The Cleveland Clinic

Allergies: Mold Allergy

Mold is an organism that is present is most places, outdoors and indoors. It is a type of fungus that works to break down dead material and return nutrients to the environment. Mold grows by digesting plant or animal matter, such as leaves, wood, paper, dirt, and food and spreads by releasing tiny, lightweight spores that travel through the air. Mold grows quickly in moist dark spaces, such as basements, garbage cans and piles of rotting leaves.

On food, mold often is visible on the food's surface, such as the fuzzy green spots that appear on bread. However, molds also have branches and roots. As it grows, the mold's roots can penetrate deep inside the food, where it cannot be seen.

All of us are exposed to some mold every day with no bad effects. We may breathe in mold spores that are present in the air or eat foods in which mold has begun to grow. People with mold allergies, however, may have a reaction if exposed to too much of the fungus.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of a mold reaction are those typical of many other allergies. They include:

If you have a mold allergy, avoiding all exposure to mold may not be possible. However, you can reduce your risk of reaction by choosing your foods carefully. Check all foods for signs of mold before you eat them. Do not smell foods to see if they are spoiled because inhaling mold spores can set off an allergic reaction. In addition, you can avoid foods that are more likely to contain mold or other fungi, such as mushrooms and yeast.

Common food sources of mold include:

  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Vinegar and foods containing vinegar, such as salad dressing, catsup, and pickles
  • Sour cream, sour milk, and buttermilk
  • Meat or fish more than 24 hours old
  • Breads and other food made with yeast
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled and smoked meats and fish
  • Dried fruits such as dates, prunes, figs, and raisins
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot dogs, sausages
  • Canned juices

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.

SOURCE: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Reviewed by Walter M. Ryan, DO, on February 1, 2007.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005


Last Editorial Review: 4/2/2007



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