Can Black Mold Kill You? Fortunately, Probably Not

While it's possible to become sick from exposure, it's unlikely black mold can kill you. Some things can increase your risk for becoming sick, but it's treatable. Here's what you need to know.

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The short answer for most healthy people is no, black mold won't kill you and is unlikely to make you sick.

However, black mold can make the following groups sick:

  • very young people
  • very old people
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • people with existing health conditions

But even these groups are unlikely to die from black mold exposure.

Read on to learn more about black mold and what risks actually exist.

What is black mold?

Mold is one of the most common living things on Earth. Molds love damp environments. They grow indoors and outdoors, including in places like showers, basements, and garages.

Black mold, also known as Stachybotrys chartarum or atra, is one type of mold that can be found in damp places inside buildings. It looks like black spots and splotches.

Black mold developed a reputation for being toxic after a string of eight infants became ill in Cleveland, Ohio, between January 1993 and December 1994. All of them had bleeding in the lungs, a condition called idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage. One of those infants died.

Results from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation revealed these infants had been living in homes with severe water damage and increased levels of toxin-producing mold inside. This led many people to believe that the black mold was toxic and could kill people.

In the end, scientists concluded that they were unable to link black mold exposure to illness and death in the Cleveland infants.

What are the symptoms of black mold exposure?

In reality, all molds — including black mold — can produce toxins, but exposure to mold is rarely deadly.

People are exposed to mold through spores that are released and travel through the air.

It's true that some people are more sensitive than others to mold. These people tend to be very young, very old, or have:

  • a compromised immune system
  • lung disease
  • a specific mold allergy
symptoms of exposure to black mold

In people vulnerable to mold sensitivity, symptoms of exposure to black mold include:

  • coughing
  • dry skin that may look scaly
  • itchy eyes, nose, and throat
  • having a stuffy or runny nose
  • sneezing
  • trouble breathing
  • watery eyes

 

How you react to mold depends on how sensitive you are to mold exposure. You may have no reaction at all to black mold exposure, or you may have a slight reaction.

People who are very sensitive to black mold may develop severe respiratory infections when exposed.

How is black mold exposure diagnosed?

If you haven't been feeling well and believe you've been exposed to black mold or any other type of mold, schedule a visit with your doctor. They'll try to determine your level of sensitivity to mold and its effects on your health.

Your doctor will first perform a physical exam. They'll pay special attention to how your lungs sound when you breathe.

They'll then take your medical history and perform an allergy test. This is done by scratching or pricking the skin with extracts of different types of mold. If there's swelling or a reaction to black mold, it's likely you have an allergy to it.

Your doctor may also run a blood test that measures your immune system's response to certain types of mold. This is called a radioallergosorbent (RAST) test.

What are the risk factors?

Some things can increase your risk for a reaction to black mold.

risk factors for illness from black mold exposure
  • age (very young or very old)
  • mold allergy
  • other illnesses that affect the lungs and respiratory system
  • other health conditions that compromise your immune system
What's the treatment for exposure to black mold?

Treatment depends on your reaction and how long you've been exposed. If black mold has made you sick, see a doctor for continued care until your body heals from exposure to black mold spores.

The most common reason for a reaction to black mold is a black mold allergy.

If you're dealing with an allergy, you can take steps to limit your exposure and manage your symptoms. While there's no current cure for mold allergies, there are medications you can take to reduce your symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about taking the following medications:

  • Antihistamines. These medicines can help reduce itching, sneezing, and runny nose by blocking the chemical histamine that's released by your body during an allergic reaction. Some common over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines include loratadine (Alavert, Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy) and cetirizine (Xyzal Allergy 24hr, Zyrtec Allergy). They're also available by prescription as nasal sprays.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays. These medicines, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin), can be used for a few days to clear your nasal passages.
  • Montelukast (Singulair). This tablet blocks immune system chemicals causing mold allergy symptoms like excess mucus.
  • Nasal corticosteroids. Nasal sprays that contain these medicines reduce inflammation in your respiratory system and can treat black mold allergies. Some types of nasal corticosteroids include ciclesonide (Omnaris, Zetonna), fluticasone (Xhance), mometasone (Nasonex), triamcinolone, and budesonide (Rhinocort).
  • Oral decongestants. These medications are available OTC and include brands like Sudafed and Drixoral.

Some doctors may also recommend a nasal lavage or sinus flush. A special device, like a neti pot, can help clear your nose of irritants like mold spores. You can find neti pots at your local drugstore or online.

Use only cool water that's been distilled or boiled, or bottled, sterilized water inside your nose. Be sure to rinse your irrigation device with sterile water and dry it completely after each use.

How to keep your home safe from black mold

If you have a reaction to black mold in your home, you can take steps to remove the mold from your home.

You'll be able to identify black mold by its characteristic black and splotchy appearance. Mold also tends to have a musty odor. It often grows:

  • on top of showers
  • under sinks
  • in refrigerators
  • in basements
  • inside air-conditioning units

If you notice small amounts of mold, you can usually get rid of it with a mold-removing spray. You can also use a bleach solution of 1 cup household bleach to 1 gallon of water.

If there's a lot of black mold in your home, hire a professional to remove it. If you rent, tell your landlord about the mold so they can hire a professional.

Mold professionals can identify all areas where mold is growing and how to best remove it. You may need to leave your home during mold removal if mold growth is very extensive.

Once you've removed the black mold from your home, you can help stop it from growing again by:

  • cleaning and drying any water that floods your home
  • fixing leaky doors, pipes, roofing, and windows
  • keeping humidity levels in your home low with a dehumidifier
  • keeping your shower, laundry, and cooking areas well ventilated
The takeaway

Black mold may not be super deadly, but it can make some people sick. If you have a reaction to black mold, see your doctor to determine if you have a mold allergy or other medical condition causing your symptoms.

The best way to stop a reaction to black mold is to remove it from your house and then prevent it from growing back by keeping indoor moisture at bay.

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