Student First Name : Alexi van Vloten
University : Dalhousie University
Mold and mold removal has been a big issue in my family for a long time. When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with asthma. My parents tell me that it was a very scary time for them; I would wake them up at night because I couldn’t breathe. My wheezing was audible from all the way down the hall. Although mold didn’t necessarily cause my asthma, it certainly produced many flare-ups over the years. Mold continues to be the biggest contributor to an increase in my asthma symptoms to this day. In this essay, I aim to demonstrate how mold has affected me directly, and to provide a summary of the negative associations that have been found between mold and respiratory health.
When I was a kid, my asthma symptoms were well-managed with medication and a lot of hard work by my parents. They were always cleaning, vacuuming, and investing in items like air filters. Because of this, after I was diagnosed I didn’t have many asthma attacks at home while I was growing up. My asthma only reared its ugly head when I was sick, or when I ended up visiting somewhere damp and moldy. I remember one incident when I was eight years old. I was at my friend’s birthday party. Her family lived in a century home, and you could tell it was damp the moment you walked in. I wasn’t aware of the association between mold and dampness at eight-years-old, but I vividly remember having a big asthma attack ten minutes into her party. I remember sitting on the cold hard floor, wheezing like crazy while a whole bunch of kids crowded around. I felt scared and embarrassed. I was even more embarrassed when my parents had to come pick me up.
Entering a moldy space like this is consistently what can bring on an asthma attack for me. I’m very aware of the smell of mold the second I walk into a room. As an adult, I think that this connection is harder to deal with now than it was when I was a kid – not because of my symptoms, but because of the awkwardness surrounding what brings them on. There have been many times when I’ve been welcomed into someone’s home, and have had to leave because my asthma flares up to the point where my rescue inhaler can’t control it. It’s so embarrassing to have to tell someone that I can’t stay in their home anymore because I’m reacting to something in it. (I often leave out that I react this strongly to mold, because the last thing I want is to tell my friends that they have a moldy home.)
Another way that mold has impacted my life is in the hunt for accommodations. I have moved several times in my adult life, and once has been to a basement apartment. In retrospect, this was a bad decision. But the rent was cheap! I thought that if I cleaned thoroughly, sprayed with mold removal spray, and kept a dehumidifier running 24/7 that I would be okay. I was not. I had asthma attacks daily, and felt really tired all the time. I have to say that there is no substitute for actually having mold professionally removed. After six months of frustration, I called in an expert. Without his help removing the mold, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make it through the next six months of that lease. It eased my symptoms significantly until I was able to move out.
Because I know how mold has impacted me throughout my life, I have been interested to know what the research says about mold and its effect on respiratory illness. In the name of finding robust scientific data, I searched for meta-analyses that addressed mold and upper respiratory tract symptoms. In a meta-analysis from 20071, the findings make sense with what I’ve experienced in my life: mold is associated with an increase of 30-50% of negative respiratory health outcomes. People who live in homes with visible signs of dampness and/or mold were 1.7 times more likely to have upper respiratory tract symptoms, which was found to be statistically significant. Something that resonated with me is that children were especially shown to be affected by this, with a higher likelihood of having a wheeze or cough.
The article went on to point out that building dampness could be a public health issue, as around 20% of homes have problems with mold and/or dampness. This doesn’t surprise me, especially due to the association between mold and respiratory symptoms in children. I can only imagine the impact that addressing mold as a public health issue could have on reducing these symptoms and all the other problems that come with them that I experienced in my own life. The study also concluded that because of these results, there should be a focus on preventing mold or dampness, as well as taking measures to eliminate mold if it’s already present.
Although this study found an association between mold/dampness and respiratory symptoms, it doesn’t mean that the mold necessarily caused the increase in symptoms (which the authors do point out). However, from my own experience, mold removal was a relatively cost-effective and simple way to drastically reduce my asthma symptoms when I lived in that basement. I think that further studies need to be done that investigate the effects that mold removal can have on potentially reducing upper respiratory tract symptoms.
Mold has impacted multiple areas of my life, including my social life and my respiratory health. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with mold. I learned how to clean and prevent mold and dampness thanks to the hard work of my parents. I learned how to be polite if I have to leave a friend’s house because of an asthma attack. And I learned the hard way that it’s okay to call in the professionals when you can’t handle a mold problem yourself. Because of the known association between mold and negative respiratory health outcomes, I will continue to make mold prevention and removal one of the key things I do in order to take care of myself and my family.
We invite students from any program in any Canadian post-secondary institution to submit application for the next scholarship contest from our Scholarship Page.