Does Mold Cause Asthma?
It’s proof of common sense that you want to take care of mold in the home. It’s just proving that if you don’t do that, your kids are more likely to develop asthma. (Gary Steven, an allergist at the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center in Milwaukee)
According to Stats Can, approximately 2.5 million Canadians have asthma. About 275,000 Albertans or 6% of the population suffers from asthma.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that can cause shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma rates in Canada have been increasing and it is estimated that nearly 10% of the population suffers from asthma.
As of yet, the cause of asthma has not yet been pinpointed, though mold has been cited as a potential trigger.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the four studies that show a causal link between mold and asthma.
Finish Mold and Asthma Study
In a 2001 study, Dr. Maritta Kilpelainen at the University of Turku in Finland found a link between mold and illness. Her study surveyed 10,000 students about the dampness of their homes and asked them to report back on colds and other respiratory ailments.
The study made the following conclusions:
- Students who reported having visible mold in their homes were more than twice as likely as others to have asthma. Moldy homes were also linked to a nearly 50% increase in the odds of having at least four colds in a year.
- Students whose homes harbored visible mold or water damage were also at a somewhat higher risk for other infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Dampness in the home “at least maintains” asthma symptoms, and may also boost a person’s vulnerability to colds and other respiratory infections.
- Mold is an allergen, it is a known trigger of asthma attacks because it triggers inflammation in the upper respiratory tract and, therefore, makes people more susceptible to colds.
Cincinnati Mold and Asthma Study
The 2001 Finnish study was partly conclusive because the survey showed a link between damp homes and respiratory conditions, including asthma.
Since there is no clear definitive cause and and effect, mold minimizers cite the 2001 study as an anecdotal association, a theory. The theory was put to a test in 2012 by researchers in Cincinnati whose study was more qualitative. Their conclusion: there is a strong indication that mold exposure in infancy causes asthma.
This study was based upon research on approximately 300 children whose ages ranged from one to seven. The researchers found that there are three mold species harmful to children: Aspergillus ochraceus, Aspergillus unguis and Penicillium variabile. These molds, common to water-damaged homes, cause children to develop asthma.
Tiina Reponen, co-author of the study, concluded:
While it is known that mold is a risk factor for asthma, this is the first study that quantitatively measured mold and after adjusting for commonly known risk factors, found an association with asthma. Previously, other studies had shown qualitative or anecdotal associations, she said.
The key take away from this study is that expectant mothers and families with small children should not live in water damaged buildings.
Taiwan Mold and Asthma Study
The 2014 study out of Taiwan: Current asthma in schoolchildren is related to fungal spores in classrooms, adds further proof that mold does cause asthma.
Researchers studied children, ages 6 to 15, in 44 schools, and made the following conclusion:
Classroom Aspergillus/Penicillium and basidiospores are significantly associated with childhood asthma and asthma with symptoms reduced on holidays or weekends (ASROH). Government health policy should explore environmental interventions for the elimination of fungal spores in classrooms to reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma.
UK Mold and Asthma Study
In the same year, 2014, a study out of the UK made similar conclusions about mold and asthma. Dr. Richard Sharpe of the University of Exeter Medical School found that high levels of the fungal species Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Cladosporium poses a significant health risk to people with asthma, worsening the symptoms in both children and adults.
Sharpe and his team reviewed 17 studies that were done in eight different countries and concluded:
Cladosporium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, and Penicillium species were found to be present in higher concentrations in homes of asthmatic participants. Exposure to Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Cladosporium species were found to be associated with increased risk of reporting asthma symptoms by a limited number of studies. The presence of Cladosporium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, and Penicillium species increased the exacerbation of current asthma symptoms by 36% to 48% compared with those exposed to lower concentrations of these fungi, as shown by using random-effect estimates. Studies were of medium quality and showed medium-high heterogeneity, but evidence concerning the specific role of fungal species was limited. (Indoor fungal diversity and asthma: A meta-analysis and systematic review of risk factors)
Other conclusions from this study, included the following:
- Dampness and fungal contamination in the home has been consistently shown to increase the risk of asthma and the severity of its symptoms.
- Majority of the evidence reviewed focuses on the exacerbation of asthma symptoms, and few assess their role in the development of asthma.
- So far Aspergillus and Penicillium species have already been linked to an increase in the risk of asthma development in children, but we know little about the effects of the other species we considered.
- Dampness is one of the major factors affecting the growth of mold inside homes – a problem which has been on the rise as aging houses are sealed and retrofitted with new energy efficient technology. We currently know very little about how people’s living habits can contribute to indoor air quality, and ultimately affect their health. This study highlights the need for homes to have adequate heating, ventilation and home maintenance – all factors that will help to reduce the presence of mold and its effects on asthma symptoms.
What Is The Economic Cost of Asthma?
In Canada, the economic cost of asthma is substantial. Consider these statistics:
- Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism from school and the third leading cause of work
- Every year in Canada, there are 146,000 emergency room visits due to asthma attacks.
- The Conference Board of Canada estimates that in 2010 chronic lung diseases including
asthma cost $12 billion including $3.4 billion in direct health care costs and $8.6 billion in
- Direct costs of asthma, which include medical/nursing care and medication, in Canada are
estimated at $600 million per year. In 1994, the cost of hospitalization alone for asthma was
- It is estimated that the total annual cost of asthma care in Canada is between $504 and $648
million (1990 dollars) annually.
Does Mold Remediation Improve Health?
In 2013, NBC Dateline released a documentary called Breathless which examined the link between mold and asthma in children living in public housing managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The publicity generated from this documentary led to a lawsuit from the residents accusing the agency of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because NYCHA consistently failed to address moisture problems that caused mold, worsening respiratory ailments of residents, particularly children. This lawsuit is significant because NYCHA recognized the link between mold and asthma when they settled out of court and agreed to the following:
- Address moisture as the root cause of mold.
- Respond to complaints promptly.
- Recognize mold and moisture as a health threat.
- Recognize asthma as a disability and to make accommodations for tenants with the condition.
The importance of this is further highlighted by an earlier study published in the scientific journal Thorax which concluded that mold remediation improved respiratory illnesses. Authors of this study found that once visible mold was removed, medication use reduced and asthma symptoms improved.
There is both quantitative and qualitative evidence proving a link between mold and asthma.
This is important information because most traditional treatments of asthma focus on medications as opposed to the root cause, a band aid solution!
If mold is the trigger, then obviously the root cause should be addressed.
Failure to address the cause not only negatively impacts the health of the sufferer, but has a significant economic cost from a health care standpoint and lost productivity.
Asthma sufferers should seriously consider getting the air quality of their home tested to determine if the trigger is mold because the short term cost of removing the mold could net long term health benefits and savings in health costs as well.
— MSZ Restoration (@mszrestoration) August 19, 2015