My Apartment Made Me Sick : Mold and Asthma Just Don’t Mix

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with asthma. I often got respiratory illnesses as a child, and in 7th grade PE class, I was having a lot of trouble with the required running. The doctors diagnosed asthma. I knew that this meant inhalers and limitations. I did not realize that, years later, it would mean my apartment making me sick.

Although I was used to getting sick throughout my youth, I first got really sick after I got married. My husband and I found a cheap apartment (a hard thing to do in Los Angeles), and we were thrilled to move in. Shortly after we got married in the end of 2003, I got sick. I thought it was the usual cold, but it was much more intense and lasted much longer. I was coughing like crazy in a heavy spasmodic cough. I had the most intense sinus pressure I had ever felt. I went to the doctor, and they told me nothing was wrong with me. That was so hard to hear. Although I had been coughing non-stop for about 2 months, they listened to my lungs and even gave me an x-ray and concluded that there was no infection- it was just due to my asthma.

Prior to this, my asthma has always been under control. I did not even take a daily medicine, I just occasionally needed a rescue inhaler if I was sick or if I ran or something. I didn’t like the idea of taking a daily asthma medicine, but the doctors told me that this was the only thing that would get the coughing under control.

I started taking Q-Var, a daily inhaler, and within a few weeks I was feeling pretty good. However, just a few months later, it started all over again. I took my daily asthma medicines and would occasionally feel better, but as soon as I felt better it seemed like I was sick again. I went to new doctors, tried new daily asthma medicines- this time Singulair- and even allergy medicines like Allegra. It all seemed to kind of help, but I was starting to feel like I was sick more often than I was not. This went on for about two years. At one point, in April of 2005, I was so sick that I missed 17 days of work in one month, going to work off and on for a half a day or so, but coming home because I was too sick. I couldn’t be out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time because I just got too tired. I went to the emergency room with asthma attacks so bad I thought I was going to die, only to be told, “It’s nothing.

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When my husband and I had first signed the lease on our apartment, they made us sign a “mold waiver.” It seemed pretty simple, just a little page saying that because our bathroom did not have a window it was prone to mold, and so we had to agree that we would use the fan in the bathroom to vent the steam and prevent mold. Easy enough, right?

Well, just a few months after we moved in, a black mold took over the top of our bathroom walls. My husband and I spent one long day attacking the mold with bleach and it all went away- at least as far as we could tell. After that, I cleaned our bathroom walls regularly with bleach to get rid of the mold.

For some reason, I didn’t initially connect the mold to my sickness. Doctors told me that it was my asthma and that it was asthma related allergies (hay fever, etc.). It was suggested that I purchase an Ionic Breeze to cleanse the air around me. Well, these are very expensive, and it was certainly not something that we could afford. I brought it up with my parents, who had been very concerned with me always being sick. They were the ones who realized it could be the mold.

My mother and father became convinced that the mold was causing these symptoms and begged us to move out. Finally in December of 2005, we moved into a new apartment. I was sick when we moved, but within a few weeks I felt better. It has been over a year, and except for a mild cold, I haven’t been sick since. I stopped taking my daily asthma and allergy medicines, and haven’t needed to use my rescue inhaler. Truly, it was my apartment that was making me sick.

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If you are experiencing frequent colds or cold symptoms, you could be suffering from a mold allergy. Even if you can’t see the mold, it can be living underneath layers of paint (especially if you are renting somewhere and you don’t know the history of the building).

In my case, my asthma is a mix on intrinsic and extrinsic asthma. This means that anything can irritate my asthma. Chemical irritants can bother me; pollen or dust can create asthmatic symptoms (like the cough), and so can mold. The mold in my apartment was not a “toxic mold,” the kind that you hear about people dying from. It was a common mold, cladosporium, which is the same family of mold you find on old food in your refrigerator. It doesn’t bother everybody, which is why my husband was fine, but for someone like me, with asthma, it made my life miserable.

If you think that you may be getting sick from mold, there are allergy tests that a doctor can do to determine if you are allergic to cladosporium (the most common bathroom mold). If it is determined that you are allergic, then you can work on solving the mold problem.

People with asthma should be extra careful about mold. Don’t rent in a place that does not have a window in the bathroom. If you have your own place, do not carpet the bathroom. Have someone who is not allergic to mold clean often with mold killing cleaners, such as bleach.