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A 31-year-old man began experiencing troublesome symptoms in August 2019. Previously, he was quite healthy.

His symptoms began with the development of persistent headaches associated with dizziness. He suffered daily from severe fatigue, abnormal sleep patterns and consistent insomnia. In addition, abnormal sensations in his ankles and the tops of his feet which felt like a burning, pins and needles presented. Brain fog, confusion, short-term memory loss, word recollection and a decreased ability to learn new material also presented. Having worked a career in aviation safety, the onset of the cognitive issues was quite unusual and alarming for him.

Additionally, lesions on his tongue began to appear weeks after the initial onset of his symptoms. He saw an ENT specialist who diagnosed him with a condition known as “geographic tongue.” However, no specific cause was evident at the time. By spring 2020, he had consulted with more than 19 specialists at several health care institutions with specific intent to alleviate his chronic headaches and fatigue which were particularly difficult to manage. He saw a neurosurgeon, two neurologists and a number of pain management specialists. Various MRIs, X-rays, and lab tests failed to reveal any cause of his symptoms.

Months prior to the onset of his symptoms, he had moved into a renovated multi-unit dwelling in a home, built circa 1820. He became aware of areas of dampness and standing water in the basement. There was also visible mold growth. Suspicion grew that the visible as well as hidden mold in this home could be a underlying source for his symptoms.

Professional environmental testing was done to both verify the presence of as well as identification of mold species in the basement and living quarters. Results of the environmental testing confirmed the presence of high levels of a variety of mold/fungus species. These were specific types of toxic molds that grow in damp or water-damaged buildings.

The man subsequently underwent lab testing, that confirmed markers of similar species of mold/fungus in his body. These tests that he underwent indicated high levels of mold-produced toxins (mycotoxins). These mycotoxins are harmful by-products that molds can produce. Some mycotoxins can be toxic to the nervous system, the kidneys and the immune system.

Some mycotoxins have also been shown to be carcinogenic. In this man’s case, the HVAC unit was regularly pulling air from the basement up into his living quarters, thus potentially contaminating his air. In a circumstance of unfortunate timing, months after his symptoms began, he had accepted a position working remotely from his apartment, which only exacerbated his symptoms. He immediately moved out of the rental in an effort to eliminate his exposure to these mold toxins and is undergoing detoxification treatments. He is beginning to feel improvement, but it could take many months or years to recover.

If you have confounding symptoms that continue to evade a firm diagnosis, it is crucial to rule out an environmental cause. Mold growth can occur from moisture from leaking roofs, leaking pipes, or condensation on or water intrusion through walls or basements. Inadequate or poorly maintained ventilation systems that fail to provide enough air for dilution or dehumidification may themselves harbor sources of mold and disperse mold spores into the occupants’ breathing zone. According to some authorities, a significant percentage of buildings are considered to have some sort of water damage. Could your home or workplace be making you ill?


Dr. Mark Roth writes about internal medicine for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an internal medicine physician with University Hospitals.

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