Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a Treatment for Mold Exposure and Toxicity
A common mold that infects the lungs is Aspergillus fumigatus and it is responsible for aspergillosis. Aspergillosis infection can be deadly, especially in people with chronic lung conditions or weakened immune systems. In severe cases, the infection can travel from the lungs, through the bloodstream, and into other organs, including the brain. Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine Robert Cramer, Ph.D., has discovered that saturating the body with high levels of oxygen using a hyperbaric chamber stops the fungus from growing. The high levels of oxygen enhance the body’s ability to metabolize the mold toxins from the tissue and cells in the body.
While more research continues, many patients with mold exposure and toxicity find relief through regular treatments with HBOT. By flooding the body with higher than normal levels of oxygen, HBOT promotes a strong immune system. In turn, this allows the body to better fight off invaders and infection. For cases where mold may have affected brain function, such as memory issues, the increased oxygen allows the brain to heal. This often improves memory and other cognitive issues. In addition, mold triggers an inflammatory response in the body. HBOT also reduces inflammation on the cellular level by increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines and helps accelerate fibroblast activation.
Research and Studies Related to Hyperbaric Oxygen, HBOT, and Mold Exposure and Toxicity
Numerous research studies are looking at the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the treatment of mold exposure and toxicity and infections related to mold.
A study published by the American Society for Microbiology looked at the use of hyperbaric oxygen on the growth of Aspergillus fumigatus. Aspergillus fumigatus is an invasive fungal infection that causes aspergillosis in patients with a compromised immune system. This study looked at how hyperbaric oxygen affected the growth of A. fumigatus in vivo and in vitro.
While many mold and fungal infections respond well to anti-fungal medications, mortality rates remain high for A. fumigatus infections. The belief is that the infection causes low oxygen conditions at the infection site. This inhibits the ability of antifungal medications. In addition, the fungi can adapt to the low oxygen levels and continue to grow and spread. The study treated colonies of A. fumigatus with HBOT at 3.5 ATA and noted a 50 percent growth reduction in the fungal colonies. This proves promising for human fungal treatment and recommends further studies on HBOT and fungal infections.
Other Studies Confirm the Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen and HBOT for Mold Exposure and Toxicity
Another 2002 study looked at the use of hyperbaric oxygenation on 10 patients with invasive aspergillosis, where the traditional treatments were amphotericin B and surgery. Unfortunately, this modality of treatment still came with an unacceptably high mortality rate. The 10 patients, most presenting with rhinosinusinal infection with hematologic malignancies, received treatment with HBOT along with traditional care. Six of the 10 patients were infection free within three months of the first treatment. As a result, they concluded that HBOT is a valuable tool in treating this devastating condition.
HBOT and Hyperbaric Oxygen Improve Attention SPan Associated With Mold Toxicity
A 2011 study looked at the effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatments on patients with established mold toxicity and the improvement of attention span and reaction times. Exposure to mold and mycotoxins can significantly affect brain function in both adults and children, causing symptoms such as impaired short-term memory, disorientation, impaired balance and coordination, and the impairment of attention span and reaction time. In this particular study, 15 adults between the ages of 18 and 58 received treatment. Researchers confirmed mold exposure in all patients, as well as exposure to mycotoxins and related byproducts. As a result, all participants became ill after exposure. All 15 patients developed clinical attention deficit disorder (ADD) after exposure, affecting their attention span and reaction time as determined by the administration of the TOVA test. After only 10 HBOT therapy sessions, all 15 patients experienced significant improvement in attention span and reaction time.
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What is Mold and How is it Toxic to Me?
Molds are fungi that grow both indoors and outdoors. They grow best in areas that are warm, damp and humid. There are tens of thousands of different species of mold. They spread and reproduce by releasing spores. Under damp conditions, mold grows rapidly and damages the surface it grows on, such as drywall, flooring under carpets, and much more. In areas where large mold growth occurs, the structural integrity of a building can be affected. In addition to the mold, areas of mold growth also contain bacteria, dust mites, breakdown products of bacteria and mold, and airborne chemicals, gases and particulate matter that is released as a result of the destructive mold.
Identifying Mold in Your Home or Office
If you find mold growth, you may notice a fuzzy growth of black, brown, pink, yellow, or green and will often experience a musty smell. Common mold species found in your home or office building include Aspergillus, Alternaria, Acremonium, Cladosporum, Dreschslera, Epicoccum, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, and Trichoderma.
Mold contributes to many different health ailments. The release of spores from certain molds can trigger allergies and worsen asthma symptoms. Some molds produce mycotoxins which are toxic to animals and humans and can cause a variety of different health issues. In addition to the mold, the dust mites, bacteria, and chemicals and gases released from the mold growth can also contribute to health issues and mold toxicity.
Why Have Cases of Mold Toxicity Increased in Recent Years?
In 2009, the World Health Organization estimated that 10 to 50 percent of homes and buildings have clinically significant mold problems. In new and refurbished buildings, this number increases to 30 to 50 percent. This, unfortunately, is linked to the construction industry and the ability to build air-tight and energy efficient homes and buildings.
Unfortunately, the air-tight aspect of these building practices reduces the airflow in buildings and can trap humid air inside, making it easier for mold to grow and spread. Broken or leaking water pipes hidden behind walls can create a breeding ground for mold, leaving the spores and toxins trapped within the building. While creating energy efficient buildings may be beneficial when it comes to the electric bill, this air-tight environment is also contributing to many health conditions and mold toxicity.
Studies Look at Buildings and Mold Exposure
A 2015 study in the United Kingdom looked at social housing population and how energy efficiency homes affect mold induced adult asthma. They concluded that residing in an energy efficient home increased the incidence of adult asthma. The study also looked at 1300 office workers and showed that as many as 67% of adult-onset asthma began after the patient worked in a water-damaged office building.
A 2017 study looked at the connection between mold exposure during infancy to adolescence and how it affected the chances of developing asthma or rhinitis. They concluded that exposure to mold and dampness during infancy greatly increased the risk of developing asthma and rhinitis up to the age of 16 and that early exposure is associated with persistent asthma through adolescence.
Other Names for Mold Toxicity
When it comes to mold toxicity and the conditions that mold exposure can cause, there are a variety of names that are used. In addition to mold toxicity, you may hear it referred to as mold poisoning or sick building syndrome. Other names include toxic mold exposure, mold illness, biotoxin illness, and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS).
How Can Mold Affect Me?
Exposure to mold can affect people in three different ways: Hypersensitivity, infective, and Toxic.
- Hypersensitivity – This is an allergic reaction to repeated exposure to mold spores. This reaction is typically IgE mediated (histamine reaction) or inflammatory.
- Infective – A mold infection occurs when mold spores are inhaled, and mold growth occurs in the sinuses or lungs.
- Toxic – Certain molds produce toxic chemicals that become airborne and are inhaled. These toxins get into the body where they can remain for an undetermined time.
Again, certain risk factors increase your chances of mold toxicity. Patients with asthma, seasonal allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or weakened immune systems are at an increased risk to the effects of mold on the body.
Symptoms of Mold Toxicity
Symptoms of mold toxicity depend on the type of mold and additional toxins you are exposed to. General symptoms, such as fatigue, respiratory distress, and common allergic reactions, are common.
Other symptoms can be broken down by body systems and include:
- Ear, Eyes, Nose, and Throat – You may experience ringing in the ears, mild hearing loss, and dizziness. In the eyes, blurred vision, itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, and night blindness occur. The sinuses experience nasal congestion, nosebleeds, and odor sensitivity. In the throat, polyps on the vocal cords, laryngitis, burning or sore throat, and a raspy voice often occur.
- Musculoskeletal Symptoms – Symptoms include joint pain, morning stiffness, and sharp or stabbing pain. Can also experience muscle cramps, muscle weakness, spastic muscles, and Charlie horses.
- Reparatory Symptoms – Tachycardia, shortness of breath, asthma, cough, wheezing, heart palpitations, edema, bloody cough or bleeding in the lungs.
- Digestive Symptoms – Some experience a metallic taste in the mouth, acid reflux, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and weight loss or gain. Still more symptoms include urinary frequency, abdominal pain, and kidney or liver failure.
- Endocrine, Immune, and Nervous Systems – Symptoms in these systems vary widely. For example, some symptoms include extreme thirst, low blood pressure, inability to regulate body temperature, and mental confusion. Additionally, symptoms such as difficulty with short-term memory, headaches, and dizziness often occur.
- Skin Symptoms – You may notice changes in your skin including sensitivity to touch. Your skin may feel itchy or like bugs are crawling on your skin. You can experience possible skin peeling, redness or discoloration. In addition, so experience easy bruising, sensitivity to sun exposure, and hives.
- Symptoms in the Extremities – Cold hands and feet, discoloration of the hands and feet, numbness in the extremities, and hand tremors.
How Can I Be Tested for Mold Toxicity?
Receiving a diagnosis for mold toxicity can be difficult as many medical professionals still do not routinely test for mold. As you can see by the symptoms above, mold toxicity can mimic many other different conditions, including autoimmune disorders. Because of this, many patients receive misdiagnoses and treatment for something else. It isn’t until those treatments fail that many doctors begin looking for something different, often finding that mold toxicity is to blame.
Different Types of Tests
Testing for mold exposure depends on the type of reactions the patient is experiencing. In cases of hypersensitivity and allergic reactions, doctors test for immune and allergen responses. In cases where doctors suspect an infection, blood tests look for specific immune responses. Doctors take cultures from infection sites. Additional blood tests can look for genetic fungi particles present in the bloodstream. Sputum cultures can look for signs of certain fungi. In the cases of toxic mold, specific urine tests look for the presence of mycotoxins. In addition, blood tests look for the genetic ability of the patient to metabolize specific toxins.
When mold toxicity, or chronic inflammatory response syndrome, is indicated by symptoms, some doctors consider running a Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test. While originally used to test fighter pilots, it has become a nonspecific test of neurological immune function. It gives a high degree of sensitivity for biotoxin exposure. 90 percent of patients with CIRS fail this test.
Reducing the Risk of Mold Exposure and Removing Mold in the Home
The best way to avoid mold toxicity is to reduce your risk of exposure and this starts at home. There are many ways to reduce the possibility of mold in your home. They include:
- First, address any potential water leaks. This includes plumbing problems or leaky roofs. Second, fix leaking pipes and make roof repairs. In addition, let any areas that receive water damage from the leaks dry completely. Use fans if possible.
- Increase the airflow in your home. For example, open windows and allow fresh air to come in. Above all, ensure that air can circulate throughout the entire home. This may mean moving furniture away from the walls, allowing for full air circulation.
- Install or repair broken exhaust fans in the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room. This helps reduce increased moisture levels.
- Check that you have adequate insulation and ventilation in your attic and crawl spaces.
- Clean and dry carpets, bedding, and furniture within 24 to 48 hours of exposure to water damage.
- Vacuum and dust on a regular basis to help remove mold spores from carpeting and furniture.
- Check all your windows for signs of water droplets or condensation. Immediately dry the water and check the window seals. Finally, repair as necessary.
- If you live in a humid climate, consider a dehumidifier to reduce humidity levels.
When You Find Mold Inside Your Home
If you find mold inside your home, you must remove it as soon as possible. You can take care of small areas yourself, but large areas may require professional treatment. Before you begin clean-up, you need gloves, goggles, and a breathing mask to reduce your risk of exposure. First, begin cleaning the area with mild detergent and warm water. Second, let the area dry completely. Once dry, wipe the area down with a solution of ¼ cup bleach to one gallon of water and allow to dry. Finally, you can apply a borate-based laundry or dishwashing detergent to the area. This helps prevent mold from growing again. Monitor areas prone to mold growth each month and treat as necessary.
If you believe there is mold in your workplace, notify your employer so they can treat it immediately. If they do not address the issue, contact your local health department for help getting the mold issue addressed.
Standard Treatments for Mold Exposure and Toxicity
Treatments for mold toxicity again depend on the kind of exposure a patient has. In cases of hypersensitivity, allergy medications, steroids, or immunotherapy are often enough to address the issue. With infectious cases, oral and intravenous antifungal medications are often enough to kill the mold infection. In cases of mycotoxin infection and mold toxicity, treatment focuses on helping the body metabolize the mycotoxin from the cells. Bile binders help to stop re-absorption of the mycotoxin. While these may have some positive results, many patients do not find relief. A growing treatment option for mold toxicity is the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and it is seeing very positive results.
A Connection Between Mold Exposure and Toxicity and Other Chronic Diseases and How Hyperbaric Oxygen and HBOT Can Help
While mold toxicity becomes more and more common due to improved building construction, the impact of mold possibly extends into other areas and medical conditions. Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., ND, is a leading authority on science-based natural and integrative medicine. He was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. In addition, Pizzorno was also on President Bush’s Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee. He has published many different editorial papers in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. In a two-part editorial, he addressed the problem of mold toxicity for patients and how mycotoxins from mold affected respiratory conditions, neurological conditions, and immune conditions.
Mold and Multiple Sclerosis
One article that Pizzorno discusses looks at the possible connection between fungal toxins and multiple sclerosis. This 2010 abstract shows evidence that pathogenic fungi release toxins that target and destroy CNS astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. This, in turn, degrades the myelin sheath and triggers the onset of multiple sclerosis. As Pizzorno states, “As is well known, the incidence of multiple sclerosis increases with distance from the equator, which also correlates with mold exposure and decreased vitamin D – A critical nutrient for immune system modulation.” He asks the question, “Could MS be primarily due to the combination of mold exposure and vitamin D deficiency?”
Mold and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Another study that Pizzorno highlights looks at chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and the high incidence of mycotoxins in a patient’s urine. In the study, 112 CFS patients underwent testing for mycotoxins. At this point, 93 percent of the patients had at least one mycotoxin in their urine. 30 percent had two or more. The researchers tested three main mycotoxins: aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, and macrocyclic trichothecenes. Specifically, ochratoxin was the most prevalent at 83 percent and macrocyclic trichothecenes were at 44 percent. In examining exposure history, over 90 percent of the patients indicated current or past exposure to water-damaged buildings.
Mold and Chronic Lyme Disease
There is growing evidence supporting a connection between mold toxicity and chronic Lyme disease. In a July 2014 article by Scott Forsgren, Neil Nathan, MD and Wayne Anderson, ND, the connection between mold toxicity and chronic Lyme disease was discussed. Dr. Anderson finds that exposure to Lyme disease makes a patient more susceptible to mold toxicity and vice versa. In many cases, if a patient with Lyme disease does not respond to traditional treatment, an underlying mold infection is often the cause.
Mold exposure and toxicity contribute to many different symptoms and medical concerns that hyperbaric oxygen and HBOT address. With this in mind, if you suspect mold exposure and experience symptoms, give our office a call today to set up an initial consultation with Dr. Spiegel and his team.