Did mold in a University of Maryland dorm contribute to the death of freshman Olivia Paregol last week? Paregol died from complications of adenovirus, a common virus spread through close personal contact. After his daughter’s death, her father said that mould in her dorm room may have played a role.
“It didn’t help the illness,” Ian Paregol said, according to CBS Baltimore. “I think that’s a really fair statement. We don’t know that there’s causation, yet, but it didn’t help things.”
Though the university has confirmed at least six other cases of adenovirus, school officials haven’t verified that the mould was directly responsible for the virus, according to CBS News.
The tragic death of a college student and scary allegations that mold may be to blame might make you think about your own health and how mould can affect you.
“Mould is everywhere,” Albert Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association, tells Health. Usually mould grows outdoors, but a damp environment can cause it to thrive in your home.
You might be able to see mould as a dark discoloration or stain on the wall or floor, but it may also not be visible, he says,
Dr Rizzo says there is no direct relationship between adenovirus and mould. Even so, mould’s airborne spores can trigger a range of health woes, like these.
Mould sets off allergy symptoms
“Mould spores are small enough so that you can inhale them deep into your lung,” says Dr. Rizzo. Though not everyone reacts to the presence of mould in their airways, if you’re sensitive to it, your immune system may kick in, triggering a nasty attack of hay fever–like symptoms such as nasal congestion, red eyes, or itchy eyes and skin, notes the CDC.
Mould makes you cough
Even if you don’t have allergies or another respiratory issue, mould can still irritate lungs and cause a cough, says Dr Rizzo. “Wheezing and cough may be the first sign of an allergy or that you’ve been exposed to a significant enough amount of mould that it’s compromising your airways,” he says.
Mould can lead to a respiratory illness
People with a weakened immune system are especially susceptible to the ill effects of mould exposure. (Paregol said that this was the case for his daughter, who had Crohn’s disease.) It’s possible, though, that mould inhalation can lead to airway inflammation, which then may leave a vulnerable individual susceptible to another infection.
Mould can cause a lung infection
Another potential mould-borne problem for someone with a compromised immune system? “Mould can get a foothold in your lung and put you at a higher risk of developing a lung infection,” says Dr. Rizzo. One such infection caused by mould is aspergillosis.
Mild cases trigger allergy-like symptoms; however, an invasive form can spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, heart, and kidneys, and it can be fatal, says the Mayo Clinic.
Mould may lead to asthma
Even if you’re healthy, exposure to mould may contribute to the development of asthma, a chronic condition that impacts breathing; asthma attacks can even be life-threatening. (And FYI, once you have asthma, it doesn’t go away.)
Kids who were exposed to “visible mould” were at an increased risk for developing asthma or suffering from worsening asthma symptoms, according to a 2018 paper in the European Respiratory Review.
How to protect yourself from mould
Keep humidity levels in your home below 50%. If you know you have water damage behind walls or suspect it, you’ll need to hire professionals to clean out the mould that has likely resulted-especially if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms on this list. Your lungs are worth.