Hidden Housemates: meet the moulds growing in your home

This article was originally published at The Conversation

Michael Taylor, Flinders University

Home alone? Hardly. Our homes are positively swarming with creatures of all kinds. In our new series, we’ll be profiling the “hidden housemates” that live with us.

Our offices and homes are full of airborne spores from fungi, and for the most part we never even notice them.

Whether you like to think about it or not, you’re covered in microorganisms. Absolutely teeming with them from head to toe. Your body is covered and filled with bacteria called commensals, which inhabit the microscopic valleys of your skin and recesses of your gut. These organisms for the most part never cause you any harm, and in fact protect you from being colonised by disease-causing organisms.

In the same way that you’re a walking zoo of microbes, the world around you is peppered with invisible microorganisms.

Ancient relationship

This isn’t a new relationship though. Humans have been cohabiting with fungi for a very long time.

Ancient Egyptian bakers and brewers were harnessing natural yeasts more than 4,000 years ago, but it was only in the 1850s that we realised it was microbes that were responsible for leavening bread and making alcohol.

We’ve also known for a very long time that unpreserved foods spoil, growing conspicuously fuzzy tufts of blue and green mould. The kinds of moulds that make our bread and make forgotten oranges go fluffy are really the weeds of the fungal world.

Penicillium (this is the same fungus involved in the discovery of the first antibiotics, but that’s another story) and Aspergillus are the microscopic equivalent of soursobs and dandelions, and look fairly similar in a lot of ways.

Aspergillus niger, the fungal dandelion
Michael Taylor

Penicillium, the source of the antibiotic penicillin
Michael Taylor

Walk through any park, or into any building the world over and you’ll probably be picking up spores from Penicillium and Aspergillus; up to a several hundred per cubic metre of air is normal. In fact when you’re looking at indoor fungi, if you don’t find these two floating around you often question if you’ve taken your samples correctly.

Is your house ‘killing you’?

Indoor airborne fungi have become implicated in “sick building syndrome” and claims that our homes are “killing us”.

There is some sense mixed in with the scare here. These kinds of organisms can colonise our houses and cause serious illness but it’s unlikely that you’re in imminent danger.

Mould becomes a problem when there is moisture, or the inability for it to escape. After large rainfall or flood events, porous materials in buildings like wood, insulation, carpet and furnishings absorb a lot of water.

This water can then support the growth of fungi and fill cavities and hidden areas with very humid and stagnant air – perfect conditions for problem moulds such as Stachybotrys, the toxic black mould.

Stachybotrys, or Black mould

If your bathroom is looking like this, you may have a problem…
Black mould image from www.shutterstock.com

Most of the time though the fungi that turn up after water damage shouldn’t poison you or cause infection, but will probably smell musty and cause allergy-like symptoms until the problem is fixed.

In many cases fixing the root cause may be relatively simple, with the first step always being to ensure that whatever caused the water to accumulate is fixed and any excess moisture is dried out. Non-porous surfaces are often simply able to be wiped clean of all visible mould with a detergent or cleaning spray.

Soft furnishings, clothes and carpets should be thoroughly vacuumed and washed if possible, or thrown out if extensively contaminated. Porous surfaces are increasingly more difficult as wiping the surface clean may not actually remove the mould and will likely need to be replaced to fully solve the problem. Extensively damaged homes after a flood may be beyond remediation, and any clean-up operations on this scale should always involve a professional.

But it’s not just leaky roofs that encourage fungi to come indoors though, our push towards ultra-efficient green buildings can cause similar problems.

To reduce energy costs, we often design our air-conditioning systems to recycle as much of the indoor air as possible, which over the course of the day can slowly push up carbon dioxide and moisture in the air.

If this isn’t removed, it can leave you feeling sleepy and the air feeling heavy whilst providing an opportunity for fungi to take over.

The fungal garden in your home

We’re often told to aim for a lifestyle with “balance”. The same is true for our microscopic housemates.

If you end up with one single species dominating you may have a problem. On the other hand a mixture of species shows that everything is relatively in order and is an indicator of a healthy environment.

The mixture of airborne fungi does change from place to place, but not as dramatically as you’d expect. The same specimens tend to turn up the world over: Penicillium, Aspergillus and Cladosporium, alongside a handful of other common fungi.

If you live near agricultural pastures, you may find a greater abundance of plant pathogens like Alternaria, Stemphylium and Fusarium. The species may change if you’re in different regions of the world, but overall your lungs probably contain similar spores to your relatives in Spain or Japan.

If you live in California’s San Joaquin Valley, however, you are in the unlucky position of being tens of thousands of times more likely to be exposed to infectious spores from the fungi Coccidioides immitis, which cause the otherwise relatively rare condition of fungal pneumonia.

But if it makes you uncomfortable to think about the invisible world pulsing with life around you, relax. Generally a healthy mixture of fungi can indicate a healthy home, and I promise you that life is better with fungi in it than without.

Are you a researcher with an idea for a “hidden housemates” story? Get in touch.

The Conversation

Michael Taylor, Lecturer, School of the Environment, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

4 Disability Assistive Devices I need to Survive

My top 4 Assistive Devices for Mould Illness (CIRS) and Medical Conditions with Chemical Sensitivity as a Symptom!

(Note this page has a formatting issue that has removed my paragraph breaks so it’s in the naughty chair until I can fix it! This always happens when I embed Instagram posts. If you have a solution or know why this happens please leave a comment below or call me.)

Anybody who thinks that people who have medical conditions where their health is impacted on via chemical-irritants are living in the wrong era have it mixed up: living with modern technology makes our lives easier. The mythology that exists that we just can’t cope with the modern world and chemicals—which lets face it are everywhere and in everything—is exactly that: a myth. H20 is a chemical. We need chemicals, we need electricity for our assertive devices and we need devices that can make life living with a chronic illness, disease or other medical condition a whole lot easier. If someone has environmental illness it doesn’t mean they belong in the 1900s’ with all natural pure stuff, in a hut living a paleo lifestyle. No, it means that we need chemical-based extensibly helpful assistive devices like Air Purifiers, Face masks, Oxygen masks and tanks and, my personal favourite: a dehumidifier! Here is a listicle of my top 4!:

My Oxygen Tanks from BOC Gases

These make such a difference to my life that I cannot imagine living without them—until I get better and don’t need them, that is. I use 1 large tank and 1 medium size tank approximately every ten days. At the moment my carer pays for them, but will be applying for Government assistance soon. The biggest difference they make are when it’s smokey outside yet the smoke makes it’s way inside and into my lungs. For the last 14 years I’ve suffered upper respiratory symptoms from inhalation of woodsmoke coming from neighbours’ chimneys. Luckily for me, I live in a holiday area so it’s only terribly bad on the weekends when the terrorists holiday makers come up.

They’re also useful for when someone nearby runs diesel trucks, mows the lawn using old lawnmowers that spew out two-stroke fuel, or run their boat motors after a day of fishing while they clean it; petrochemicals knock me out for the rest of the day at the moment.

The oxygen therapy was prescribed by my doctor to be used 2 times a day for 20 minutes and also for 20 minutes after an exposure to chemical-irritants and natural substances that cause pain, long-lasting symptoms and further sensitisation—as is the case with mould exposure. Actually, I’ve been using oxygen whenever I write and also while on the phone and sometimes even while making a video because the oxygen allows my brain to work as normal. The last 6 months have seen a huge decline in cognitive skills, short-term memory and emotional regulation in times of chemical exposure. Stress just makes it ten-fold, and the anticipation of all of these can cause anxiety, which I’ve not experienced before at such a high level. 

Oxygen therapy has helped this CIRS symptom the most: It’s like feeling completely lost in an unfamiliar place even though you know you are somewhere where you’ve been a 1000 times before. If this place is on a freeway, it’s terribly frightening.

  xxxI can empathise greatly with those who suffer Alzheimers with dementia symptoms, which, over a 6 week period, is what I thought was happening to me before I saw Dr Mark Donohoe and had the Neuroquant MRI, which allowed the diagnosis of CIRS (Mould Illness) to come about so quickly. Hence being put on oxygen. (It’s also useful for doing yoga deep breathing exercises.

On some days, I can get through a 40-45 minute session of yoga with Banana Blondie 108 She has some wonderful chest opening exercises in her ‘Heart Chakra’ Yoga series. And for $10 US a month, it’s great value. You can find these classes at Thriving Plant Based There is free yoga available also. I have a post coming up on the value of the Chakra series with my lovely, gifted virtual yoga teacher!)

My AusClimate Dehumidifier

I’ve blogged before about my AusClimate dehumidifier in the post titled, This One Sure Thing: My AusClimate Dehumidifier, however, even more so than my next device, an air-filter/purifier, due to the breathing issues I have with indoor and outdoor moulds, keeping the relative humidity low is a must for comfortable breathing. There is no point having oxygen to plug into my airways if the air is full of outdoor moulds; or moulds from the water damaged ceiling in the room sealed off from my main living area. When I moved in I was told by my real estate rentals manager that the ceiling had been fixed as it was something I was concerned about when I saw the tell tale water stains on the ceiling. I believed my estate agent, and I still do.

However, a year or so after moving in it began leaking after a terrible storm. The owners of the property and the estate agent sent out someone to replace the roof; but even before that happened I was on the forum of AESSRA asking about dehumidifiers. I didn’t like what I heard so I looked on the internet under the keywords ‘mould’, ‘dehumidifiers’ and ‘mould remediation’; and that was how I came to find AusClimate. Not only was I given excellent advice on how to use my machine, like:

  • running it for 3 whole days to remove all the water from the indoor environment;
  • keep the dust mite count down (the perfect food for mould!) by vacuuming regularly; and using micro cloths to pick up dust without spreading it;
  • advice on how to keep my home mould free (so long as the water leaks had been fixed—and, with the new roof the owners of the rental put over my head, they were, for the time being, until now with this new 3rd leak. Stain over stain on the old chipboard/particle board ceiling.
  • this machine has saved my lungs a huge amount of pain because not only has the roof leaked again (which I will be blogging about in another post where I compare the AusClimate dehumidifier to the Delonghi Dehumidifier, which I have running 24/7 in the water damaged room: it’s that inefficient. And my ERMI results.) but I’ve had to put up with even more damp air
  • at least I have my AusClimate 35 litre machine to keep my living space dry, therefore, hopefully, no mould can grow on my possessions? I don’t know. If you have the answer to this, please leave it in the comments below…

But whenever it rains outside, I whack on the dehumidifier! This stops my lower lungs from hurting from the dampness in the air if I didn’t have it running. (I don’t know why my lower lungs hurt when I breathe in damp, cold or smokey air but my GP and Dr Donohoe are looking into it via an x-ray and Spirometry test, which I’m doing next week along with my tests for the Biotoxins and other bacteria shown up in my MRI.)

My living area is around 45 square metres, making up the lounge, dining room and kitchen (that’s where my bedroom, office, gym and dining area are). I never run it for longer than 5-6 hours at a time; however, once a month I run it for a whole day or night when I am out of the house. It’s so powerful that if I leave it on for too long, I can feel my eyes start to dry out, which is just a sign to turn it off. It’s winter here in Melbourne and not only do I need to suck up the cold damp air with the Dehumidifiers, I need to dry my washing inside because if I leave it outside in the rain, it gets mildewy and even worse, reeks of the chemical-irritants in woodsmoke. I have made a video about using this machine to dry my clothes, which you can watch below. 

(If you cannot watch it, basically it just shows how I hang my clothing and cleaning cloths (dusters) on a large portable clothes hanger overnight with the AusClimate running. By morning my clothing is clean, fresh and dry ready to be put away.)

xxx I’ve also made a video on how I clean it once a month. Ergo, I intend to make a video on how we clean the whole unit, fully, once or twice a year. I have heard stories of other units going mouldy—I mean they do suck up water and dust—so do need to be maintained just like any other household device. Watch the video below, and then we shall move onto clean air!

[insert video 2: How to thoroughly clean your Dehumidifier]
[Insert Video 3 on how to stop would smoke coming inside while taking a shower]

My 3M Filter Mask and Cotton Scarf

I’ve blogged about it and made a video about how useful the 3M mask has been to me over the years. 14 to be exact! Although, it used to give me a lot of freedom, it’s not longer useful unless it’s for fleeting exposures like going to the letterbox or stepping outside for a bit. When I go out I now use it with the oxygen nasal tubes underneath and it works like a charm. Amazingly so. I buy my masks from AESSRA (The Allergy and Environmental Sensitivity, Support and Research Association)

My InovaAir Purifier (Air Filter)

In 2004 I rented an Austin Air purifier to see if it worked for me. I had it two weeks and realised I needed one; therefore, I took out a small bank loan, immediately buying one. The InovaAir Purifier is almost the same design just more modern and sleek looking. It’s on wheels so can me moved about; has the reputation of cleaning the air of a small to decent size room within 15-20 minutes so long as its clean to begin with. For example: your house has clean air in it after airing it throughout a fresh sunny day, evening comes and you forget to close up the house, allowing woodsmoke from a neighbour’s backyard fire pit or woodfire chimney to get inside your house. The air is no longer comfortable to breathe on a physical level, naturally, you close up your house, turning on your InnovaAir or Austin Air Purifier onto high. Within 15 minutes your room is back to being clean again. This may not take away the inflammation or headache or asthma caused but it will stop any more smoke from impacting on your health.

(There are some other tips and tricks I have ready in another draft post that I’ll try and post before winter rudely sets in but for now, know that I go through a lot of painters’ masking tape (it’s less sticky and doesn’t pull paintwork off) and cotton wool blocking up holes where drafts pull the chimney smoke in.)

Where I get my Oxygen from: BOC Homecare (via prescription)

Where I bought my AusClimate Dehumidifier from: AusClimate online

Where I but my 3M Masks: AESSRA

Where I bought my InovaAir Purifier from: InovaAir online

Information on woodsmoke, rules for chimneys and Parliament Enquiries into the use of them: http://woodsmoke.3sc.net

Lung Association and Woodsmoke: Air Quality and Woodsmoke: http://lungfoundation.com.au/lung-health/air-quality-and-woodsmoke/

(image art by Michellina van Loder and Pixabay)

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Ready for Curing CIRS: The No-Amylose Diet

This is the diet that was recommended by Shoemaker trained, Integrative Doctor and Mould Specialist, Dr Tania Ash, at Vitality Hub, whom I’ll be seeing for the 11 step treatment protocol. This diet is just while I’m recovering from and treating mould illness aka CIRS. It’s pretty easy for someone already living a vegan whole-food lifestyle; but at the same time, it’s unyielding in its approach to carb cutting. It’s similar to the Ketogenic Diet used to control Epilepsy in children; and it’s also reminiscent of the Atkins Diet.

They call it a low-carb diet but it includes all the types of foods usually on my plate: unlimited fruit (except bananas, which give me an LSD like reaction anyway, which, after making a 4 Banana and date smoothie one day and freaking out: holding onto the edges of my chair while suffering vertigo, actual spinning and nausea (I know! such a small quantity of bananas, right!?).

Low amylose diet: forbidden foods: bananas, cake, breads, gluten

Low amylose diet: forbidden foods: bananas, cake, breads, gluten

I nearly hit speed dial, asking FreeLee the Banana girl how the hell this could possibly happen? Ergo, I decided to check in with my Allergist and Immunologist, Dr Colin Little, about it instead. He said: “Bananas are a food just like any other. The body can develop an intolerance to just about anything.” I also temporarily (I hope) lose my sweet potato (bye bye chips!) and carrots—basically any vegetable that grows under the soil is gone—which takes me down to around 19 safe foods including heaps of vegetables and a few seeds. All grains and bread are gone, which means I lose my rice, which I had just become okay with. I’ve not been alright with cakes, biscuits or bread for years now. But we won’t go into that.

Not sure about Quinoa, will have to check this out.

If I wasn’t vegan I could have a heap of animal products like someone’s liver; but I’m not going there. I have started taking a protein powder suggested to me by the lovely Naturapath, Adrien at Vitality Hub. It’s called Amazonia. So surprised I’m okay with it because I’ve tried many protein powders from places like iHerb over the last 4 years of chronic illness and they were all a no go. I wouldn’t normally take a powdered food but since my choices are limited and cooking for myself is not always possible. I’m making this powder my friend! (I’d still rather some sweet potato chips.

Yes, I know! Deal with it. Be grateful for what is.

I’m also off all probiotics until I do the rest of my testing, which is next week. To keep this blog post shorter, I’ll leave this information about the minutea of navigating this part of the Labyrinth for another post.

This collection of foods and tips to do with the No-Amylose diet are from the Surviving Mould Illness website:

The No-Amylose Diet

If you have an elevated MMP9 level, it may be recommended that you follow a no-amylose diet to help bring this level down as part of your treatment program.  Many of us are familiar with the low-carbohydrate diets that are so popular today including Atkins and South Beach. While it might seem on the surface to be similar, the amylose-free diet is slightly different from this mainstream approach. Fresh fruit is actually encouraged, and the only fruit that is restricted is bananas. The goal of this diet is to avoid foods that contain amylose and glucose which in turn cause a rapid rise in blood sugar when ingested.  The diet is really fairly easy to follow and does not require you to count calories or measure portion sizes. You might even be surprised at the foods that are on the list of allowed foods for you to enjoy. While lima beans and butternut squash are full of starch, amylose isn’t one of them, and you are free to enjoy these starchy vegetables as often as you like.  For more detailed information on the diet including using it for weight loss, please see Lose the Weight You Hate by Dr. Shoemaker.

No-Amylilose Diet: Forbidden foods

  • Roots and tubers including white and sweet potatoes, beets, peanuts, carrots, and other vegetables that grow underground. The exception here is onions and garlic.
  • Bananas (the only forbidden fruit).
  • Wheat and wheat-based products including bread, pasta, cakes, and cookies.
  • Rice.
  • Oats.
  • Barley.
  • Rye.
  • Foods with added sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, or maltodextrin.

All these foods make be sick as a dog eating avocados and cannabis! (That stuff can made dogs extensively sick. Can even kill the spoilt pooches.) Except for the sweet potato which is making me so fukcen sad: my favourite meal, my go-to snack when I want to celebrate, self-soothe using food or just have a banging good lunch such as a huge bowl of sweet potato chips. Oh, well, will have to try and make them out of pumpkin or spaghetti squash!

One thing I’ve learnt about having this illness (whether it’s just CIRS or MCS as well (Which I’m thinking it’s not. Hey, LMFAO here, if people can self-diagnose themselves with MCS (which is not the way it should be Mr and Mrs Australian Government!), then I can undiagnose myself with it also (Hurry up an give us a code for MCS Australian Government!). So. I no longer have MCS. I just need to have the same accomodations and live the only prescribed and science-based treatment that actually works: Avoidance of Chemicals!

Allowed Foods

Allowed foods include basically anything that is not on the list of forbidden foods including:

  • Corn.
  • Onions.
  • Garlic.
  • All vegetables that grow above the ground including lettuce, tomatoes, beans of all types, peas, cucumbers, and celery.
  • All fruits except bananas.
  • Meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Condiments (avoid low-fat varieties as they usually contain added sugar).
  • Spices.
  • Eggs.
  • Dairy (avoid sugar-laden products).
  • Nuts.
  • Sunflower, pumpkin, and squash seeds.

This diet is based on the 00-2-3 rule and is an easy way for you to remember what should or should not be included in your diet each day. You should have 0 sugars (glucose or sucrose, including corn syrup), 0 amylose, 2 servings of protein that total at least 6 to 8 ounces, and 3 servings each of vegetables that grow above the ground and fruit (except bananas) per day. This diet allows for sufficient quantities of food so that you won’t be hungry and can actually enjoy good-tasting, high-quality meals. It just involves adjusting some of our habits and thought patterns when it comes to food. For instance, you can still eat a hamburger, just not the bun. Why not try some melted cheese and a hearty slice of tomato on top instead? Soups can be a nutritious and filling meal or snack but not when they are loaded with pasta, potatoes, or rice. Why not try some delicious black bean soup or maybe a homemade cream-based tomato soup without the added sugar so often found in canned varieties?

The other benefit of this diet is that it is also a gluten-free diet. The avoidance of wheat, oats, rye, and barley is the same for both diets. If you have also been advised to be on a gluten-free diet, no adjustments need to be made in order for you to eat gluten-free. Just follow the 0 amylose rule and you will automatically be avoiding gluten-containing products. One key difference to note is that this diet does not allow rice while gluten-free products often use rice as a substitute for wheat. This makes the no-amylose diet slightly more restrictive than a no-gluten diet.  For information on how to eat gluten-free, please visit this page.

More information on the No-Amylose diet, including recipes, can be found at the Surviving Mould Illness website.

My morning drink of wonder: Amazonia Protein Powder (I had the Raw Protein Isolate in vanilla flavour but was told to get plain; I just felt like living a tad hedonistic, living on the wild side like I often do feel.) and after buying a 500 gm

I also use Xylitol. (I haven’t checked with Dr Tania Ash or her Nutritionist if this is okay but I’ve used it for years; I find it doesn’t make my skin itch the same way sugar does, if at all. It’s so easy to eat a clean diet when store bought junk-food and all sugar-based products impact on your health. (Pity it took such a disaster of mass-proportions to stomp my health into dust for me to embrace this lifestyle.) This brand here, as I find it the cheapest.

I’m thinking of opening a shop on The Labyrinth and selling things like Foil Flooring, Zeolite and Xylitol. Let me know down in comments below if you think this might be of benefit to you.

Would you like a tour of the ‘Build an Eco-Friendly, Building Biology-ed, Allergy-Free House‘ project

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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