A Diagnostic Challenge
A challenge for conventional medical practitioners in diagnosing toxic mold illness has been that symptoms as well as laboratory tests tend to present somewhat differently across sufferers (and may change over time for particular individuals).
This variability may be attributed to several factors, including the following.
1. Most water-damaged buildings contain a variety of toxin-producing microorganisms (including many different kinds of molds and bacteria).
The various toxins made by these microorganisms are known to cause different kinds of health harm and may act synergistically. Patients’ symptoms therefore may vary depending on the precise mix of toxins that they are being exposed to at a particular moment in time or that they have been exposed to in the past.
2. Some toxins (especially trichothecenes) have a negative effect on the immune system.
A variety of pathogens (differing from patient to patient) therefore may establish themselves in sufferers’ systems and cause varying kinds of harm.
3. Individuals who have been harmed by toxic mold often develop sensitivities to other toxic substances (perhaps at least in part due to the perforations caused to the blood-brain barrier by trichothecenes).
This may result in a wide variety of symptoms depending on what particular environmental agents are encountered by an individual at the time.
The presentation in toxic mold illness thus may be expected to be a bit more complex than what may be present when a single particularly virulent pathogen is wholly responsible for causing a particular disease.
Still, toxic mold illness presents itself in a specific enough way that those clinicians who focus even a bit of attention on the topic should be able to learn to identify possible cases quickly and efficiently.
A Multisymptom Illness
Some of the most commonly reported symptoms associated with toxic mold illness are listed at the bottom of this page.
Perhaps the most important indication that a patient may be suffering from toxic mold illness is having a wide variety of these symptoms.
While any of these symptoms in itself may be indicative of many other diseases, experiencing many different symptoms from a number of the categories listed below suggests more strongly the possibility that toxic mold may be involved.
Also very characteristic of toxic mold illness are symptoms that wax and wane over time for no apparent reason, as well as illness that shifts significantly in terms of specific symptoms over time.
The website Biotoxin Journey provides a simple symptom checklist test designed to give those just learning about toxic mold an initial sense of whether their own health issues are typical of illness associated with mold toxins or other biotoxins.
The checklist is based on the work of Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, who also provides a list of symptoms associated with mold illness.
Dr. Neil Nathan also shared some of the symptoms that he has found to be specifically associated with mold-related illness in his patient base of relatively severely affected chronic illness sufferers.
Lists of symptoms experienced by mold illness sufferers, their partners, their children and their pets were provided by members of the Mold Avoiders Facebook group.
A list of symptoms developed by Paradigm Change is at the bottom of this page.
Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test
Another test related to biotoxin illness that has been reported to be fairly reliable (though not foolproof) is the Visual Contrast Sensitivity (VCS) test.
It is an eye test that can be taken via computer, gauging the ability of the individual to see clearly even in situations of low visual contrast (a skill that tends to be impaired in those suffering from this kind of illness).
Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker offers the Online VCS Screening Test (tested extensively in his patient population) for a small fee on his Surviving Mold website.
A similar free VCS screening test not evaluated by Dr. Shoemaker also is available.
Physicians certified in or familiar with Dr. Shoemaker’s protocols may prescribe a panel of laboratory tests designed to determine whether a patient is suffering from toxic mold illness.
Specific test results vary across patients, and so the knowledge of someone experienced in the illness is needed to interpret the results. The cost is relatively high, though insurance in some cases may cover the cost.
Mycotoxin Urine Tests
Some doctors use a panel of mycotoxin urine tests to assess patients suspected of having toxic mold illness, but there also is considerable controversy surrounding this particular testing method.
Relevant issues are discussed at length in a Paradigm Change blog article on the topic.
Occasionally physicians will suggest that patients who suspect that they have issues with mold obtain an allergy panel to a variety of common molds. These tests look at the body’s responses to molds that may (or may not) be making toxins, not at the body’s responses to toxins themselves.
IgE testing measures the kind of allergic response that many people may have to substances such as ragweed or cats. While people who have toxic mold illness do seem to be more likely to have IgE mold allergies than the average person, there are many people with toxic mold illness who do not have these kinds of allergies. In addition, there are many people with elevated IgE levels for molds who do not have toxic mold illness.
IgG testing measures how recently the individual has been exposed to particular types of mold, either in the environment or through colonization. While people who have been exposed to large amounts of particular kinds of molds usually have elevated IgG scores for those molds, this does not necessarily demonstrate that these individuals have experienced harm as a result of those exposures.
Mold toxin hyperreactivity (the tendency to be very negatively affected by even extremely small amounts of mold toxins in the environment) appears to be very strongly associated with toxic mold illness.
Many patients have stated that they became convinced that toxic mold was a factor in their illness not by any sort of medical testing but rather by getting totally away from their usual environment (including building, location and possessions) for an extended period of time and then observing their reactions to it when this “sabbatical” was over.
The book A Beginner’s Guide To Mold Avoidance discusses this approach.
Mold Illness Symptoms
Following is a list of symptoms that are very frequently associated with toxic mold illness.
While few patients have every single symptom listed here, more severely ill individuals with toxic mold illness likely will have a large number of symptoms from multiple categories on this list.
Focus or concentration issues
Word recollection issues
Decreased learning of new knowledge
Issues with information organization or executive functioning
Difficulties remembering numbers
Bipolar disorder or manic-depression
Loss of self-confidence
Inability to process trauma or interpersonal pain
Feelings that friends have become enemies
Fibromyalgia type pain
Ice pick pain
Migraine-like headaches (usually on both sides of the head)
Sensitivities to medications
Intolerance of alcohol
Reactions to gluten, dairy or other foods
Inability to tolerate touch
Poor tolerance of stress
Loss of visual contrast sensitivity
Shortness of breath
Inability to speak loudly
Blood sugar issues
Cravings for meat
Orthostatic intolerance (difficulty sitting or standing)
Low blood pressure
Rapid heartbeat (constant or erratic)
Increased sweating (especially night sweats)
Temperature regulation issues
Abnormal body temperature (above normal or below normal)
Vocal or motor tics
Paralysis (or feelings of paralysis)
Slow wound healing
Slow recovery from exercise
Red or pale skin
Eccentric weight gain or loss
Edema or swelling
Ringing or buzzing sounds
Decreased ability to concentrate while music or TV is playing
Yeast or bacterial infections
Increased infections of all kinds
Frequent colds (or never get colds/flus)
Lymph node swelling/pain
Low growth hormone level
Low DHEA level
Weak adrenal function
Generally feeling terrible
Note: This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be viewed as a substitute for consultation with a qualified physician.
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