Mold and dampness can cause coughing and wheezing, but there is little evidence to support the existence of the so-called toxic mold syndrome, according to a report by researchers at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
Toxic mold syndrome — illnesses caused specifically by exposure to mold — continues to cause public concern despite a lack of evidence that supports its existence, researchers explain in the September issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Several critical reviews have failed to find scientific support for toxic effects from breathing in mold spores as a viable mechanism of human disease, they add.
Dr. Barzin Khalili and Dr. Emil J. Bardana, Jr. describe the clinical characteristics of 50 patients with complaints of illness they attributed to mold exposure in their home or workplace. The patients had been referred by a defense attorney in a civil litigation or by insurance adjusters representing worker’s compensation agencies.
There was no consistent set of symptoms, the authors report, with patients having an average of more than eight symptoms. Most patients reported a family or personal history of allergy or asthma.
Three quarters of the patients had abnormal physical examination results, the researchers note, with inflammation of the eye or skin and congestion occurring most commonly.
Thirty patients had other non-mold-related illnesses that could explain most, if not all, of their mold-related complaints, the report indicates, and nearly two thirds of the individuals had evidence of a previously diagnosed mood disorder.
“In fact,” the investigators write, “when the entire history and objective evidence were scrutinized, a number of well-established and plausible diagnoses emerged that explained many, if not all, the complaints.”
In a commentary in the journal, Dr. Abba I. Terr from UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco contends that toxic mold disease is “the latest in a series of environmentally related pseudo-illnesses” that include multiple chemical sensitivity, also known as idiopathic environmental intolerance, and chronic fatigue syndrome, which was attributed at one time to infection with Epstein-Barr virus.
“Since these authors have determined that the patients they describe do not have a mold-related disease but are nevertheless seeking compensation for presumed illness through a legal process that has defined it in those terms, toxic mold disease is truly a diagnosis of litigation,” Terr concludes.