Your children are always your first priority, and as such, you want to protect them from anything that could cause them harm. But sometimes that isn’t as easy as keeping them away from a hot stove or making sure they’ve had their regularly scheduled doctor visits.
Sometimes dangers are a little more esoteric, and therefore, a little more difficult to spot. What if these dangers are all around us? What if they’re growing in your home?
Pro Tip: Mold is way more common than you might think. Learn more about it in our guide to common household molds.
We’re not saying this to scare you. Whenever we write about the dangers of mold, we’re always careful to say that for healthy adults, exposure to small amounts of common household molds shouldn’t cause any serious concern. However, when you’re talking about toddlers and infants, mold presents a bigger problem.
Before we talk about the specific threats of mold exposure for little ones, though, let’s talk about the dangers of mold in general. There are a few things we need to set the record straight on.
The Dangers of Childhood Mold Exposure: A Crash Course
First of all, let’s start by saying you’re never going to fully eradicate mold from your home — it’s just impossible. Mold spores are ubiquitous in our environment, and some level of exposure is unavoidable.
With that in mind, we reiterate that limited, short-term exposure to common household molds is rarely anything for an adult to worry about, unless that person is immunocompromised, prone to allergic reactions, or suffering from a major illness.
However, in young children and infants, the threshold for environmental dangers is much lower. Because their body systems are still developing, exposure to environmental contaminants can have more serious consequences.1
Pro Tip: When it comes to mold, the volume of spores in the air and the duration of exposure are usually more important than the type of mold contaminating your home. There are exceptions, of course, but there isn’t one particular type of mold that’s significantly more dangerous than another.
Complicating matters is the complex relationship between our environments and our childrens’ health. Adverse mold exposure symptoms, which we’ll go into below, can mimic other childhood ailments, so identifying mold as the cause can be exceedingly difficult. That said, let’s explore some of the key ways mold exposure can harm infants and toddlers.
What Problems Can Mold Exposure Cause in Young Children?
As previously mentioned, there are several categories to be concerned with when you’re talking about mold exposure in young children. Let’s take a look at those now.
Simply put, an allergic reaction occurs when a child’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment. More on this in our guide to mold allergies, but to summarize these reactions present in a number of ways, including:
- Runny nose
- Itchy throat
Children who are most at risk of mold allergies are those who have a family history, or who have other conditions that might weaken their immune response.2
There is a direct link between a damp, moldy home and increased respiratory distress in young children. A study conducted by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine concluded that infants raised in homes with high levels of mold had an 86 percent higher chance of developing respiratory problems than those who were not exposed during the first year of life.3 That can mean anything from generalized coughing and sneezing to more serious issues like bronchitis and croup.
Now obviously you don’t want your baby to get sick, but where things get really serious is when mold exposure can cause chronic health problems later in life.4 Here, we’re talking specifically about asthma. The National Institutes of Health reports there are 6 million children with asthma in the United States, and there is a strong link between mold and chronic respiratory illness.5 While we’re not suggesting mold causes childhood asthma – genetics also play a major role — it’s certainly a controllable factor and should be avoided if possible.
FYI: The NIH found childhood asthma was linked to exposure to three specific types of mold: Aspergillus ochraceus, Aspergillus unguis, and Penicillium — all common in buildings with water damage.6
Respiratory illness is one of the most common ailments associated with childhood mold exposure, but symptoms can be more indirectly related, as well.
Most children get upset stomachs from time to time — that’s a part of growing up. However, sometimes this distress can be caused by mold exposure and ingestion. While this isn’t extremely common, exposure to household mold can lead to symptoms including:
- Intestinal cramping
Keep in mind these symptoms might occur in conjunction with more common mold exposure symptoms like sneezing and congestion. When they do, mold could be to blame.
Neurologic and Neuropsychiatric Disorders
While the jury is still out on whether or not exposure to certain types of mold can cause symptoms like depression, anxiety, brain fog, lethargy, and attention deficits, there are studies that are examining the link between mycotoxins — the dangerous chemicals in molds — and these types of neurologic conditions.7
As mentioned above, it’s exceedingly difficult to scientifically isolate one particular cause of a symptom, so you’re not going to find a study that definitively states exposure to mold causes migraines, for example. But if your child is showing symptoms that aren’t easily explained, poor air quality could certainly play a role.
Pro Tip: There is a lot of junk science out there attempting to link mold to a whole host of diseases and disorders. Make sure you’re vetting your sources and speaking with experts. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s good to approach things with a healthy amount of skepticism.
Now that you have a clear understanding of the dangers of mold exposure in infants and toddlers, let’s get a little more specific. How can you tell if mold is causing the issues your child is experiencing?
Looking for Signs of Mold Exposure
One difficult thing about determining if your child’s illness is due to mold exposure is that symptoms could be caused by a myriad of other factors. However, there are ways to narrow it down.8 Let’s go through it step by step.
- Step 1: Look at the symptoms. Are the symptoms they’re experiencing common or uncommon for them? When did you or your child first notice them?
- Step 2: Look at the risk factors. Does your child have a history of allergic reactions? What about your family’s history? Do they have any known allergies, and have you had them tested?
- Step 3: Look at the child’s environment. Had anything changed at the time symptoms were discovered? Are they attending a new school or daycare? Did they start sleeping in a different room? Did you turn your heater on for the winter? Subtle changes in their environment could expose them to elements that might cause a negative reaction.
- Step 4: Look for guidance from professionals. Before deciding on treatment for your child’s symptoms, you should always consult their pediatrician first. If you’re concerned that mold exposure might be a factor in what they’re experiencing, bring it up to their doctor. They will be able to test your child or provide you with guidance for keeping your child healthy and safe.
Pro Tip: Starting a family and purchasing a new home sometimes go hand in hand. That said, it’s fairly common that the inspection of your new place will reveal mold issues. To learn what you should do if this happens, check out our guide to purchasing a home with mold.
If it’s determined that mold is a likely culprit in your child’s maladies, you’re obviously going to want to prevent exposure as best as you can. Here’s how you should go about it.
Limiting Mold Exposure
In most cases, you can clean up mold and prevent it from coming back yourself if the contamination area is small. Here are the steps you’ll need to take:
- Wear proper protective gear.
- Ventilate the area as needed.
- Clean mold with diluted bleach or commercial products.
- Dry area completely.
- Remove sources of moisture to prevent recontamination.
You might find, though, that mold contamination is too severe to deal with on your own. As a rule of thumb, the EPA recommends calling in the professionals when the area of mold growth exceeds 10 square feet. More on this in our guide to mold remediation and its costs, but here’s what you can expect from a mold remediation company. They will:
- Make a plan and share it with you.
- Isolate the contamination.
- Clean or remove moldy materials.
- Dry out wet materials.
- Repair sources of water or moisture.
- Repair and replace damaged materials.
You might also consider checking out our guide to selecting the best mold remediation company in your area — when it comes to protecting your kids, you want nothing but the best.
Final Thoughts on the Dangers of Mold for Babies and Toddlers
Mold is not something you want to take lightly, especially with little ones in the house. Their bodies are developing at a rapid rate, and you want their environment to be as clean as possible to ensure their health and safety.
If you’re concerned about mold in your home, one of the best places to start learning about it is in our guide to everything you need to know about household mold. Once you’ve read that article, you’ll have more than enough information to successfully tackle this potential hazard.
Pro Tip: Want to make sure it’s actually mold you’re dealing with? Check out our guide on how to test your home for mold.
Mold Remediation FAQs
While most common household molds aren’t threatening for healthy adults, exposure can have negative consequences for toddlers and babies whose bodies and minds are still developing.
Most of the time you can see or smell mold, but it can be lurking in hard-to-spot areas like crawl spaces and under floors. Commercial tests or professional inspections can help identify the problem.
Small contaminations can be cleaned after taking the necessary precautions, but for infestations greater than 10 square feet in size, the EPA recommends calling the professionals.
The relationship between environmental factors and physical health is a difficult one to untangle, but there are numerous studies that indicate poor air quality can result in negative health outcomes for toddlers and infants.
It’s difficult to determine one underlying cause for a specific symptom, particularly an environmental one. If you suspect mold might be negatively impacting your child’s health, consult with your pediatrician.