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How mould can affect your health (and what to do about it)

Unexpected summer heatwaves aside, Ireland is a soggy little island, and now is the time of year when the damp can really do some damage.

As well as contending with heavy showers when you’re out and about, moisture can also cause problems in your own home.

What is mould?

Mould is a fungus which thrives on moisture and reproduces through tiny spores in the air. While often black in colour in domestic settings, it can also appear green, white, orange or purple.

We are exposed to mould on a daily basis and it is generally harmless in small doses. However, inhaling a large amount of spores, particularly if you’re sensitive to the fungus, can negatively impact your health. 

Where and how does mould grow?

Damp spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms and basements are typical environments where mould can thrive. The surfaces of walls, floors, carpets, furniture and appliances are all susceptible to mould if there is an excess of moisture.

Water may come from leaking pipes, rain due to roof or window damage, and rising damp from lower floors. Condensation can also be the culprit. This forms as droplets on cold surfaces like walls, mirrors and windowsills when air in the home can’t hold any more moisture.

Cooking, drying clothes, showering and even breathing can cause condensation if there is not adequate ventilation.

The health risks

Mould produces irritants, allergens and occasionally more toxic substances. Inhaling or touching spores can prompt an allergic reaction, which will manifest as sneezing, a runny nose, a rash or red eyes. They can also bring on asthma attacks. 

Children, elderly people, people with existing skin conditions, people with respiratory problems, and those with weakened immune systems (due to undergoing chemotherapy, for example) should stay away from damp and mould.

Preventing mould

Avoid the build-up of condensation by:

  • Leaving your bedroom window open for 15 minutes in the morning
  •  Putting lids on pots and pans
  • Not drying clothes in the bedroom
  • Turning up the heating slightly
  • Leaving doors open in the house to allow air to circulate
  • Ensuring your rooms have adequate ventilation. This may require unblocking vents or adding new ones.

“Cold bridging”, where the temperature outside creates cold areas around windows, doors and the ceiling, can also be an issue. The quality of your external insulation and plasterboard is key to having a consistent temperature in the home. 

You should inspect your home for cracked drainpipes and ensure gutters are not blocked. Cracked or missing mastic sealant can encourage mould. 

Removing mould

Too late for preventative measures? You can remove mould yourself if it is caused by condensation and has not spread beyond a square metre. If it is caused by sewage, or is more widespread, it’s time to call in a professional.

When removing it yourself, wear goggles, a mask and long rubber gloves for protection. Open windows and close internal doors to stop spores spreading elsewhere in the house. 

Fill a bucket with water and some mild detergent. Dip an old cloth into the soapy water and carefully wipe the mould off the surface, taking care not to “brush” it and release more spores. When finished, dispose of the cloth. Clean the area thoroughly with a vacuum or wet wipes and dry the surface completely.

For more on family health, check out previous Vhi Health Hub articles here.