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 these kinds of allergy symptoms even when pollen counts are low, you might have an allergy to mold. It’s estimated that 5 percent of all Americans do.

The unpleasant symptoms of an allergy to mold can crop up during any season because common allergy-provoking molds, such as alternaria and aspergillus, can grow outdoors and in damp spots indoors all year. 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.

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Molds are fungi found both inside and outside the home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no one knows exactly how many different species of fungi there are in the world, but they are ubiquitous.

Many of the 1,000 or 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 into 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 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.  

Note, however, that some evidence suggests that mold allergies are overdiagnosed. “Clinicians may have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of fungal allergy,” noted one review published in 2016. The best way to ensure that a diagnosis is correct, research suggests, is to get an allergy test only if you are already experiencing unexplained symptoms; asymptomatic people should not be tested for a mold allergy.

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.

Some experts suggest that you might want to consider taking 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 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’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 1 cup of laundry bleach to 1 gallon of water.

No matter what you’ve heard, testing to determine the type of mold present isn’t necessary, according to the CDC. The priority is to get rid of any mold in your home and prevent its return by keeping down humidity and dampness. A 2015 review of studies by the Cochrane Collaboration found some evidence that after repairing a mold-damaged office building, for example, respiratory symptoms decreased.

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 help reduce mold, too. Carpets can be ideal reservoirs for fungus growth, and while frequent vacuuming has been shown to reduce fungal spore levels (login required), if mold symptoms continue unabated, you might need to replace your carpeting with other types of flooring.

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.