I have one patient who, almost every spring, comes in with an inflamed, itchy, sometimes swollen and very uncomfortable sunburn-like rash on her face. At first it was a little tricky diagnosing the cause of her rash as there were several possibilities of what may have caused it. After ruling out several possibilities, and doing specific tests, I determined that she had a mold allergy. Getting grass mold on her hands when she emptied the clippings bag and inadvertently rubbing it on her face likely aggravated it. If you’ve ever experienced a rash like this, and wasn’t sure what caused it, you’ll want to read more about mold allergy skin rashes.
Mold Allergies and Skin Rash
Skin rashes caused by mold allergies can be uncomfortable and look very intense. The degree of severity of the reaction can be just a mild, pink, itchy irritation or it can be more severe, like my patient’s. It can become very inflamed looking, with swelling and itching that needs antihistamine intervention of Benadryl or even prednisone.
The mechanism of a mold allergy rash is basically the same as other contact-type dermatitis rashes. Your skin comes in contact with the mold somewhere either inside/outside your home and your body develops histamine bodies in reaction. The most common method of contact is outside doing lawn work or home maintenance work, especially cleaning up any wet debris including dirt. You can get mold-containing dirt on your hands and rub it on your face or other parts of your body. That point of contact is usually where the rash originates and may spread from there. Or, if you’re using an outside blower vacuum you can even breathe in the mold spores and get them in your eyes causing inflamed nasal passages/sinus infections and reddened, itching eyes. Mold spores can also be present on foods like nuts or bread that you eat.
Most mold-allergy skin rashes, like other contact dermatitis rashes, may come on immediately or within hours of contact. The worst part about them is avoiding infection from scratching as they can itch intensely. Secondary skin infection with normally present Staph skin bacteria may require antibiotics to clear it. Scarring, or pigment changes in the skin may result as well.
What To Do About Mold Allergy Skin Rash
First, and foremost, you will need to stabilize the reaction, depending on the severity of it. As I stated earlier, like my patient, a severe reaction with swelling of the face, or whatever body part the rash is on, requires a course of an antihistamine like Benadryl or prednisone. These agents tell your body to stop producing the histamine reaction. They can return swelling to normal and take some of the itch out of the rash. You may also be given a cortisone-based cream to apply to the rash sparingly.
Second, keep the skin clean by splashing cool water on it. Let it air dry and don’t rub it with towels. Avoid secondary infection from not scratching the rash. Cut your fingernails down and keep them clean, wear light cotton gloves to bed to avoid accidentally scratching in your sleep and perhaps creating an infection. Ice on the area can help with the itch as well as swelling.
Third, you will likely need to undergo allergy testing to determine if, indeed, you have a mold allergy. There are over 100 types of mold species which humans can react to. This type of allergic testing requires you to have a skin patch test where the skin is scratched and a sample of the mold placed on the scratch. The scratch is then covered and allowed to “develop” for a period of time. The patch is then read by a dermatologist or an immunologist for reaction. If you’ve reacted positively, you definitely have a mold allergy and need to avoid it.
Then, you must make a special effort to avoid known mold sources to avoid such skin rashes and reactions. Molds, and their spores, exist in damp environments and are more prevalent in the spring through fall (especially in piles of fallen, wet leaves or downspout/gutter debris). Here are some things to do to prevent mold spores in your environment:
- Dehumidify. Use a dehumidifier in your basement. Clean up any standing water.
- Wear a mask. If you use a blower outside, wear a respirator mask to prevent breathing in the spores from mold, especially in wet leaves. Alternaria is a particularly strong mold commonly present in wet, fall leaves that many people are allergic to.
- Grass cutting. Wait until your grass is dry to cut it. Grass molds can be very strong and their spores can fly anywhere when you’re mowing the lawn and/or emptying the clipping-catcher bag.
- Inspect bathroom showers and sink cabinets. Watch for pipe condensation or leaking as mold can grow easily in the wood of dark cabinets. Also, dark shower pans, especially if there are frosted glass doors on the shower, can grow black mold and its spores quickly. Use a spray-on shower cleaner after shower use to prevent mold growth. Or, perhaps install a shower light to help prevent mold growth inside the shower.
- Get rid of clutter, mildew. Old newspapers, shoes, clothes, can harbor mildew and create numerous mold spore sources in your home.
- Boost immunity. Be sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D3 (2,000 IU a day) and beta carotene. Skin and immune system health depends on both of these powerhouse agents.
If you experience rashes like those mentioned here, see a dermatologist or an allergist to determine if you have a mold allergy and, if possible, narrow it down to which kind of molds. Taking the necessary precautions to avoid the sources of those types of mold and their spores will be well worth your time and health.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
What Kind of Skin Rashes Can Mold Cause? http://www.ehow.com/about_5666123_kind-rashes-can-mold-cause_.html
Symptoms of A Mold Allergy, http://www.mysensitiveskincare.com/symptoms-of-a-mold-allergy.html
photo credit: health.com