Symptoms of Mold Exposure: The Do’s, Don’ts and Shocking Details

Miriam Gubovicova
Author: Miriam Gubovicova
Symptoms of Mold Exposure: The Do’s, Don’ts and Shocking Details
Are you sick of mold? Are you ready to tackle this toxic problem that is impacting your health?

Too often, the symptoms of mold exposure are attributed to the wrong causes. And as a result, we consider mold only after exploring all other options. 

Mold poisoning is a common issue, so the symptoms need to be common knowledge. If you are allergic to mold, you need to be even more aware of your environment and the mold in your house. But there are more ways you can be exposed to mycotoxins than black patches on your walls.

A close-up image of mold fungus growing in soil
Mold is a type of fungus that occurs in our ecosystem.

Trust me when I say mold isn’t something to be taken lightly. I’ve experienced exposure to black mold myself, and I’ve seen a loved one suffer.

The only good thing that came from the fight with mold in our new home was the idea for Whomesome.

Before moving to Portugal last year, we did our homework. We talked to friends who lived here, read blogs and articles, and explored the housing market thoroughly. Then, finally, the move felt right, and we felt ready. 

Portugal is a cold country with a hot sun, and as we soon found out, this causes condensation and humidity issues. Do you see where I’m going with this?

How long does it take to get sick from mold exposure

As we were settling in, making our house a home, and enjoying life in a new country, something started to feel off.

Within a few days of moving in Andri’s sleep was getting progressively worse. From tiredness to pure exhaustion. He started experiencing different allergies and skin issues. His stomach was constantly bloated, and he looked like he was entering his third trimester of pregnancy. There was a massive contrast from the healthy, strong man I was used to seeing.

When we moved in, I cleaned all the kitchen cabinets because they had a horrible musty smell, but it kept coming back. So it didn’t take me too long to put two and two together and understand what was going on.

After a few more days passed, Andri was already struggling to think straight.

He was experiencing brain fog and couldn’t focus on anything. We continued to try solve the problem, hoping that our new home would be the happily ever after we envisioned.

But then, around day 9 of moving in, Andri started getting dizzy, and his vision was so blurry he couldn’t even read his phone.

So, finally, we knew we had to get out; and we escaped our new dream home in Portugal.

What was happening to us?

It turns out that Andri is allergic to mold. He started experiencing various health issues almost immediately. And as soon as we discovered that it’s coming from the kitchen, he started avoiding the area.

But since I didn’t feel anything, I continued to spend time there.

It took me more than two weeks to start experiencing any symptoms, and we had already moved out of the house by then. My symptoms were similar yet somewhat different. Like Andri, I felt foggy and couldn’t focus on work for more than 5 minutes.

And while all this was happening, I had an online presentation in front of a few hundred people where I struggled to form sentences.

So if you’re feeling off and you’re experiencing neurological symptoms, or various symptoms that just don’t make sense, then mold might be the culprit.

To lower your risk of being poisoned by mold, it helps to pay attention to these three things.

1. Know the symptoms of mold exposure

Woman hiding under a blanket with only her hair sticking out
Being aware of mold exposure symptoms will help you connect the dots.

Symptoms of black mold exposure manifest differently for everyone.

We figure ours were strong and their onset fast because there was a lot of mold inside the walls. Yet because of their severity, we knew we had to escape quickly.

All too often, people unknowingly live in a moldy house for months or even years. And for some people, it might take more time to start noticing anything, but the damage will already be more severe when the symptoms do show.

No one is immune to mold.

We talk about air pollution quite a bit, and mold spores are part of the problem. They get released into the air and float around as long as the mold is present in the house. Mold can also cling to your furniture and clothes and move to other areas and households. 

“Every year, nearly 600,000 children under the age of five die from diseases caused or exacerbated by the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution.” (Truth About Mold)

If you live in a house with other people, find out if anyone else is experiencing any health issues. Of course, not everyone is sensitive to mold, and not everyone will experience severe reactions. But if someone has a pre-existing condition, keep an eye on the symptoms. Individuals with asthma, allergies, fungal issues, children with developing immune systems, or the elderly are at more significant risk.

Warning signs of mold exposure:

  • Bloating
  • Chronic digestive issues
  • Multiple food sensitivities
  • Sudden or inexplicable weight gain
  • Chronic asthma
  • Sinus congestion
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Chronic anxiety, depression
  • Persistent attention deficit
  • Foggy brain or poor recall
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Regular loose stool and constipation
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Chronic pain: headaches, muscle pain, etc. 
  • Sensitivity to fragrances, chemicals
  • Low libido
  • Difficult or irregular periods or difficult menopause
  • Swollen glands or joints

The list of symptoms is long and can be pretty confusing. 

There’s one crucial thing to note. If any new symptoms start after moving into a new home or after water damage, they are likely related to your environment. It might be new furniture off-gassing, new paint chemicals, and other VOCs, or it could be mold. 

2. Signs of mold in your house

Photo of an aesthetic bathroom with lots of natural light
No matter how dreamy the bathroom is if there is water damage, mold forms in 24-48 hours. 

The house we moved into was freshly renovated… Because a pipe burst, which caused extensive water damage. This damage wasn’t handled properly, so the place was infested with toxic black mold.

Our kitchen smelled musty, and our wooden utensils grew mold spots overnight. But the signs not always as obvious as that.

So, before you put your Sherlock Holmes hat on, let’s clarify what mold is.

Molds are the most common forms of fungi found both indoors and outdoors. No surface or material is immune to mold. As long as moisture and oxygen are available, mold can and will grow. Mainly, mold reproduces through the formation of spores. These are microscopic cells resistant to drying, and they float in the air.

Once the spores land on a surface, they grow, digest, and destroy the area. 

You might be most familiar with the term “black mold.” But in reality, there’s no one type of toxic mold. People started naming indoor molds this, but in fact, they’re referring to any toxic mold. As you’ll see, not all mold is black, but they’re all toxic. 

Mold comes in many different shapes and colors. You can even have more than one type of mold growing in the same spot.

Here are some of the most common types of mold:

Cladosporium is brown, green, or black (often referred to as toxic mold). This mold can grow in both cold and warm locations. Look for it on carpets, fabrics, wood surfaces, and AC/heating outlets.

Penicillin is blue, green, or yellow with a fuzzy texture. This type of mold loves water-damaged buildings and areas. Check for visible water-damaged walls, areas under the sinks, basements, and house insulation.

Aspergillus is green, white, or gray with black/brown spots with powder-like consistency. We could call this type a “low maintenance” mold as it does well in all places and doesn’t need much ventilation. Look into fabric furniture, walls, attics, basements, and your pantry. This mold loves dry food items.

Alternaria is white with black spots and fuzzy. It loves fabrics, wallpaper, windows and balcony doors, AC ducts, and humid areas.

The above is not a complete list. For example, 270 species of mold were identified in Canadian buildings alone. There are thousands more! The bottom line is that you need to act fast when you find mold. 

We’ve put together a super-simple checklist to make your home inspection as easy as possible. It’s just a PDF document with a list of most likely spots in your home to have mold. You can use it for a planned mold inspection and just cross off places one by one.

You can download your checklist here:

But your office might not be a safe place either. Around 50% of buildings in the US have a history of water damage. Employees of offices where mold is present often complain of fatigue and brain fog. Don’t be ashamed to look around the office area, kitchen and bathrooms.   

So, if you do not work at home, repeat the inspection at your workplace. Occupations where mold exposure can be higher include furniture repair and carpentry, winemaking, greenhouse work, millwork, restaurant and bakery work, logging, farming and dairy work.

3. What happens if you eat mold

A loaf of bread covered with mold
The thought of eating something covered in mold will likely give you a gag reflex.

After discovering that our kitchen was the source of the contamination, we had to throw away most of the food we stored inside the cabinets.

Even if you don’t see any, there can still be mold growth in your food. Patches on the surface of foods are usually the last places mold shows.

The good news is that gagging will most likely be the only reaction you get from eating something that has gone bad. If you’re less lucky, you may experience digestive discomfort for a few days. However, mold can cause severe and acute toxicity in some unlucky individuals.

You might be at a higher risk if you have pre-existing digestive and immune system issues and an already burdened and out-of-balance body.

Foods prone to mold growth are also high in histamines, which aggravates the already existing inflammation in the body. 

As mentioned earlier, the bad news is that not all mold is visible to the human eye. Certain molds produce naturally occurring toxins called mycotoxins. Exposure to these might cause an immediate allergic reaction. Long-term exposure has been linked to the induction of cancers and immune deficiencies.

As a side note, be extra careful if you have a pet at home. Moldy foods are hazardous, toxic, and deadly to domesticated pets and wildlife. 

I have a vivid memory from my days in London. You could see well-meaning neighbors throwing moldy bread over the park fence to feed the ducks. Please, do not do this. Do not feed the ducks at the park. It will harm the birds and the unfortunate dog that manages to get his paws on it. Dispose of any moldy foods.

So, what foods should you be conscious about, and how do you keep your food mold-free?

12 foods that grow mold easily

  1. All grains
  2. Dairy 
  3. Coffee & tea
  4. Sugar
  5. Grain-fed meats
  6. Leftovers
  7. Nuts, seeds & their butters
  8. Spices & herbs
  9. Alcohol
  10. Pet food
  11. Processed milk (oat, soy, rice, etc.)
  12. Juices 

12 ways to keep your food safe & mold-free

  1. Store grains in airtight containers and use them as quickly as possible
  2. Keep the perishable foods in the fridge
  3. Buy only organic, raw dairy made from milk of pasture-raised/grass-fed animals
  4. Buy only organic, mycotoxin free coffee & tea
  5. Avoid nuts and seeds as much as possible, or only consume in their fresh form
  6. Avoid store-bought nut and seed butter
  7. Prevent the cooking steam from entering spice and herb jars
  8. Use spices & herbs within three months
  9. Do not eat leftovers beyond a few days
  10. Do not store open cans in the fridge
  11. Clean your fridge regularly and check it for mold
  12. Throw moldy foods away – do not try to scrape off the moldy parts

Making all these changes at once can be overwhelming. But it will be worth your time, and you can do them one by one. Pick your battles. Ask yourself which of these foods you consume the most of?

When I first started to look into mold, I discovered that mold always grows on foods. From the field, transportation, processing, storage, and leftovers, it’s unavoidable. I began making small but significant changes. I tossed my supermarket (organic) coffee and started using an alternative certified brand free of mycotoxins. I stopped buying nuts, seeds, and butter made from these. And while cooking, I made sure I didn’t sprinkle herbs and spices straight from the jar.

I know the turnover of plant-based milk in cafés is high. The chances of a box being open for longer than a few hours are low. But I didn’t want to risk drinking milk that hadn’t been refrigerated? So, I stopped ordering my guilty pleasure, a flat white with oat milk. 

It turns out, Chemex and V60 or even batch drip coffee can be almost as delicious and enjoyable! The only danger is that you can turn into a huge coffee snob.

How to get rid of mold?

After finding mold in your house, your first instinct might be to get a dehumidifier and put it to work. While these machines can help a little with the humidity in the house, they will not fix mold issues. In fact, without adequate maintenance, dehumidifiers themselves can become breeding grounds for mold spores.

You can clean smaller mold patches with some hydrogen peroxide. Another option is sodium hypochlorite (bleach), but it is more toxic and not as effective. Whatever you choose to do, ensure you wear gloves and respiratory equipment (N95 mask) during the mold removal. 

The best thing to do is dispose of any moldy food and be more mindful about the expiry dates of your products. 

We won’t sugarcoat it for you! The larger the mold patch, the harder it will be to remove it yourself. The best option is to call a professional mold-removing company. They will remove the mold, identify the source and offer solutions. And most importantly, they will check your house, so you can be sure none of it is left behind.

Undoubtedly, mold is a tricky and complex subject to discuss and conquer. I will leave this article here and let you digest all of this information surrounding the symptoms of mold exposure. I’m planning on diving a little deeper into some other areas of mold in future articles. 

Keep your eyes peeled if you want to learn more about; how to get rid of mold, the most common mistakes people make when trying to get rid of mold and the best ways to detox from mold.