaves. The odour may not be strong during the early stages of mould growth.
Respiratory problems: A sudden onset of respiratory problems when you are at home or in the office might be due to the mycotoxins or spores released by toxic black mould. Difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath are all common respiratory problems caused by black mould.
Other signs: Other health issues such as red/itchy eyes, allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, and sore throat may all indicate that you may have been exposed to mould. If your allergic reactions are worse when you’re at home, then it is likely that you have mould infestation in the house.
What are the symptoms caused by Black Mould?
Toxic black mould is harmful and causes many health problems ranging from allergies to cancer. However, black mould does not affect everyone in the same way, and it may not cause any symptoms at all in some people. Some persons might have severe allergic reactions when even a small amount of toxic black mould is present in the house, while others might just have some mild reactions when directly exposed to the black mould. The following are some of the possible symptoms of exposure to toxic black mould:
Respiratory system: Exposure to black mould generally affects the respiratory system first, because the spores and mycotoxins released by toxic black mould enter a person’s system mainly by breathing them in. It has been reported that mycotoxins from toxic black mould were 40 times more toxic in animals when inhaled compared to entering the system through the skin or ingestion. The toxic mycotoxins can irritate and inflame the respiratory tract including the nose, mouth, throat and mucous membrane. Mycotoxins can also get embedded in the sinus tissues and lungs, and cause breathing and lung problems.
Allergies: In addition to being toxic, black mould is also an allergen. Black mould, spores, mould fragments and mould metabolites can all cause many allergic reactions similar to that of hay fever. The allergy symptoms include runny nose, red or itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, and breathing problems.
Nervous system: Black mould produces trichothecene mycotoxins which have neurotoxic effects, among other toxic effects. Neurotoxins damage neurons in the brain and therefore affect a person’s mental ability and even personality. Persons exposed to black mould may experience the following nervous system problems: difficulty in concentrating, dizziness, disorientation, tremors, confusion, slow reflexes, memory problems, anxiety, change in behaviour, mood swings, depression, and even seizures.
Skin: Toxic black mould must be handled carefully or avoided handling at all. The mycotoxins can easily enter the system through the skin and create a host of problems in the circulatory system (described below). If there is any accidental direct skin contact with mould, then it can lead to skin irritation, redness/inflammation, rashes, itchiness, or even blisters.
Circulatory system: Whether the black mould enters the system though inhalation, ingestion or the skin, it eventually gets into the blood. Once the toxic mycotoxins enter the blood circulatory system, they can cause various serious problems. Some of the symptoms to watch out for are: heart problems (low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart inflammation or damage), blood clotting problems, excessive bleeding from small wounds, internal bleeding in brain or other organs (indicated by vomiting blood).
Pregnancy: Black mould releases mycotoxins that have severe effects on the reproductive system, including teratogenic (affects embryo/foetus development), cytotoxic (causes cell death) and mutagenic (causes cell mutation and affects genetic material) effects. These mycotoxins can harm the growing foetus and cause birth defects. Some pregnant women may also experience miscarriage and infertility due to black mould exposure.
Other symptoms: Apart from the above symptoms, toxic black mould can also affect other parts of the body. The mycotoxins released by black mould can enter a person’s eyes and cause redness, itching, inflammation and vision problems. Sore and painful muscles, joint pain, tiredness and fatigue, drowsiness and nausea are some of the other symptoms observed from exposure to toxic black mould.
I think I have Black Mould, what should I do?
If you have observed any of the signs for black mould in your house (visible mould growth, musty odour, stains on the wall/floor, water damage, recent allergic reactions), then it is quite possible that you have black mould in your house.
If you have any of the medical symptoms related to mould (see previous section), then you should immediately visit a medical professional to get yourself checked. Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may order a comprehensive workup including urine/blood tests, EEG, chest X-rays, pulmonary function test or more tests to make a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.
The final thing to do is to find and fix the source of the water damage or excess moisture that caused the mould growth in the first place. The presence of mould indicates that there is some problem with excess moisture in your home. If this is not taken care of, the black mould will start to grow again. To prevent mould from growing again, regular checks for leaks and controlling the humidity are effective measures.
Generally, toxic black mould is slower to grow than other common types of mould. While regular mould can start to grow within 24-48 hours after water damage, black mould commonly needs more time before it starts to grow. So, it is easier to prevent black mould from growing in your home by minimizing the moisture and humidity levels.
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