If you’re recovering from the debilitating symptoms of toxic mold, you may have developed some anxiety or fear about re-exposure. While this is understandable, these emotions can further harm your mental and physical health and lower your quality of life. While avoidance is a critical step to a full recovery, especially for those with chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), a balanced approach will help keep you well and reduce unnecessary fear. Here are five practical strategies I recommend to my patients practicing avoidance on their mold recovery journeys:
Get an ERMI Test for Your Home or Office
Often mold can be pervasive, and you may not see or smell it lurking behind a closed wall. There are a couple ways to know for sure if your home or office has mold. MSQPCR (aka ERMI testing) is a test that can tell you the types and levels of mold present in an environment. This test is considered the gold standard for someone with CIRS. The test measures mold DNA in dust samples collected from surfaces or a vacuum. At $300 or less, ERMI testing can be ordered easily from certified and well-reviewed labs such as Mycometrics or Envirobiomics. You can perform the test yourself by collecting the dust samples and sending them in for analysis.
I do not recommend air sampling alone as molds that are dangerous are typically not found in the air. Your best bet is to hire an Indoor Environmental Professional (IEP) to help you test correctly. However, choose wisely by making sure the IEP is someone who understands CIRS and does not test by taking air samples alone.
Approaching testing the right way from the beginning will save you from spending more money in the long run and will eliminate the fear of re-exposure, giving you peace of mind that your family is safe. If dangerous levels of mold are detected, you should leave and have the space professionally remediated. Do not return until an ERMI test confirms safe levels of environmental molds.
Strengthen Your Immune System
While there’s a greater risk of exposure in water-damaged buildings, mold spores and other inflammagens are fairly pervasive in our environment. Your best defense against mold beyond strict avoidance is a strong immune system. It can give you confidence that a minor exposure in a restaurant or your child’s school will not derail your healing journey or cause a return to the worst days of your illness. You can boost your immune system by:
- Avoiding chemical-based cleaners and products
- Eating vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins
- Eliminating refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and drugs
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress
- Eating fresh, clean foods and avoiding foods that have a higher propensity to become moldy or contaminated
Keep a ‘Symptoms’ and Noticing Journal
Perhaps your symptoms flared when you visited Aunt Peggy’s house, shopped at a particular grocery store, or drank a banana smoothie. Maybe you’ve visibly seen mold in the bathroom of your child’s basketball gym. Recording the date, time, and place as well as how you felt after a suspected exposure can give you clues to your particular triggers. If you feel fine the next time you visit your Aunt, chances are there were other contributing factors to your symptoms or your immune system has become stronger. But if your symptoms flare repeatedly at Aunt Peggy’s, it’s probably best to avoid her house and go out for lunch instead.
Find a Mold Survivor Support Group
There are several respectable support groups online and in local communities for mold survivors where people share their experiences, tips, and moral support. However, using recommendations from these groups to self diagnose or self treat is not recommended. Healing from mold illness can be a lonely journey, so connecting with others who have or are navigating the process can do wonders to overcome fear and anxiety.
Safeguard Your Home
Finally, I wanted to include a quick list of practical steps you can take to reduce mold contamination in your home. By making these a regular habit, you can rest easy knowing you’re greatly reducing your chances of contaminating your home:
- Clean your home and clothes with non-toxic mold-specific products
- Inspect for leaks and water damage regularly, addressing problems immediately
- Remove shoes and coats at the door to reduce contamination from the outside environment
- Use sensors, fans, and dehumidifiers to monitor and control indoor moisture levels
- Use vacuum cleaners with air purifiers and HEPA filters to clean carpets and maintain indoor air quality
Healing from mold illness or CIRS can require some lifestyle changes, but it doesn’t mean the life you loved is over. As you apply these strategies to reduce mold-related reactions, you’ll feel more optimistic about making a full recovery while reclaiming your joy in living.