Background: "Toxic mold syndrome" is a controversial diagnosis associated with exposure to mold-contaminated environments. Molds are known to induce asthma and allergic rhinitis through IgE-mediated mechanisms, to cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis through other immune mechanisms, and to cause life-threatening primary and secondary infections in immunocompromised patients. Mold metabolites may be irritants and may be involved in "sick building syndrome." Patients with environmental mold exposure have presented with atypical constitutional and systemic symptoms, associating those symptoms with the contaminated environment.
Objective: To characterize the clinical features and possible etiology of symptoms in patients with chief complaints related to mold exposure.
Methods: Review of patients presenting to an allergy and asthma center with the chief complaint of toxic mold exposure. Symptoms were recorded, and physical examinations, skin prick/puncture tests, and intracutaneous tests were performed.
Results: A total of 65 individuals aged 1 1/2 to 52 years were studied. Symptoms included rhinitis (62%), cough (52%), headache (34%), respiratory symptoms (34%), central nervous system symptoms (25%), and fatigue (23%). Physical examination revealed pale nasal mucosa, pharyngeal "cobblestoning," and rhinorrhea. Fifty-three percent (33/62) of the patients had skin reactions to molds.
Conclusions: Mold-exposed patients can present with a variety of IgE- and non-IgE-mediated symptoms. Mycotoxins, irritation by spores, or metabolites may be culprits in non-IgE presentations; environmental assays have not been perfected. Symptoms attributable to the toxic effects of molds and not attributable to IgE or other immune mechanisms need further evaluation as to pathogenesis. Allergic, rather than toxic, responses seemed to be the major cause of symptoms in the studied group.