Ask the Allergist: Addressing Mold After Major Flooding
Q: Mold growth is a serious problem when homes are flooded following hurricanes and major storms. What should people with mold allergy do? Are there treatments that can help?
Michael Blaiss, MD: Mold is a major problem inside homes, especially those that have had significant flooding, such as what occurred last year after a series of hurricanes affected Houston, South Florida and Puerto Rico.
Homes can develop mold very rapidly. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that there can be significant mold growth after water is flooded into a home.
So it’s very important for homeowners to clean and remove mold as rapidly as possible so that health problems don’t develop. If there were household items that were soaked, they should be cleaned, dried out or thrown out. A couch really can’t be cleaned, so that should be thrown out. All the carpeting and draperies should be thrown out.
And a real problem can be sheet rock, or the dry wall. That may need to be removed, as well as the insulation behind it. And you may need to bring in a professional cleaner to really clean out the affected areas.
Now mold is irritating to everybody. It can irritate the eyes, the nose, and cause respiratory problems and severe coughing. But it can be a really severe problem for people with mold allergy. They can develop eye and nasal problems, and it can trigger life-threatening asthma if you have that condition.
So along with addressing and cleaning up the mold as quickly as possible, it’s important for people with mold allergy to get on proper medications. If it’s nasal allergies, there are antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids. If it’s asthma, there are short-acting beta2-agonists (albuterol inhalers) and different inhaled corticosteroids for daily asthma control. If you have severe asthma, you may require stronger medications.
And lastly, some patients may want to consider allergen immunotherapy that can desensitize them to the mold. Patients interested in immunotherapy should first talk with their doctor about this treatment option.
Michael Blaiss, MD, is clinical professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia, and Executive Medical Director and Past President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
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