Voluminous information have already been generated on the effects of water damage to one’s property and belongings. Some medical and healthcare journals have also started documenting the effects of water damage on a person’s health.
These are clear indications of the nature and gravity of water damage in the lives of every single human being and the need for its immediate reversal and treatment.
Water Damage and Moisture
Water damage, per se, results to the deterioration of the physical conditions of a particular item or article. Books get soaked and become unreadable while clothing and other garments can sport a distinct smell that belies its state of cleanliness. Organic material gets overly soaked with water molecules that its structure is compromised and its overall strength is then put into question.
The more damaging effects of untreated water damage however, do not become readily evident but may develop over the course of time. The health and health related issues associated with untreated water damage have something to do about the retention of moisture in the affected area.
And where moisture is present, with the addition of poor ventilation and inadequate air circulation, the development of mold and mildew colonies is a sure occurrence. It is within the context of mold and mildew colonization that the health risks associated with untreated water damage become imminent.
Moisture and Fungal Growth
Moisture is one of the essential requisites to a thriving mold and mildew colony. Aside from ready access to organic matter which serves as the microorganism’s fuel or food source, the presence of humidity in a given situation allow mold and mildew to grow and develop.
Although mold and mildew, in its broadest sense, are not always harmful to humans, they do tend to become pathogenic to individuals who have known allergies and whose immune systems are compromised or are lowered. The following are considered the beneficial purposes of fungi.
1. Fungi have been known to valuable balancers of the ecosystem in that they decompose organic material as well as facilitate the persistence of the food cycle.
2. Fungi have also been used a source of food and as means of rendering beverages achieve its desired alcoholic nature.
3. Fungi have been involved in the development of antibiotics as well as industrial cleaners and detergents. Some fungi have been useful indicators of agricultural activity and productivity.
However, in all of these benefits, fungi also present harmful effects on other living organisms in the ecosystem as well as inanimate objects in the home. It is these harmful effects, especially on human health, that this literature will be focusing on.
Whatever the type of mold there is, one inherent characteristic deserves utmost importance: the release of spores. Spores are the microscopic particles that play in the reproductive capacity of mold and mildew species. These are released into the atmospheric air each time a colony of mold and mildew gets agitated or are disturbed forcefully. These spores are so small that they can readily pass through a person’s natural host defenses such as the vibrissae of the nasal passages and the ciliated epithelium of the respiratory passages – the larynx, trachea, and major bronchi.
Once these spores reach the bloodstream, they initiate a series of biochemical reactions that involve some type of blood cells. These blood cells are activated because of the recognition of the spore as a non-self or a substance or particle that is totally unrecognized by the body’s defense systems. These blood cells either engulf the whole spore or surround it in such a way that it is rendered immobilized. Once immobilized, other immune system cells join in the action and start eating away the ‘pathogen’.
The end result is that the spore or the ‘pathogen’ is eliminated from the bloodstream and out of the person’s body through a series of lymph vessels. The only downside is that, in the melee that occurred in fighting off the spore, blood cells have stored important structural and genetic information about the invader. These stored information will be used by the body’s immune system to produce substances that can be released immediately after a similar invasion from the same type of invader occurs again. This is where allergic reactions set in.
Allergic reactions occur because the human body already has stored information of the ‘invader’ and already has a ready defense of antibodies against it. Once the spore reaches the bloodstream again, the body’s defences immediately activates the body’s defense antibodies so that the spore is effectively rendered harmless and removed from the system with utmost efficiency.
The only downside in this mechanism is that it also activates other body systems to render the defense more effective. The activation of other body systems results to what we often see and call as allergic symptoms or complaints such as
1. Runny or watery nose as well as nasal stuffiness which can hamper effective breathing which can also result to throat irritation
2. With nasal stuffiness or congestion, the nasal sinuses can get clogged leading to watery eyes which can further irritate the conjunctiva and the mucus membrane of the eyes
3. Eye irritation can also lead to an extension of the damage to include other structures of the eye like the sclera, cornea, lens, and retina, especially if left alone
4. Coughing is also common in allergic reactions because of the body’s need to ‘cough out’ the invading pathogen, in this case the spore.
5. Spores that travel to superficial blood vessels where they are rendered harmless by the pre-manufactured antibodies can produce skin complaints like reddening, warmth, and itching. Scratching can predispose one to cuts in the skin which can serve as entry points for other microorganisms to bring disease.
When Life is at Stake
It is one thing to have simple allergic reactions and a totally different matter to have an anaphylactic reaction. An anaphylactic reaction is a simple allergic reaction but its symptoms are way more severe and are often life-threatening.
This phenomenon occurs because the immune system misread or misinterpreted the entry of ‘allergens’ or spores released by mold and mildew. Instead of viewing the invasion as requiring only minimal activation of the body’s host defenses, it read the invasion as requiring the mobilization of all of the body’s defences. This results in an overreaction of the immune system which can lead to surprisingly detrimental effects.
Because the main clinical feature of an anaphylactic reaction is in the overreaction of the immune system, the complaints will be associated with an exacerbation of the symptoms or complaints seen in simple allergic reactions.
1. Whereas in simple reaction there is nasal stuffiness and coughing, more severe reactions will be tracheal and bronchial spasms which can make breathing more difficult
2. In instances where the spasms in the trachea and the bronchi were overwhelming so as to produce swelling, the airway passages may be totally blocked so as to produce a typical situation where a person is literally gasping for air.
3. If the swelling of the airway passages is not immediately reversed, death can ensue because of the absence of airflow into the respiratory tree. In the absence of airflow, oxygen will not be delivered to the brain, heart, kidneys and other vital organs. The absence of oxygen to the brain for no longer than 5 minutes will result to irreversible damage to the brain. Longer than that, death is an inevitable circumstance.
4. All of these reactions are brought about by the vasoactive substances such as histamine and prostaglandin released during the activation of the immune response.
In other circumstances where the person does not necessarily have allergic reactions, it may be important to look at the person’s state of immunity. Since the removal of the mold and mildew spore from the body’s system involves an efficient not overreacting immune system, persons who have compromised immune states will also be at risk for the development of spore-related diseases.
1. Pneumonia has been well documented to be one of the most significant diseases one can develop because of mold and mildew spore-inhalation. Because of the absence of effective host defense system, mold and mildew spores reach the lungs where it becomes pathogenic. This produces a series of inflammatory reactions that make the lungs produce secretions predisposing one to the development of pneumonia.
2. In rare cases, mold and mildew spores can reach the brain and other vital organs via the blood stream. This can result to encephalitis, meningitis, bursitis, cystitis, and even pyelonephritis.
These disease conditions occur because of the inadequacy of the body’s immune system to effectively manage the spore. People who are predisposed to such diseases are those who have recently undergone chemotherapy, bone marrow transplantation, and any other medical or diagnostic procedure where the immune system should be toned down a bit to assure effectiveness of the therapeutic modality.
The health effects of mold and mildew growth far outweigh the structural effects it has on physical properties. Although these effects do not present themselves to ready inspection, prompt management is needed to reverse any symptom associated with mold and mildew spore inhalation.
As such, water damaged structures should be thoroughly cleaned and rendered moisture-free so as to prevent the growth and colonization of mold and mildew.