Indoor mold poses key asthma risk for babies
August 2nd, 2011
12:18 PM ET

Indoor mold poses key asthma risk for babies

When infants are exposed to mold in the home, their risk for developing asthma more than doubles, according to a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The study doesn't prove mold causes asthma, but it does suggest that exposure to mold during infancy is linked to the development of chronic inflammation of the lung airways, which causes wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

Previous studies have shown that mold spores can travel, according to lead study author Tiina Reponen, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati. But she says this is the first study to suggest mold exposure in children under the age of one seems to play a critical role in a child developing asthma. The risk went up even more if one of the parents had asthma, according to the research.

This study is part of a larger research project called the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study.

Researchers visited the homes of babies born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northern Kentucky back in 2001 to 2003, where at least one parent was allergic to at least one of 15 common airborne allergen. The homes of 176 children were inspected for mold when they were 1 and 7 years old. Half of the homes had visible mold and the other half didn't, says Reponen. All the children were offered allergy tests at age 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7.  Researchers inspected the homes by looking for and smelling for mold and also by taking dust samples from the room where each child spend most of his or her time. The dust samples then underwent DNA testing for 36 different mold species from that sample, using a standardized tool developed by the EPA.

The study authors found that if children were exposed to mold as infants, they were at a significantly increased  risk for asthma at 7 years of age.  Being exposed to mold as a child at about 7 years old, (which is when children are old enough to have proper lung-function tests to get a more accurate diagnoses), doesn't seem to predict if a child will get asthma. Neither was the presence of a dehumidifier, carpets, age of the home or visible mold.

However, Reponen says the results from the dust samples show "it's the mold you can't see that is a risk factor."

"Damp environments are not healthy environments," Dr. James Sublett, chairman of the Indoor Environments Committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, who was not involved with this study.

The research suggests that expectant parents or families with babies should try to eliminate any situation that can lead to mold growing.

Sublett, who is an expert on the effects of air pollution on human health and the section chief of Pediatric Allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, says if you're aware of a moisture problem, get it fixed. Just because you can't see mold doesn't mean it isn't there. Moisture could be building up in the home because of a leaky roof or broken pipe, flooding in the basement, or simply from the steam in your bathroom. "If you are in a situation where humidity is trapped in your home, you have a higher risk of mold exposure." He adds that moisture can also accumulate from something as simple as an overflowing gutter or leaky windows.

Children who got asthma tended to live in homes lacking air conditioning, which can help keep moisture levels down.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if you can see mold, you don't need to test for it.

However, if you've had water damage and can't see any mold yet but want to be sure, the EPA suggests hiring a professional to do the testing. Sublett suggests having one expert test for mold and hiring someone else to do the clean-up if mold is found. "You want to disconnect the detection process with the fixing process to avoid a conflict of interest," he says.

If you suspect your child may have been exposed to mold and shows symptoms of asthma, Sublett suggests getting a referral to a board-certified allergist, who can evaluate potential risks a child may have been exposed to, identify which mold a child may be allergic to and develop a treatment plan.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Thomas Yakovlev-Fredricksen

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    August 2, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Patrick Thompson

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      August 2, 2011 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
  2. Roberto

    If it caused asthma in babies, high levels of indoor mold exposure also can lead to asthma in adults. The thing then is Aspergillus will start growing in the pockets in the lungs: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1338763/Many-severe-asthma-sufferers-garden-mould-GROWING-lungs.html

    There is also an innate response in the brain which causes inflamation > cognitive impairment especially for babies

    Its time the CDC, EPA take mold serious and tell the truth about how it really effects peoples lives and all the risks associated

    August 3, 2011 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott Revtal

      The symptoms of mold exposure can easily be confused with asthma, a cold, or just season allergies. You really need to be aware of the signs to look for. Here is an excellent article on it:


      August 4, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse |
  3. Bill Purcell

    I agree with Roberto's comments, the EPA and CDC need to tell the truth about mold.People buying a home should always get it tested for mold, mold is very easy to cover up. A simple air test can tell if your home has elevated levels of potentially harmful molds.

    August 4, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jay Bee

    Mold is a real serious problem and living in New Orleans Louisiana and working at Nola Carpet Cleaning I have seen what mold can do especially after Hurricane Katrina came through in 2005. Just make sure you have a certified professional clean up any mold thats in your house because it is probably behind the sheetrock as well as the carpet in most cases. We have some information about this at our website.

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    August 31, 2011 at 03:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. miami mold remediation

    ugh! mold really freaks me out. there is some growth in my bathroom and for some reason i begin to hyperventilate, i dont know if its because im allergic or its a mental thing. eek! regardless i got to call http://www.superrestoration.com because its black mold and ive heard that thats the worse

    November 23, 2011 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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  7. Robert

    Exposure to Molds can give adults Asthma also, it first starts with developing allergies. Then the mold (aspergillus) grow in your lungs http://www.bmedreport.com/archives/20830

    Other molds like stachybotrys will deplete your pulmanory surfacant and scar your lung tissues giving you a restrictive disease...

    There will allways be come Cognitive impairment problems associated with Mold Exposure..

    Its time for the medical community to come straight with the Public and the CDC, mold are health risk period and in all situations can cause severe health problems,not just in those with immune problems..


    Leviticus, Chapter 14: 39 – 47

    "On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the *mildew has spread on the walls, he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town. If the *mildew reappears in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house is scraped and plastered, it is a destructive mildew and the house is unclean. It must be torn down – its stones, timbers and all the plaster – and taken out of town."

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    The moisture source must be addressed first to prevent future mold growth

    January 25, 2012 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Carl Bennett

    Yes it is truth about "it's the mold you can't see that is a risk factor.". Visible mold on the surfaces often just a tip of the iceberg of the bigger mold issue. Depending on the area affected by water exposure and the time it's been left untreated, there could be a large contaminated areas behind the walls, under flooring and carpeting. Since not all mold is toxic, it is important to seek professional help to make sure you and your loved ones are not in danger.

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    December 11, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Some common mold effects can be particularly unsafe for individuals with severely weakened immune systems, for young children, and for the elderly. We had a relatively severe mold problem in our home that we were not aware of until it was quite far along. My son started experiencing asthmatic symptoms that he had never displayed before. We have a family friend who suggested that perhaps it was something environmental he was being exposed to, and she was correct. If you are experiencing a musty odor, damp carpets, or black discoloration, it is crucial to test your home in order to avoid mold related illnesses.

    October 30, 2013 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Claire

    Some common mold effects can be particularly unsafe for individuals with severely weakened immune systems, for young children, and for the elderly. We had a relatively severe mold problem in our home that we were not aware of until it was quite far along. My son started experiencing asthmatic symptoms that he had never displayed before. We have a family friend who suggested that perhaps it was something environmental he was being exposed to, and she was correct. If you are experiencing a musty odor, damp carpets, or black discoloration, it is crucial to test your home in order to avoid mold related illnesses. Here is an interesting article that I found after the fact. (I meant to post this in my previous comment! ) I'm not very text saavy. 🙁 http://naturallythebest.com/removing-the-mold-from-your-home/

    October 30, 2013 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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