May 11, 2017
By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.
People who have become particularly sick with mold-related illness usually report experiencing a wide variety of symptoms themselves – and very often say that they have noticed that their partners, children and pets seem to be exhibiting symptoms as well.
The Mold Avoiders group on Facebook consists primarily of individuals who have noted that they are hyperreactive to even small amounts of mold toxins and who have been unable to get their symptoms under control simply through moving/remediating and pursuing standard medical treatments.
Many of these individuals started out with diagnoses of “ME/CFS” and were severely ill (such as housebound or bedridden) prior to starting mold avoidance.
Poll results suggest that these individuals experience a great many different symptoms – and that their family members and pets may also be affected.
Following are the poll results.
While obviously this is wholly self-reported anecdotal knowledge from a subset of all mold illness patients, it is hoped that these results will prove to be food for thought and lead to more systematic research on symptoms in the future.
It often is said by those knowledgeable about the topic that if people are experiencing just a couple of symptoms, they likely do not have mold-related illness – but if they have dozens of symptoms, they almost certainly do.
At least for the relatively severely affected patients in the Mold Avoiders group, being affected by many different symptoms does appear to be the norm.
A total of 351 individuals participated in this survey about their own health symptoms. The question was:
Which of these symptoms have you experienced as part of your mold-related illness? Please mark all that you had to at least a moderate or severe extent, not ones that were only mildly problematic. If there are additional symptoms you would like to see added, please write them in the comments.
A core group of symptoms (many of them related to neurological issues) was present in almost all participants. Most of these individuals reported a wide variety of idiosyncratic symptoms as well.
96% Focus or concentration issues (338 respondents)
91% Generally feeling terrible (321 respondents)
88% Memory issues (308 respondents)
87% Chronic fatigue (307 respondents)
83% Forgetfulness (292 respondents)
81% Chemical sensitivities (286 respondents)
80% Word recollection issues (282 respondents)
79% Anxiety (276 respondents)
79% Unrefreshing sleep (276 respondents)
76% Body aches (267 respondents)
73% Weakness (255 respondents)
72% Poor stress tolerance (251 respondents)
68% Exercise intolerance (237 respondents)
68% Food intolerances (237 respondents)
67% Decreased sociability (234 respondents)
66% Joint pain (231 respondents)
65% Depression (229 respondents)
63% Insomnia (221 respondents)
61% Headaches (215 respondents)
61% Eyesight problems (213 respondents)
Although sometimes both partners in a marriage or relationship are severely affected by mold-related illness, it more often is the case that one partner becomes very ill while the other remains relatively well.
In many cases, however, illness sufferers report that the officially well partner also is manifesting some less severe but still problematic health issues. This poll therefore looks at symptoms experienced by spouses or partners while living with the illness sufferer in the problematic environment.
A total of 107 individuals participated in this poll. The instructions read:
This poll considers symptoms that your spouse or partner may have experienced while living with you prior to starting mold avoidance (or who is living with you at present if you have not started mold avoidance yet). Please only provide information about the most recent partner you were living with at some point while you were in the environment where you lived before starting whatever level of mold avoidance. Please do not answer with regard to partners who were not living with you prior to starting mold avoidance. Please mark all of the following that apply. If you have suggestions for additional responses, please write them in the comments.
While irritability or anger issues and reluctance to leave a problematic environment are sometimes attributed to direct effects of mold toxins, it also could be that these are just regular emotional responses to the difficulties of the situation. It thus is unclear whether the top two answers should be taken as an indication that a high percentage of spouses indeed were in fact being physiologically affected by toxicity in the environment.
About 20-35% of participants reported that their partners had experienced typical mold illness symptoms such as mood issues, cognitive issues, fatigue, sleep issues, weight gain and/or chemical sensitivities. These results are fairly consistent with the widely discussed theory that about a quarter of the population is especially susceptible to being made ill by mold toxicity.
59% Irritability or anger issues. (63 respondents)
39% Significant reluctance to leave the problematic environment. (42 respondents)
34% Nasal congestion. (36 respondents)
34% Depression. (36 respondents)
34% Significant amounts of fatigue. (36 respondents)
33% Cognitive problems. (35 respondents)
29% Insomnia or sleep difficulties. (31 respondents)
24% Panic attacks or anxiety. (26 respondents)
23% Unexplained and unwanted weight gain. (24 respondents)
18% Food sensitivities or chemical sensitivities. (19 respondents)
18% Lack of interest in sex or sexual dysfunction. (19 respondents)
This poll question asked Mold Avoiders members who believed that one or more of their children were negatively affected by mold exposures to list all of the symptoms that any of their children had experienced. The poll therefore focuses on the most common symptoms but does not provide information on what percentage of exposed children or affected children have each symptom.
A total of 138 parents participated in the poll. The question read:
This poll is for parents who have had children with reactivities to mold toxins to list the symptoms that children have experienced. If you have more than one child, please just mark all of the symptoms that any of the children have had. Please list symptoms that were experienced by children under age 18.
While some of these symptoms are similar to ones that adults who have been negatively affected by mold toxins experience, there also seem to be some differences – for instance, with more of an emphasis on mood-related symptoms and less on fatigue.
78% Dark circles under eyes (107 respondents)
72% Focus or concentration issues (100 respondents)
67% Mood swings (92 respondents)
62% Anxiety (85 respondents)
57% Food intolerances (79 respondents)
54% Unrefreshing sleep (74 respondents)
53% Anger episodes (73 respondents)
53% Headaches (73 respondents)
49% Sound sensitivity (68 respondents)
47% Insomnia (65 respondents)
47% Joint pain (65 respondents)
46% Body aches (63 respondents)
45% Rashes (62 respondents)
44% Very pale skin (61 respondents)
43% ADD or ADHD (59 respondents)
43% Stuffy nose (59 respondents)
41% Chemical sensitivities (57 respondents)
41% Memory issues (57 respondents)
41% Abdominal pain (56 respondents)
41% Poor stress tolerance (56 respondents)
41% Spaciness (56 respondents)
Although mold avoiders often state that pets living with them in a problematic environment have experienced health problems that they believed were related to the exposure, I have not previously seen any surveys or other systemic research on the topic of the effects of moldy homes on pets.
This poll thus provides preliminary data that hopefully will lead to more systematic research in the future in terms of the ways that mold toxins may affect pets.
A total of 109 individuals participated in this poll. The question read:
When you were living in the homes that were associated with your having illness symptoms, did your pets have any symptoms as well? Please mark all symptoms that your pet(s) experienced that you suspect might have been associated with the exposure. Please include all symptoms for all pets. If there are symptoms that you would like to add, please write them in the comments.
While many of the symptoms listed here certainly could be caused by factors other than exposures to mold toxins, a high percentage of them are similar to symptoms that humans experience when in problematic buildings and thus conceivably could have been caused by the exposure.
50% Anxiety and related behavioral issues (55 respondents)
47% Sleeping an abnormally high percentage of the time (51 respondents)
42% Vomiting without apparent explanation (46 respondents)
37% Apparent fatigue or lethargy (40 respondents)
34% Urinating where not supposed to (37 respondents)
28% Not able to jump very high (31 respondents)
28% Skin rashes or sores (31 respondents)
28% Became more withdrawn (30 respondents)
27% Apparent stiffness (29 respondents)
24% Frequent sneezing or reverse sneezing (26 respondents)
About Paradigm Change
Lisa Petrison is the executive director of Paradigm Change. Her Ph.D. is in marketing and social psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Results of a wide variety of other Mold Avoiders group polls can be found on the Living Clean in a Dirty World blog.
For more information about the role of mold toxins in chronic illness, please visit the Paradigm Change website.
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The book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance is a practical guidebook for those hoping to improve their health by avoiding toxic mold.
Those pursuing mold avoidance may consider joining the Mold Avoiders Facebook group, which is run by Paradigm Change and which now has more than 8000 members. (Please read this Paradigm Change blog post when joining the group.)
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