Hurricane Irene and Its Effect on Allergies

It’s amazing what a difference a day makes. The past two days were ominous with the winds blowing and the Hurricane swirling, and today we had the picture perfect day for weather. The good news for most of the east coast is that Hurricane Irene caused less damage than expected, but that may be of little solace to those of you who are cleaning up the debris from fallen trees (I lost my favorite big oak tree in my backyard) and wading through the water damage from the flooding. I know many home owners on the South Shore of Long Island are dealing with flooding problems in their basements. It’s bad enough to see things floating around in your basement— it’s another thing to be affected what you may not be able to see with your own eyes: mold growth.

Mold is a type of fungus that grows wherever water and moisture is present along with warm temperatures. As an allergist in New York and Long Island, I have seen many patients over the years suffer from medical problems related to chronic mold exposure. The type of problems range from:

  • Respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Common nasal symptoms such as sinus pressure or pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

In some cases I’ve seen patients develop rashes from airborne mold. Mold can be very dangerous for a person that is immune compromised , such as after a round of chemotherapy when a patient’s white blood cell count may be low. Mold can be invasive, get into the bloodstream and cause a deadly infection. More commonly, in patients with allergies, mold causes the symptoms described above, along with fatigue.

The most common molds are Alternaria, Cladysporium, Penicillium (similar but not the same as Penicillin) and Aspergillus. As an allergist, I can test for these molds through skin or blood tests to see if a person is allergic. In my experience, mold allergies are sometimes difficult to treat with just antihistamines. My best results seem to occur in patients treated with sublingual allergy immunotherapy (allergy drops). Sublingual allergy immunotherapy builds a person’s natural resistance to specific molds and can usually decrease a person’s need for medications.

Meanwhile, I hope all of you are safe back in your own home, and that the electricity is working! The best thing you can do to prevent molds from growing is to clear out the water, use dehumidifiers to suck out the moisture in the air, and check for any unusual green or black spots where water damage occurred.

Dean Mitchell, M.D.

The Allergy Detective

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

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