Sick House Syndrome
The Problem: How safe is your home?
Stengler Medical Mystery: Sick House Syndrome
Sometimes what promises to be a dream come true falls short for mysterious reasons. That is what happened to Melanie, who had moved to California from the snowy Midwest in her mid-twenties. Now at age 60 she felt as if she should have it all -- she had recently retired, had a home near the beach and her mortgage was just about paid off. Life should have been great, but it wasn't. Melanie didn't feel well -- she was constantly fatigued, often depressed and prone to upper respiratory tract infections. In fact, she hadn't been feeling well for about five years, and though she'd been on many courses of antibiotics, it was getting worse with time.
Melanie had seen her regular doctor often enough in those five years, both for check-ups and to try and cure her symptoms. However, her test results always came back as normal and the doctor would say the same thing he always said -- since the tests didn't show anything "wrong," there was nothing he could do for her. Fed up and concerned that her health would deteriorate further, Melanie decided to try a different approach. She called Mark A. Stengler, ND, for a consultation, to see if naturopathic medicine could provide an answer.
Mold-induced "Sick Building Syndrome"
Since the lab tests he ordered also didn't show any abnormalities, Dr. Stengler decided to investigate Melanie's environment. She had told him that she lived near the beach. This made him immediately suspicious about the possibility of mold, which is always a problem in buildings located near a body of water. If she had a sensitivity to mold spores, Melanie would be vulnerable even to a seemingly minor mold problem. When he asked about her home, Melanie told him it was about 20 years old and that, well, yes, some of the walls did have a bit of mold. In fact, she admitted, she had recently spotted some on her couch as well.
That was all Dr. Stengler needed to hear. Melanie's symptoms were consistent with mold-induced "sick building syndrome" and immediate action was in order. He felt she was likely suffering from the toxic mold in her home and allergic symptoms to it. First, Dr. Stengler advised her to schedule a home assessment by a company specializing in mold assessment. In addition to a visual inspection, these companies do the following:
- Assess for moisture problems and leaks.
- Culture visible mold and/or do air sampling to identify mold type or determine presence of mold.
- Treat mold with bleach to destroy it. It's safest to have professionals take care of this for you... but if you choose to do it yourself, never mix ammonia or other cleansers with bleach because combining these creates toxic gases.
- Remove any porous materials such as wallboard and ceiling tiles that mold has penetrated.
In Melanie's home, the company found much more extensive mold contamination than even she had anticipated. In addition to the visible mold on the couch, mold had grown on several rugs, parts of one wall and most of her curtains. The contamination couldn't be cleaned up -- everything had to be removed.
Dr. Stengler's next challenge was threefold:
- to help Melanie decrease her sensitivity to mold spores...
- to detoxify her system from mold mycotoxins... and'
- to strengthen her immune system. To accomplish all of these goals,
Dr. Stengler put her on an herbal liver formula of milk thistle, schizandra, green tea and dandelion root... antioxidants, including the supplement NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine), vitamins C and E... and a homeopathic mold desensitization formula. The liver formula helps with detoxification. NAC increases glutathione, a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation and quenches free radicals and also supports detoxification. Mold homeopathics help to desensitize an oversensitive immune system to mold. She was also instructed to take oregano oil as an antifungal. (Note: Oregano oil is very powerful so it is best taken under professional supervision.) In addition, Dr. Stengler advised her to avoid eating simple sugars and junk foods to further buttress her immune system.
With Dr. Stengler monitoring her progress, including side effects related to the "die off" of mold due to her treatment regimen, Melanie gradually and steadily improved over the next few months. Six months later, she said she was feeling pretty much like her old self again. It has now been three years since her first visit to Dr. Stengler and Melanie tells him that she is indeed living her dream, in her mold-free beach house.
SICK BUILDING ADVICE
Sick building syndrome is described by the EPA as "situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or causes can be identified." That certainly was the situation Melanie was facing, said Dr. Stengler, noting that the issue has become quite common. Mold is one source of the problem. Others can include sensitivities to an array of allergens including dust, dust mites and cleaning products in buildings where the ventilation systems are inadequate or not properly maintained. More than 20 years ago a World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30% of new and remodeled buildings worldwide could have problems with indoor air quality.
Dr. Stengler notes that people with "unexplainable" symptoms that include: assorted respiratory challenges, as well as bloody noses, dizziness, nausea, headaches, difficulty with focus, fatigue and increased sensitivity to odors should consider whether the building where they live or work might be the culprit. If your symptoms lift when you leave the building, consider that a sign. Immediately report the problem to your supervisor, landlord or whoever else can take steps to resolve the problem. Prolonged exposure to these apparently invisible toxins can require a long recovery period, and is best avoided by taking quick action.
Mark A. Stengler, ND, is a naturopathic physician and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. He is the director of the La Jolla Whole Health Clinic, La Jolla, California, and associate clinical professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon. He is author of the newsletter Bottom Line Natural Healing, www.DrStengler.com.
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