Mysterious Toxic Mold IllnessPatients are extremely surprised when I tell them that their illness is due to toxic mold. My practice is located in the dry southwest, where mold is not something most people ever think about. As I will explain, for certain people it doesn’t take much mold to make them very sick.

The common symptoms of toxic mold illness are:

1. General symptoms: fatigue and weakness
2. Musculoskeletal: muscle aches, cramping (claw-like cramping in hands and feet), joint pain
3. Respiratory: cough, shortness of breath, chronic sinus issues, asthma
4. Eyes: redness, blurred vision, tearing, sensitivity to bright lights
5. Gastrointestinal: abdominal pain or cramping, nausea, diarrhea
6. Central nervous system: memory loss, difficulty with word finding, confusion, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, learning difficulties, mood swings
7. Neurological: headache, numbness, tingling, lightheadedness, vertigo, metallic taste, temperature dysregulation, tremor
8. Unusual symptoms: increased thirst, frequent urination, appetite swings, frequent electric shock 1

If a patient has symptoms in four of the eight categories, toxic mold illness needs to be considered. The other condition that has a similar set of symptoms is chronic lyme disease. These two conditions are connected, in that they make people sick from the toxins they produce, and the inability of the person to get rid of those toxins.

With toxic mold illness, the mold itself is not the problem. It’s the toxins the mold makes that makes a person sick. In chronic lyme disease, it’s not the bacteria itself that makes a person sick, it’s the toxins that the bacteria makes that make a person sick.

If that isn’t mysterious enough, most people who are exposed to toxic mold will not develop toxic mold illness. I’ve seen it many times. A building has toxic mold but only one person is sick. The reason is that most people can detoxify these toxins. Thankfully Ritchie Shoemaker, MD made it possible for us to identify the people who have the genetic weakness for these toxins.

Dr. Shoemaker called these kinds of illness, “Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS).” Simply put, a person with the bad genetics can develop CIRS with any toxin they can’t detoxify. Lyme and toxic mold are the most common culprits of CIRS.

Common misdiagnoses of CIRS are:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Allergies
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • ADD
  • PTSD 2

Diagnosing toxic mold illness

Most of the time when I tell patients they’re sick from mold, they have no idea that they are living/schooling/working in a building with mold. This is why testing is so important to figuring out toxic mold illness. Testing for toxic mold consists of several elements:

  • There are a number of blood tests that will show if the body is reacting to a biotoxin consistent with CIRS.
  • Genetic testing will show whether or not a person has the bad genetics.
  • Visual Contrast Sensitivity Testing (VCSTest.com) is a simple test that you can do at home. According to Dr. Shoemaker this test will catch 92% of people with CIRS.
  • EPA-approved ERMI test will show where the mold problem is in a building.
  • Mycotoxin testing will show whether a person has mold toxins in his/her body.

What to do if you suspect toxic mold illness

Getting tested is the only way to figure out if the symptoms you are having is from mold or not. Working with a doctor who understands CIRS and how to test for it is key. Not all doctors know what to do to test for this.

If you have any comments or questions feel free to reach out.

Show 2 Footnotes

  1. Shoemaker, R. C., & House, D. E. (2006). Sick building syndrome (SBS) and exposure to water-damaged buildings: Time series study, clinical trial and mechanisms. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 28(5), 573-588.
  2. Shoemaker, R.C. (2014, December). What is CIRS, lab testing and treatment protocol

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