Mold makes you sick – could you be suffering symptoms of mold sickness or is it a mold allergy?
The answer to that question depends. If your symptoms do not go away or get worse when you leave the moldy environment there is a very good chance you have symptoms of CIRS.
CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome), or mold sickness, is far worse than a mold allergy. CIRS could be what’s keeping you sick, tired, and in pain. And it could have occurred from a past mold exposure that you didn’t even know you had!
Regardless of who you are, if you are living or working in a moldy home or building, you’re going to get sick. If you stay in the moldy environment the mold will trigger symptoms.
When you leave the moldy environment mold your symptoms should improve. But in some people, that just doesn’t seem to happen. Even after moving or remediating the mold toxins, symptoms can continue. And sometimes these symptoms can be debilitating.
Are your mold sickness symptoms genetic?
Not everyone’s symptoms are from mold sickness. You need to have the proper set of genes in order to develop CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome).
The gene in question is the HLA (human leukocyte antigen). About a quarter of people have this gene. It prevents their immune system from expelling mold toxins (mycotoxins). Since the toxins never leave their body, their immune system creates constant inflammation.
And a moldy immune system is a sick immune system.
Is your immune system moldy?
Your body’s immune system has two different sections:
- The innate or nonspecific immune system
- This immune system is the first defence against any intruders. It usually reacts with inflammation.
- The adaptive or specific immune system
- The adaptive immune system creates a specific defence against the intruder. It’s why once you get the chicken pox you will never get it again – your immune system recognizes the virus and can immediately respond to it.
I have written about how the innate and adaptive immune systems are linked to chronic fatigue. Be sure to check it out for a deeper understanding of how your immune system functions!
If you happen to have the mold genes, your innate immune system will respond when it is exposed to mold toxins. This response triggers the chronic inflammatory state found in mold illness.
However, because of your genes, the adaptive immune system isn’t called into action. This leaves the innate immune system stuck fighting mold and mycotoxins on its own.
Now that you know all about the mold sickness genes and how they affect your immune system, let’s dive into how you could develop Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). Mold sickness can be triggered by more than just mold!
How are mold sickness symptoms triggered?
Without exposure to mold toxins CIRS would not develop. To trigger the chronic state of inflammation, you need to have some form of environmental exposure such as:
- Mold and their mycotoxins from a water-damaged building
- Tick bites
- Poisonous spider bites
- Algae blooms
Remember, most people don’t know they’re living or working in a water-damaged building, because mold tends to hide behind walls, in HVAC systems, or in attics/crawl spaces.
This means that just because you can’t see mold does not mean your home or office is safe. In fact, up to 50% of homes and buildings in the United States may have water damage!
CIRS is hiding in plain sight
Conventional health care doesn’t usually investigate either a mold allergy or CIRS. At best, an allergist may diagnose a mold allergy. But this does nothing to confirm or deny the presence of mold sickness.
Because there are so many symptoms of CIRS, patients are often given a strange diagnosis that describes their symptoms. Some of the common diagnosis that is actually caused by mold sickness include:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Histamine intolerance
- Mast-Cell Activation disorder
Notice how each of these diagnosis do not have a cause. But CIRS has a known cause – it’s usually mold – a clear way to diagnose it, and objective, scientific evidence to support its existence.
If you haven’t already, be sure to take our questionnaire to see if your symptoms are caused by mold.
Symptoms of CIRS or a mold allergy?
The symptoms of a mold allergy and the symptoms of mold sickness are very different. Below, I list the most common symptoms associated with each disorder. If you suspect CIRS may be affecting you, take our free mold sickness quiz here.
Common symptoms of a mold allergy
Symptoms of a mold allergy are similar to other allergic reactions and include:
- Runny nose
- Dry or scaling skin
If mold spores get in your nose, you’ll likely experience rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal pathways), watery eyes, and post nasal drip. And if mold spores make their way to your lungs, you’ll experience asthma, shortness of breath, and a cough.
Some patients can have a more serious illness called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. In this condition, there is both an allergic and an inflammatory response to the mold. And if this is what you are suffering from you may experience severe wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, much like asthma.
Common symptoms of mold sickness
The symptoms of CIRS are far more complex and vague than those of a mold allergy. All too often, those suffering from undiagnosed mold sickness are told they have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, or IBS. Some patients are even told that their symptoms are all in their head. Some of the more common symptoms of mold sickness include:
- Muscle Cramps
- Unusual Pain
- Ice Pick Pain
- Light Sensitivity
- Red Eyes
- Blurred Vision
- Sinus Problems
- Shortness of Breath
- Abdominal Pain
- Joint Pain
- Morning Stiffness
- Memory Issues
- Metallic Taste
- Focus/Concentration Issues
- Word Recollection Issues
- Decreased Learning of New Knowledge
- Skin Sensitivity
- Mood Swings
- Appetite Swings
- Sweats (especially night sweats)
- Temperature Regulation or Dysregulation Problems
- Excessive Thirst
- Increased Urination
- Static Shocks
Notice how there are so many symptoms of CIRS and how they are also symptoms of syndromes like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and IBS. Syndromes do not have an exact cause so there are few treatment options. However, CIRS has a cause (mold toxins) and a specific course of treatment. So a mold sickness diagnosis offers an actual reason for these mysterious syndromes.
If you suspect you’re suffering from CIRS, Flourish Clinic’s Mark Volmer, FMP, is a certified Shoemaker practitioner for treating mold illness. You can also find a trained practitioner in your area.
Treatment for mold allergy vs CIRS
The treatment for mold allergies and mold sickness are dramatically different. Your family physician will be able to help you deal with a mold allergy.
However, your family/conventional medicine practitioner will not be trained in the diagnosis and/or treatment of mold sickness. This is because treatment for CIRS has only recently been developed by Dr. Shoemaker, who created the Shoemaker Protocol.
Treatment for mold allergy
If you’re suffering from a mold allergy, the easiest way to cure your symptoms is to avoid mold. If your home is water damaged, you’ll need to have a specialist treat your house. Ensure that you quickly treat any and all water leaks in your home. This includes everything, from drips off of pipes to condensation on your windows. With a mold allergy you need to be proactive in managing water/moisture.
Be sure to turn on your exhaust fan every time you take a shower. This will prevent an accumulation of condensation which will lower the risk of mold growth. If you live in a humid environment, consider investing in a dehumidifier. Then you’ll want to keep your house below 45% humidity. Anything more will promote mold growth.
If you’ve removed sources of exposure, and you’re still symptomatic, your doctor will likely prescribe antihistamine medications and/or nasal steroids. Both of these medications will lessen your immune system’s response to the mold’s mycotoxins. But please note neither will cure your mold allergy. In order to rid yourself of a mold allergy, you need to remove any potential areas of contamination.
If you previously lived in a water-damaged building, you may need to replace your clothes and furniture. This is because mold spores can be found on all types of fabric.
Treatment for CIRS
Unfortunately avoiding mold exposure(s) and taking an antihistamine won’t cut it if you are suffering from mold sickness. This is because people with mold sickness have a genetic susceptibility. The only way to cure your mold sickness is through the Shoemaker Protocol. This is a treatment plan developed by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker for CIRS and mold illness. I give you a basic introduction to his protocol below.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 1: Test your environment
In order to successfully treat CIRS, you need to ensure the environments you live and work in do not contain molds or mycotoxins. As molds often develop in areas that are out of sight, just looking for mold is not enough. However, there are two tests you can use to check your home for mold. These tests are called the ERMI and the HERTSMI 2. They are the gold standards for identifying whether or not your home is safe.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 2: Removal from the water-damaged building(s)
After you’ve performed testing on your home/work/school, you will know whether or not it is safe for you to go to these areas. Note that if any of these environments contain mold, you should not go in them. That’s because if you keep exposing yourself to mold, you will not get better. This is why avoiding re-exposure is perhaps the most important step in the treatment of CIRS.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 3: Removal of molds from your body
Those with the HLA-DR genes are not able to remove molds and mycotoxins from their body on their own. Therefore, medication and/or supplements need to be used to help successfully remove the toxins. In the Shoemaker protocol, Dr. Shoemaker recommends using Cholestyramine.
Cholestyramine was originally prescribed as a cholesterol medication. It works in lowering cholesterol by binding cholesterol molecules and bile salts in your GI tract and excreting them through your feces. The magic binding capacity of cholestyramine also works on molds. This medication will bind to any molds that are present in your GI tract and allow you to successfully remove them through your feces.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 4: Eradicating MARCoNS
MARCoNS stands for multiple antibiotic resistant coagulase negative staphylococci. MARCoNs are bacteria that move into your nasopharynx, the upper part of your throat where it connects to your nose. This is not an area you want MARCoNS to take up residence!
To make things worse, these bacteria form a biofilm which makes them antibiotic resistant.
MARCoNS lower levels of a specific hormone in your body called melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH). MSH is absolutely essential to help your immune system regulate inflammation. After step 3, patients generally feel some improvement. If they don’t, MARCoNS are likely interrupting the healing process.
To treat MARCoNS you need to deal with the biofilm. EDTA combined with an antibiotic nasal spray is the treatment of choice via the Shoemaker Protocol. Alternative therapies like Johnson’s Baby Shampoo have also been shown to disrupt the bacterial biofilm. They are often combined with probiotics and applied to the inside of the nasal cavity.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 5: Gluten removal
CIRS will often trigger your immune system to create anti-gliadin antibodies. This will make you intolerant to wheat products. If you recently developed mold illness, you may have noticed wheat products trigger symptoms, even though you have never had an issue with it before.
You need to follow a gluten-free diet at this stage of treatment. However, once the mold has been removed there’s a good change you will be able to eat gluten again.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 6: Correcting androgens
Androgens are male sex hormones. Both males and females have androgens. CIRS often create imbalances in androgen levels. To restore health/balance back to your endocrine system, you’ll need to balance androgens.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 7: Correcting ADH/osmolality
ADH stands for antidiuretic hormone, also known as vasopressin. ADH controls the amount of water stored in your blood. Osmolality problems can appear as frequent urination, excessive thirst, headaches, or low blood pressure.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 8: Correct elevated MMP-9
MMP-9 stands for Matrix Metalloproteinase 9. MMP-9 helps bring inflammatory molecules into your brain, nerves, muscles, lungs, and joints. In CIRS, MMP-9 is often elevated. To lower MMP-9 levels you need to adopt a low amylose diet.
A low amylose diet is similar to a keto diet. Specifically, you need to avoid:
- Roots and tubers including white and sweet potatoes, beets, peanuts, carrots, and other vegetables that grow underground. The exception here is onions and garlic.
- Bananas (the only forbidden fruit)
- Wheat and wheat-based products including bread, pasta, cakes, and cookies
- Foods with added sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, or maltodextrin
If dietary changes do not improve MMP-9 levels, then DHA and EPA supplements are added. EPA and DHA are omega 3 fatty acids. You likely know them as fish oils. To lower MMP-9 levels, you’ll want to take 2.4g/day of EPA with 1.8g/day of DHA.
Shoemaker Protocol Step 9: Correcting low VEGF
VEGF stands for vascular endothelial growth factor. Low VEGF causes fatigue, muscle cramps and shortness of breath. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome often have very low levels of VEGF. The low amylose diet and addition of omega 3 fish oils should improve VEGF levels. But if you are still suffering from fatigue, slowly add exercise to your daily routines for further VEGF improvements. Check out my article on how to exercise with chronic fatigue for more info!
There you have it – a quick overview of the Shoemaker Protocol. As you can see it is quite complicated, which is why I cannot stress the importance of working with a mold-literate practitioner enough. You cannot go through the Shoemaker Protocol on your own. There needs to be a lot of guidance along the way.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What strange array of symptoms did mold cause in your body?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!