Household Mold May Promote Asthma, Colds

REUTERS - People who live in a damp house, particularly those damp enough to be water-stained and moldy, may be more prone to asthma, colds and other respiratory ailments, researchers in Finland report.

Because mold is an allergen, it is a known trigger of asthma attacks. But how mold and overall household dampness affect a range of respiratory conditions is unclear, the investigators write in the June issue of Thorax.

In an effort to shed light on the issue, Dr. Maritta Kilpelainen and her colleagues at the University of Turku questioned more than 10,000 university students on the dampness of their homes, whether they had asthma or other allergies, and how often they developed colds and other respiratory infections.

Students who reported having visible mold in their homes were more than twice as likely as others to have asthma. Moldy homes were also linked to a nearly 50% increase in the odds of having at least four colds in a year, according to the report.

As for other infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, students whose homes harbored visible mold or water damage were at somewhat higher risk.

These results, the authors write, suggest that dampness in the home "at least maintains" asthma symptoms, and may also boost a person's vulnerability to colds and other respiratory infections.

Other genetic and lifestyle factors played important roles in the students' respiratory health. For example, smokers were more prone to respiratory infections other than colds. And a closer look at asthmatics showed that home dampness affected only students whose parents had asthma or another allergic illness.

Still, even after the researchers considered factors like heredity, having pets in the home, and urban or rural living, damp homes remained linked to poorer respiratory health, the report indicates.

It is unclear exactly how a moldy home might raise the risk of colds, which are caused by viruses. It is possible that mold triggers inflammation in the upper respiratory tract and, therefore, makes people more susceptible to colds, Kilpelainen told Reuters Health.

A damp home is not necessarily a health risk, she noted. However, when people fail to repair leaks or otherwise let water damage go, this may allow mold--and health problems--to flourish, according to Kilpelainen.

May 17, 2001 - NEW YORK (Reuters Health)

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