Dementia and Hidden Home Toxin

We have featured a number of scientific studies over the years on dangerous toxins in home and work environments–commonly known among experts as “Sick Building Syndrome“.   Today we focus not on the many serious human-made chemicals that can overtake living and work spaces and harm health like benzene, xylene, toulene, and others, but on a naturally-occurring toxin that makes an appearance in human-made environments like the home and workplace.  More specifically, today’s focus is on a hidden, deadly toxin that has not only been linked to serious health outcomes like cancer, but also dementia–including in young, healthy people. The hidden toxin?  Black mold.  And it may be silently spreading its deadly spores in your or your loved ones’ private space without anyone even knowing.

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What is Sick Building Syndrome?

‘Sick building syndrome’ refers to toxins that are overtaking the interior space of the building like toxic chemicals, fungi and molds.

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What are Symptoms of Exposure to Sick Building Syndrome?

When people regularly occupy a building (home or workplace) with hidden toxins they may experience symptoms whenever they spend time in the building.  The symptoms may include headaches, allergies, burning or itching eyes, breathing difficulties/asthma or other bronchial problems, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, tight chest, dry or itchy skin, stuffy nose, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating and memory problems.  And, if people are genetically predisposed to adverse reactions to toxins (like molds), the immune system may go into overdrive, causing excessive fluid in the body which manifests as unexplained weight gain.

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How the Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome can become Serious

Regularly breathing in toxins in an enclosed space day after day can eventually take its toll on the body.  In the most simplest terms, the immune system may recognize the toxic invaders and in an effort to protect the body, may trigger a process to block, isolate or eliminate the toxins. That process can also cause inflammation which can affect the body’s vital organs–including the brain.  If the brain is affected individuals may experience difficulty concentrating and staying focused, confusion and memory problems.  If an individual continues to be exposed to the toxins and has genetic or environmentally-induced sensitivities or intolerance for toxins like mold for instance, s/he may begin to experience more serious symptoms, one of which is dementia.  Readers are strongly encouraged to read the news account of someone who experienced just that–a young, healthy female in her 30s diagnosed with dementia after living in an apartment that was contaminated with black mold, despite the fact that there were no obvious signs of toxins present.  Though an anecdotal account rather than our typical scientific studies we publish, it is nonetheless a real life cautionary tale for everyone who lives (and works) in an enclosed space.

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How to Check Your Home for Mold

Many times toxins and sick building syndrome are invisible to laypersons. If you suspect there may be a toxin in your home like mold, the very best thing you can do is to hire an expert trained and certified to uncover toxins in built environments.  But when it comes to taking precautions, there are a number of checks you can do yourself…

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Places Mold (and other toxins) may be Lurking in Your Home

A good heuristic to use is that anywhere there is water, toxic mold (and fungi) may be lurking. But water can travel, so keep in mind that mold may be growing and spreading spores into your air space (and consumables) some distance from the actual water source.

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Coffee pots and Hot water machines for tea, soup, etc.   These machines are notorious for providing perfect environments for mold growth.  Don’t wait until you or a family members gets sick–be sure to regularly clean these machines out with vinegar.

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Ice-maker machines.  Again, this is a very common source for mold growth so be sure to regularly clean these machines out with vinegar.  (Note: some ice makers have a “cleaning” function which should be used in-between your regular cleanings with vinegar.)

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Water dispensers for refrigerators. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning this unit out on a regular basis.

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Refrigerators. Refrigerators can silently leak for a long time without anyone being aware. The water can slowly drip behind the unit and make its way under the flooring of the refrigerator and cause dangerous mold to grow. Pull the refrigerator out and look for signs of water leakage. The top layer of flooring (tile or hard wood) may be slightly damp, or it may have a spongy texture when walked on. There may be water stains or lines of rust or other minerals on the back of the refrigerator.  If any of these or other suspicious signs are present, call in the experts including a plumber and flooring professional.  If black mold is discovered, remember that just ripping out the part of the flooring with obvious black mold growth is not enough, so also call an expert trained and certified to uncover and safely eliminate toxins in built environments.

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Under the sinks–including dishwasher drainage and under the sink water purifying systems.  Carefully check under all the sinks in your home for dampness or musty odors.  Look for stains underneath where bottles have been setting.  Also check under the kitchen sink and around the sink top and counter area for water or dampness during or following the dishwasher drain cycle.   If dampness or outright water drips are discovered, have all pipes tightened and sealed immediately. You can also take the opportunity to clean out the air gap for your dishwasher to prevent future leaks (here is an excellent video with easy to follow instructions). If your home has an under the sink water purifying system, be sure to check for signs of leaks like dampness, stains, or outright water pooling.  Like refrigerators, these types of water purifying systems may have silent leaks for a long time before being noticed so be sure to check for slow canister or tubing leaks that can create mold.

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Showers, tubs and toilets.  Check for possible leaks around these fixtures–especially signs of dampness or wetness that are there long after use. Remember that these fixtures may leak below the surface and toxic mold can grow inside walls and under the top layer of flooring without being seen so if you suspect leaking (like noticing moisture long after bathing, musty smells or flooring that feels spongy or shows signs of staining or wetness), call out a plumber and environmental toxin expert for residential interior spaces.  Additionally, work to keep the walls and floors of bathrooms dry.  Do not permit standing water on the floor.  If you can open a window or turn on a fan, do so to air the room out after bathing, and hang up damp towels and bathmats after every use.

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Roof and air conditioning units on the roof.  Remember that water can enter any unsealed area and enter your home, giving toxic mold an opportunity to grow in ceilings and walls, long before you know there is a problem.  And water may meander and enter your home quite a distance away from the point of entry, making it even harder to identify the problem.  Keep your roof healthy by fastening and replacing loose or broken tiles, and if you have an air conditioning unit on the roof be sure to thoroughly apply fresh sealant around the unit every year.

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Window AC units. Be sure to check the walls and floors around the air conditioning unit regularly to make sure moisture–or water drips–are not accumulating behind walls or under flooring.

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Gutters. Clean the gutters of your home every year (in some regions, twice a year).  Build-up of leaves and debris in gutters can cause water to leak into the edges of the roof and at the foundation, creating an opportunity for mold to grow in ceiling, walls and sub-floors.

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Exterior leaks. Check for leaks on hose bibbs on the house exterior.  Do not give leaking water an opportunity to find its way into the interior walls or foundation where mold can grow.

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Wallpaper.  We previously published a scientific study that found fungi can grow under the wallpaper–the same is true for toxic molds.  Wallpaper can become toxic if the room lacks proper ventilation, or if there was a prior leak that contaminated the walls, or if the home’s region has experienced prolonged periods of rain or moisture in the air. If the wallpaper has been up for a number of years consider having it professionally removed and then opening windows and turning on fans and leaving the walls to air out for several days to a week before applying fresh paint.

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Wall-to-wall carpet. Remove wall-to-wall carpet from “water use” areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Thick carpeting and padding not only offer an excellent breeding ground for toxic molds, they hide the evidence and prevent occupants from keeping an eye on possible leaks and mold growth.

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Washing machines and water heaters.  Check the connections for washing machines and water heaters to be sure they are dry and tight. Check around the floors and walls of these appliances for stains and other evidence of current or previous leaks.

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Breathing machines.  Like coffee pots and ice makers, breathing machines for sleep apnea and other health conditions are notorious homes for mold growth. Be sure to clean the hoses and other parts of breathing machines after each use, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Dish clothes/Kitchen cleanup cloths.  Change these cloths frequently (and wash them thoroughly). Dish/kitchen clean up cloths often remain wet for protracted periods of time and can make great homes for molds and other contaminants.  You do not want to be cleaning food prep areas and eating areas with contaminated wash cloths and spreading molds around as you go.

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Dish drainer. Another source of mold and contaminant growth can be the dish drainer used for drying hand washed dishes and cookware–this is especially true for the basket intended for silverware. Carefully clean the drainer and silverware basket with a disinfectant on a regular basis.

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-Pet bowl areas. It is common for the floor area around pet water bowls to become damp or even wet on a regular basis.  As it is possible for the flooring beneath the pet water bowls to become saturated and a breeding ground for mold, be sure to keep this area clean and dry. Remove the water and food bowls, clean and dry the vinyl food and water bowl mats, and thoroughly dry the floor beneath where the bowls are kept. If the flooring beneath the pet bowls has become wet, put the bowls in another location for several hours to give the floor an opportunity to dry out. If you have windows in the area, open them to help ventilate the room and floor.

Molds and other toxins in enclosed spaces can take quite a toll on your health and well-being. Luckily, doing regular maintenance such as the tips listed above and keeping a watchful eye for potential problems can go a long way to prevent exposure to toxic mold.

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