Diagnosis

Besides considering your signs and symptoms, your doctor may want to conduct a physical examination to identify or exclude other medical problems. He or she may also recommend one or more tests to see if you have an allergy that can be identified. These include:

  • Skin prick test. This test uses diluted amounts of common or suspected allergens, such as molds found in the local area. During the test, these substances are applied to the skin in your arm or back with tiny punctures. If you're allergic, you develop a raised bump (hive) at the test location on your skin.
  • Blood test. A blood test, sometimes called the radioallergosorbent test, can measure your immune system's response to mold by measuring the amount of certain antibodies in your bloodstream known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. A blood sample is sent to a medical laboratory, where it can be tested for evidence of sensitivity to specific types of mold.

Treatment

The best treatment for any allergy is to take steps to avoid exposure to your triggers. However, molds are common, and you can't completely avoid them. While there's no sure way to cure allergic rhinitis caused by a mold allergy, a number of medications can ease your symptoms. These include:

  • Nasal corticosteroids. These nasal sprays help prevent and treat the inflammation caused by an upper respiratory mold allergy. For many people, they're the most effective allergy medications, and they're often the first medication prescribed.

    Examples include ciclesonide (Omnaris), fluticasone (Flonase), mometasone (Nasonex), triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ) and budesonide (Rhinocort Aqua). Nosebleeds and nasal dryness are the most common side effects of these medications, which are generally safe for long-term use.

  • Antihistamines. These medications can help with itching, sneezing and runny nose. They work by blocking histamine, an inflammatory chemical released by your immune system during an allergic reaction.

    Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines include loratadine (Alavert, Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy). They cause little to no drowsiness or dry mouth. Older antihistamines such as clemastine (Tavist-1) work as well but can make you drowsy, affect work and school performance, and cause dry mouth.

    The nasal sprays azelastine (Astelin, Astepro) and olopatadine (Patanase) are available by prescription. Side effects of the nasal sprays may include a bitter taste in your mouth and nasal dryness.

  • Oral decongestants. OTC oral decongestants include Sudafed and Drixoral. Because oral decongestants can raise blood pressure, avoid them if you have high blood pressure (hypertension). Possible side effects include high blood pressure, insomnia, loss of appetite, heart pounding (palpitations), anxiety and restlessness.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays. These include oxymetazoline (Afrin, others). Don't use these medications for more than three or four days, as they can cause congestion to come back with even worse symptoms when you stop using them. Other possible side effects include headache, insomnia and nervousness.
  • Montelukast. Montelukast (Singulair) is a tablet taken to block the action of leukotrienes — immune system chemicals that cause allergy symptoms such as excess mucus. It has proved effective in treating allergic asthma, and it's also effective in treating mold allergy.

    Like antihistamines, this medication is not as effective as inhaled corticosteroids. It's often used when nasal sprays cannot be tolerated or when mild asthma is present.

Other treatments for mold allergy include:

  • Immunotherapy. This treatment — a series of allergy shots — can be very effective for some allergies, such as hay fever. Allergy shots are used for only certain types of mold allergy.
  • Nasal lavage. To help with irritating nasal symptoms, your doctor may recommend that you rinse your nose daily with salt water. Use a specially designed squeeze bottle, such as the one included in saline kits (Sinus Rinse, others), bulb syringe or neti pot to irrigate your nasal passages. This home remedy, called nasal lavage, can help keep your nose free of irritants.

    Use water that's distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller to make up the irrigation solution. Also be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.

Lifestyle and home remedies

To keep mold allergy symptoms at bay, take these measures:

  • Sleep with your windows closed to keep out outdoor mold. The concentration of airborne mold spores tends to be greatest at night, when the weather is cool and damp.
  • Wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth to keep mold spores out if you have to rake leaves, mow your lawn or work around compost.
  • Avoid going outdoors at certain times, such as immediately after a rainstorm, in foggy or damp weather, or when the published mold count is high.

Preparing for your appointment

Many people are diagnosed and treated for allergies by their primary care physicians. However, depending on the severity of your allergies, your primary care doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating allergies.

You can take steps to ensure you cover everything that's important to you during your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Ask if there are any pre-appointment restrictions when making your appointment. For example, if you're having allergy tests, your doctor will likely want you to stop taking allergy medications for several days before the test.
  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing as well as where you were and what you were doing when the symptoms started.
  • Make a list of all the medications, vitamins or supplements you take, and bring that list with you to your appointment.
  • Write down any questions you have for your doctor.

Preparing a list of questions helps you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a mold allergy, some questions you might want to ask include:

  • What do you think is causing these symptoms?
  • Are there tests available that can confirm a specific allergy? Do I need to prepare for these tests?
  • How can I treat a mold allergy?
  • What side effects can I expect from allergy medications?
  • How can I get mold out of my home?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • I have another health condition. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • Do you have brochures or other printed materials? What websites do you recommend?

What to expect from your doctor

To determine whether allergies or other possible causes are responsible for your symptoms, your doctor may ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • Exactly what are your symptoms?
  • What seems to trigger symptoms or make them worse?
  • Are your symptoms worse during certain times of the year or certain times of the day?
  • Do your symptoms flare up when you're in certain locations, such as outdoors or in your basement?
  • What medications do you take, including herbal remedies?
  • What other health problems do you have?
  • Do other members of your family have allergies? What kinds?
  • Are you exposed to mold, dust, fumes or chemicals at work?
  • Do you know if you have mold in your home?

What you can do in the meantime

While you're waiting to see your doctor, there are numerous over-the-counter allergy medications that may ease your symptoms.

If you have visible mold in your home, it will help to have someone who's not allergic to mold clean the area using a solution of 1 ounce of bleach to 1 quart of water or a commercially available mold-cleaning product. If you have to clean up the mold yourself, be sure to wear long rubber gloves, safety goggles and a mask to limit your exposure to the mold.