Are you having episodes of sneezing accompanied by a drippy or stuffy nose? Are your eyes, lips, mouth, or nose itchy? If you're experiencing those kinds of allergy symptoms even when pollen counts are low, you might have an allergy to mold. One in 20 Americans does.

The unpleasant symptoms of an allergy to mold can crop up during any season, because common allergy-provoking fungi such as alternaria and aspergillus can grow outdoors and in damp spots indoors all year long. In addition, spores from outdoor mold can waft inside when you open a window or door, and they can hitch a ride on hair, clothes, shoes, bags, and even your pets.

Many of the 1,000 of so species of mold found in the U.S. are almost invisible without a microscope. That can make it a challenge to figure out where you're coming in contact with it and which particular fungi may be the source of the problem. But if you suspect you have such an allergy, the following steps can help you find relief.

The Right Doctor Can Help

To determine whether or not you have an allergy to mold, you should make an appointment with an allergist, a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic conditions. He or she will probably use a skin-prick or blood test to determine whether you have an allergy to mold and to pinpoint which fungi are triggering your symptoms.  

Over-the-counter and prescription medication such as oral antihistamines can help subdue symptoms on an as-needed basis. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, can provide longer-lasting relief.

The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology (AAAAI), suggests that you might want to take an allergy medication ahead of time if you're going to be exposed to potential sources of mold, such as a compost pile in the backyard.

How to Avoid and Get Rid of Mold

If you have an allergy to mold, staying away from fungi is key. Mold thrives on fallen leaves and rotting plant life, including old logs and compost piles. So make sure they get cleaned up. Ideally, have someone else do the job for you. If you have to do the yardwork yourself, put on a hardware-store face mask first.

When mold counts are high (check local weather reports or the AAAAI's online U.S. map for current pollen and spore counts), reduce your exposure by keeping the windows shut in your house and car (run the air conditioner to filter out spores). If you go out, you should shower, wash your hair, and change clothes when you return home.

Clean up and dry out any spots where mold may thrive indoors as well. Dark spots on walls or other surfaces or a musty smell can signal its presence. Kill mold by cleaning the area with a solution of one cup of laundry bleach in a gallon of water.

No matter what you've heard, testing to determine the type of mold present isn’t necessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The priority is to get rid of any mold that's in your home and prevent its return by keeping down humidity and dampness. A recent research review determined that repairing damp buildings reduced the odds of allergy symptoms by about 40 percent for adults.

Check vents on air-conditioners, the drip tray under the refrigerator, humidifiers, moldy tile and grout in the bathroom, and damp rugs. Fix leaky pipes, drains, windows, and roofs. Steam-cleaning floors and carpeting can kill mold, too.

Disinfect indoor garbage pails and compost buckets frequently, and consider giving away house plants because their soil can harbor mold.

Reduce humidity in the air, too. Run the exhaust fan while you shower. Aim for a humidity level between 30 and 50 percent in damp areas like your bathroom. Install a dehumidifier in the basement if it’s damp; control humidity in living areas with an air conditioner.