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Breathing Is No Fungus

Kids with asthma have more mold allergens at home

WEDNESDAY, May 23 , 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Kids who have asthma may have higher levels of mold in their homes than kids who don't, new research shows.

Researchers have long suspected but haven't yet proved a link between asthma and levels of allergens from mold. The new study adds to the growing body of evidence that asthma may be triggered by allergies.

"For the first time we saw a correlation between mold in dust and asthmatic children," says lead author Dr. Janna Tuck, an allergist in private practice in Cape Girardeau, Mo. "Previous reports of the relationship of allergen exposure and asthmatic symptoms have not included fungal exposure to any great extent."

The fungi which create mold are everywhere, Tuck says. "But they are difficult to skin test for and difficult to identify in the environment. In addition, there are millions of species of mold, and they are particularly hard to culture and hard to follow through their entire life cycle. What we've been trying to do is find out what has been triggering asthma in the home, as well as find a better way to assay fungus in the environment."

Tuck and her colleagues analyzed samples of dust from 47 homes of allergy and asthma patients. In addition to known allergens, such as dust mites, and cat and dog dander, the analysis found measurable levels of two fungi, Alternaria and Cladosporidium, in 50 percent of the households.

Levels of the two fungi in dust were much higher in the homes of children with asthma compared with homes where children had an allergy but were not asthmatic, Tuck says.

The findings are reported in the May issue of the Journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"We humans have a large exposure to fungi, no matter where we live, no matter what country we're from," Tuck says. "And now our houses are being built very tight and not ventilated very well, and so we are probably seeing increased exposure to these fungi."

Increased fungi levels "may explain the increased asthma rates in this country, and that's why we need to do a lot more research on this problem," Tuck says.

Asthma affects more than 4.8 million children under age 18, says the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. The incidence of asthma increased 75 percent from 1980 to 1994 and causes more than 5,300 deaths annually.

Fungus is a suspect in asthma, says Sandra Gawchik, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and a private allergy practitioner in Chester, Pa. "I know I've told patients over the years that if they have mold in their house, it's going to be a problem for asthmatics."

"This study, which analyzes that data, shows there is indeed a problem. It supports the hypothesis that fungal allergens are an important component of asthma." Gawchik says.

What To Do

Get rid of the dampness in your house, Gawchik advises. "There are mold retardant paints you can use to cover the walls and floors."

"The other thing to do is to keep the relative humidity low in the house. In the summer months, keep the air conditioning on, but make sure to clean the filters. And if you're using a dehumidifier, make sure you check the pan on the bottom for mold growth," she says.

To learn more about asthma and ways to prevent flare-ups, visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

And read these HealthDay stories on asthma.

SOURCES: Interviews with Janna Tuck, M.D., Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Sandra Gawchik, D.O., clinical associate professor of pediatrics, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia; May 2001 Journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
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