Black mold” and “toxic mold” are not medical terms and don’t mean that the mold is more dangerous.

Mold is a common concern for parents.  Mold can be found all around our outdoor environments. Mold can grow indoors when moisture and water damage are present. When mold appears in a child’s environment, parents want to know if the mold can affect their child’s health, and what next steps to take. 

Mold is a type of fungus. It is common in our outdoor environments and grows in damp places (such as near lakes or forests). Mold reproduces through spores. Mold can grow in the home when there is water damage, excess moisture, or high humidity. Signs of mold are usually a musty smell and/or discolored spots on walls, furniture, and carpet.  

There are hundreds of species of mold, including aspergillus, penicillium, alternaria, and cladosporium. People get especially worried about “black mold.” Typically, people or the media are referring to stachybotrys and its production of mycotoxins. However, many different species of mold can be black and produce mycotoxins. 

In general, all molds identified in your home should be addressed.   

Mold exposure can affect individuals differently. Some groups that can be more affected include those who have allergies, asthma, lung problems, or an immunocompromised state. Workers (such as farmer workers) can also be affected if they work with large amounts of moldy materials. For example, mold can trigger asthma exacerbations in individuals with asthma, or it can cause invasive fungal infections in people who are immunocompromised.  

For individuals that are generally healthy, the most common mold symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, cough, and itchiness of the nose, throat, and eyes. There is also evidence that mold in the home is related to childhood asthma. 

If you are concerned about allergies or asthma in your child, you can discuss with your pediatrician. He(she) may perform environmental allergy testing or refer your family to an allergist (a doctor who specializes in allergies). This testing may include skin or blood tests. It is often helpful to test for multiple environmental allergies because children may be allergic to other allergens in their environment (such as dust mites or pests).  

There are many other mold and mycotoxin tests advertised. These can be costly, and they currently are not clinically validated. This means that we do not know enough about these tests yet. We do not know what they can and what they cannot tell us about your child’s health or exposure to mold.  

If your child has allergies or asthma, your child’s doctor should recommend treatment. Other advertised treatment for mold exposure, including alternative medicines and detoxification programs, should be avoided. These treatments currently are not scientifically proven and can be harmful to your child. 

Signs of mold (water damage, musty smells, or mold spots) are enough evidence to take action. Home testing is generally not needed and can be costly. There are no current guidelines for acceptable levels of mold or mold spores in the environment. Sometimes, it can be helpful to have a professional evaluate your home to find sources of water damage and water leaks and plan what areas of your home need to be fixed. 

If home testing was done and showed higher levels of mold in your home than the outdoor environment, this confirms that mold is present in your home.  

Removal of the mold identified and fixing any water damage in your home is the BEST treatment!  

If it is a small area (usually less than 10 square feet), families can usually clean up the area. Soap and water are recommended. It is also beneficial to use gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protection. Removal of your child from the area while cleanup is in process is important.  

If it is a larger area (more than 10 square feet, multiple rooms, multiple walls), it is best for an expert to perform the cleanup and necessary repairs. Depending on if you own your home or rent and where you live, resources may be available for this process. See the side panel for resources based on your location. 

To prevent future mold growth, any damp or moisture rich areas of your home need to be fixed immediately. It is beneficial to look around your home occasionally to check for issues, such as water leaks, high humidity, water leak spots, areas of dampness, or mold growth. Fixing these issues early can avoid larger problems. 

 Other helpful tips to improve the air quality in your home are: 

  • Open windows to help circulate air and ventilate your home 
  • Open your window when you are showering to avoid high humidity 
  • Use an exhaust fan when you are cooking  
  • Consider using a dehumidifier  
  • Perform wet mopping and dusting regularly   

Updated: Hannah Thompson, MD MPH; November 2023