Today’s Mold Talks guest is Michael S., a mold survivor and awareness advocate. Michael’s experience with mold began after moving into a new home with his fiancé and immediately began experiencing unusual symptoms, including alopecia. While medical professionals decided this autoimmune condition was triggered by stress, Michael continued thinking outside the box and searching for an answer that would explain his other related symptoms.
His demand for an explanation eventually led him to discover mold as the root cause of his chronic symptoms. Unfortunately, his battle didn’t end there. From improper mold inspections to failed remediation, he went through it all in an effort to get away from this indoor contaminant. Eventually, he would sell the house and spend the next few years building up his own awareness, trying to find a safe space to live in and giving his body the chance to heal.
Michael’s journey highlights how mold exposure can be the underlying stressor triggering autoimmune conditions such as alopecia, the importance of thinking outside the box, and how difficult it can be to find a safe space to live in once that sensitivity switch has been flipped. Thankfully, his dedication to building more awareness helped get him the tools he needed to eventually find a place to heal.
"I didn't realize how common mold was. I thought the situation was a one in a million situation. Previously to that, I had lived in the house I grew up in and two different apartments. I never had a problem. So I didn't realize that it was the rule as opposed to the exception to the rule, especially when you're going to buy or live in a property that's a little bit older."
Michael’s journey with indoor mold growth began in 2018 after moving into a new home with his fiance at the time. After living in the house for only three weeks, he started developing a series of unusual symptoms that wouldn’t go away. After going to the doctor, he was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss, and was told that stress from the move and the upcoming wedding was more than likely what caused it.
Still, that didn’t explain the other symptoms, like the burning sensation in his hands. When he brought this up to his doctors, he was told that stress must be the underlying cause for these as well. After the symptoms continued to worsen over time, Michael started to consider whether there was something else afoot.
"I kept on thinking that this wasn’t just some type of spontaneous occurrence. I believed that there was- especially the fact that it was only three weeks after moving into the house that I suddenly had these symptoms- I believed there was some type of factor that was just being missed by the medical community. So all of my free time was spent on Google."
His intuition paid off, and after searching through all of the possible issues that can exist in a home, he finally stumbled upon mold. Thinking back, he realized that he had been working out in his basement, which had recently experienced a leak from the first floor and now had a musty smell. He immediately hired a mold inspector, who determined there was a problem and followed up the visit by hiring a remediation team.
The symptoms disappeared for a little while, but then came back stronger than ever a few months later. It was during this time that he started to realize how little people understood and considered the effect mold exposure could have on the body.
"My family did not believe the theory about mold causing it. A primary doctor just yelled at me and told me I wasn't managing my stress. That led to a big argument, and I walked out of the room. But I kept on thinking, you know, it just doesn't make sense."
After feeling completely fine while on a trip to Ghana, he was certain something else was wrong with the house. A mold inspector was brought in again, and low and behold, there was a problem. This time, Michael decided that it was time to leave the home.
He and his fiancé moved into his mother’s house and immediately began to heal. What followed after was a difficult journey of finding another safe space for him to live in that didn’t have a current mold problem.
"We got an apartment at the end of November, and that next day I knew I had a problem again because when I woke up I was getting the same symptoms in this apartment that I was getting in the first house. But initially, I just thought I was just going crazy. You know, I've been through a little bit of trauma with that. Let’s just see how it works out."
As the symptoms continued to persist, he convinced his landlord to have a mold inspection, which, of course, showed a problem. Unfortunately, Michael was now well-versed in how a mold problem should be handled and immediately knew the actions being taken would not get rid of the contamination. This led to him being forced to move out and live with friends.
During this time, he started realizing just how difficult it can be to find a safe environment as he continued to find one after another with mold. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he purchased his own air tester to help pinpoint which were safe indoor environments that wouldn’t spark up his symptoms and which were toxic. It took another apartment developing a problem before he determined another route had to be taken.
"I realized at this point that what I did by selling the house the first time was the wrong move. Because when I own a house, I have control. I could take down any wall I needed. It's all up to me. When you live in an apartment, you're at the mercy of what the landlord wants you to do because they don't do any type of mold test. If they can't see it, it's not considered a problem. They don't care about the air quality or anything else beyond what's necessary."
So, Michael began the search for a home for himself and his now wife. Once found, it was touch and go for a while, fixing existing problems and ensuring all of the contamination was removed, but eventually, he created an indoor environment that promoted his ongoing health. Thankfully, his symptoms have dissipated and he’s well on the way to recovery. Now, he’s using his experience to help others as much as possible who might be suffering from similar experiences or alopecia triggered by exposure.
"You have to think outside of the box. If you go to a family physician or dermatologist for whatever reason, not all of them are trained in environmental health or how the environment can affect you. So you have to think outside of the box. 'What else can be causing my symptoms other than what's already in the textbook medical community?' Because modern medicine has only really been around for 50 years. I mean, we're learning new things every day… I wish I had known how common this issue was and that the technology is there to fix it. I believe any house can be remediated. If I knew about all those tests that I know about now, I would have kept the first house and I would have done everything there that I did here. I would have saved a lot of money and a lot of time."