Mold plays a small part in our daily lives and environment, but its elevated presence or growth indoors raises health concerns for many people—the allergic and non-allergic, the elderly, the young, some women, and the predisposed.
Coughing, sneezing, congestion, a sore throat, and other respiratory conditions—as severe as asthma—can be caused or exacerbated by mold.
Mold removal or mold remediation are usually the solution to this, but medical attention may also be needed—not as a replacement for mold removal, but in addition to it.
Treat your body but not the building and your cough will probably return. Treat the building alone, and you may have lingering symptoms. It’s different for everybody, but those rules hold generally true.
“Mold can cause many health effects. For some people, mold can cause a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash.”U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “Mold,” November 14, 2022
If you find yourself only coughing at home or at the office, or only coughing in a particular room within your home, that may be a sign that mold and mycotoxins are concentrated in that space, above levels that are tolerable for you. Perhaps the air flow and circulation are poor, or an actual mold source exists in that room or building alone, such as behind a wall.
Questions to ask yourself
Answering these questions can help you narrow down whether mold might be contributing to your cough, sneeze, stuffy nose, or other respiratory condition.
- Do you find yourself coughing only or mostly in one location, such as at work or home?
- Do you only cough in a particular room at home, such as your bedroom, or living room?
- Is the room that causes you to cough next to a bathroom, water closet, or water pipes that may be slowly leaking?
- Is the room or building you cough in marked by water damage, water stains on walls or ceilings, or extreme dampness?
- Did your cough begin after a flood, leak, or storm that caused water damage or water intrusion?
- Did you move furniture, replace carpeting, open a wall for some reason? (That can cause trapped mold spores and mycotoxins to flare up.)
- These are all potential indicators that mold could be contributing to a cough.
- Mold can also cause a more persistent cough, regardless of what room or building you’re in.
- Consult a medical doctor.
- If you’re unsure whether your doctor would know whether mold is contributing to your condition or not, we suggest reading the work of Dr. Jill Crista (specifically, Break the Mold), or other books on the subject, or simply following them on social media for their insights.
- A free resource that’ll better guide you is episode one of this podcast.
- We appreciate these authors, experts, and doctors, but we are not affiliated with or compensated by them.
Mold exposure can lead to a variety of respiratory symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and even more severe conditions like asthma or bronchitis.
Mold affects the respiratory system
Exposure to mold spores can irritate the respiratory system, leading to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
This occurs due to breathing in microscopic mold spores in high enough concentrations—which can be very different from person to person.
Mold is everywhere—indoors and out—but when indoors, its spores and secondary metabolites known as mycotoxins, can accumulate in much greater concentrations than occurs outdoors where fresh air is everywhere and is helping to dilute the number of mold spores.
If you’re experiencing persistent coughing, it’s worth considering mold as at least a potential cause.
Mold spores are microscopic and can be found both indoors and outdoors. They thrive in damp, humid conditions and can grow on various surfaces like wood, paper, and fabric. Understanding the conditions that favor mold growth can help in its prevention.
When mold spores are inhaled, they can irritate the respiratory system. This irritation can manifest as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, mold exposure can exacerbate existing respiratory conditions like asthma or even lead to bronchitis.
“Molds can trigger asthma symptoms including shortness of breath, wheezing, or cough in people with known allergies. People who do not have allergies can also become irritated.”National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Indoor Environmental Quality,” February 25, 2022
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
A thorough medical history and physical exam can help identify if mold exposure could be causing your symptoms. Alternatively, a spirometer can also help. This test measures how well your lungs are functioning and can be indicative of mold-related respiratory issues. Lastly, skin or blood tests can also identify specific mold allergies.
- REMOVE THE MOLD: Mold and moldy building material should be physically removed from a home or office — not covered with paint and not cleaned with bleach.
- Antihistamines: These medications can relieve symptoms like coughing and runny nose.
- Bronchodilators: Used primarily for asthma, these can help open up airways making breathing easier.
- Environmental Changes: Removing the source of mold and improving ventilation can significantly reduce symptoms.
- Professional Help: In severe cases, consult a healthcare provider for targeted treatment options.
- Maintain Low Humidity: Keep indoor humidity levels between 30-50%, and use a hygrometer in various parts of your home.
- Regular Cleaning: Regularly clean and ventilate damp areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
- Use of Air Purifiers: HEPA filters can capture mold spores, reducing indoor air pollution.
Understanding the link between mold and coughing is crucial for maintaining good respiratory health. While mold exposure can indeed lead to coughing and other respiratory symptoms, awareness and preventive measures can mitigate its impact.
The best approach is usually prevention: Maintain low indoor humidity, quickly and completely dry up leaks and spills, and consider using open windows to reduce spore concentrations, and air purifiers to capture and remove mold spores.
Of course, if you truly have a mold problem at home or at work, you can do all of these things and still find yourself coughing.
A qualified and licensed mold remediation specialist can help you if your own DIY assessment and treatment fail. (And if you suspect you have a mold problem and want to DIY your assessment or treatment of it, personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn while you do so.)
Assisted by Amy Erwin.