Adverse human health effects associated with molds in the indoor environment

J Occup Environ Med. 2003 May;45(5):470-8. doi: 10.1097/00043764-200305000-00006.


Molds are common and important allergens. About 5% of individuals are predicted to have some allergic airway symptoms from molds over their lifetime. However, it should be remembered that molds are not dominant allergens and that the outdoor molds, rather than indoor ones, are the most important. For almost all allergic individuals, the reactions will be limited to rhinitis or asthma; sinusitis may occur secondarily due to obstruction. Rarely do sensitized individuals develop uncommon conditions such as ABPA or AFS. To reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating allergies, mold should not be allowed to grow unchecked indoors. When mold colonization is discovered in the home, school, or office, it should be remediated after the source of the moisture that supports its growth is identified and eliminated. Authoritative guidelines for mold remediation are available. Fungi are rarely significant pathogens for humans. Superficial fungal infections of the skin and nails are relatively common in normal individuals, but those infections are readily treated and generally resolve without complication. Fungal infections of deeper tissues are rare and in general are limited to persons with severely impaired immune systems. The leading pathogenic fungi for persons with nonimpaired immune function, Blastomyces, Coccidioides, Cryptococcus, and Histoplasma, may find their way indoors with outdoor air but normally do not grow or propagate indoors. Due to the ubiquity of fungi in the environment, it is not possible to prevent immunecompromised individuals from being exposed to molds and fungi outside the confines of hospital isolation units. Some molds that propagate indoors may under some conditions produce mycotoxins that can adversely affect living cells and organisms by a variety of mechanisms. Adverse effects of molds and mycotoxins have been recognized for centuries following ingestion of contaminated foods. Occupational diseases are also recognized in association with inhalation exposure to fungi, bacteria, and other organic matter, usually in industrial or agricultural settings. Molds growing indoors are believed by some to cause building-related symptoms. Despite a voluminous literature on the subject, the causal association remains weak and unproven, particularly with respect to causation by mycotoxins. One mold in particular, Stachybotrys chartarum, is blamed for a diverse array of maladies when it is found indoors. Despite its well-known ability to produce mycotoxins under appropriate growth conditions, years of intensive study have failed to establish exposure to S. chartarum in home, school, or office environments as a cause of adverse human health effects. Levels of exposure in the indoor environment, dose-response data in animals, and dose-rate considerations suggest that delivery by the inhalation route of a toxic dose of mycotoxins in the indoor environment is highly unlikely at best, even for the hypothetically most vulnerable subpopulations. Mold spores are present in all indoor environments and cannot be eliminated from them. Normal building materials and furnishings provide ample nutrition for many species of molds, but they can grow and amplify indoors only when there is an adequate supply of moisture. Where mold grows indoors there is an inappropriate source of water that must be corrected before remediation of the mold colonization can succeed. Mold growth in the home, school, or office environment should not be tolerated because mold physically destroys the building materials on which it grows, mold growth is unsightly and may produce offensive odors, and mold is likely to sensitize and produce allergic responses in allergic individuals. Except for persons with severely impaired immune systems, indoor mold is not a source of fungal infections. Current scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins in home, school, or office environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity* / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity* / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity* / physiopathology
  • Mycoses* / etiology
  • Mycoses* / immunology
  • Mycoses* / physiopathology
  • Mycotoxins*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity* / etiology
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity* / immunology
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity* / physiopathology


  • Mycotoxins