Dear Dr. Roach: I lived in southwest Florida for 13 years and was exposed to heavy mold and mildew due to heat and humidity from a leaky roof.
About a year ago, I gradually became quite ill — fatigue, weakness, irritable bowel symptoms, insomnia and symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Six months ago, I moved out and have slowly regained my health, with the exception of the UTI symptoms and insomnia.
Could the mold and mildew exposure have caused my symptoms?
Dear I.L.: The adverse health effects of exposure to molds, a subset of fungi, are a frequent cause of concern. There are some health effects that are very well accepted, and some that are controversial.
Although people with a weakened immune system are more susceptible to the effects of mold exposure, even healthy people can be infected with certain pathogenic species. The majority of molds do not infect healthy people, but they can cause symptoms without infection, and those symptoms can be serious.
Infection or not, in some cases, it is the body’s overaggressive response that causes more problems than the actual germs. One example, which I believe may the case with you, is hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
In this condition, it is the immune response to the offending agent, such as a mold, that is responsible for the symptoms, rather than growth of the mold itself.
The most common symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis include cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss. When cough and shortness of breath are not prominent, the disease can be very hard to diagnose.
Given your history, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that you may very well have had a sensitivity to the mold in your home.
Urinary symptoms and insomnia are not common symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and the fact that they haven’t gotten better when the rest of the symptoms did suggests that the mold wasn’t responsible.
Other symptoms, including chronic sinus inflammation, immunodeficiencies and neurologic symptoms have been reported, but are not accepted by most authorities as commonly caused by molds.
Dear Dr. Roach: We are regular readers of your column. At 72, I have fasting labs done every six months (metabolic and lipid panels and yearly Vitamin D check).
Some doctors say that having coffee in the morning before a blood draw is OK if you don’t use milk or sugar; other doctors say no coffee.
What is the professional advice on this?
Dear D.B.: Coffee or tea without milk or sugar does not interfere with the blood testing.
Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.