Mould & Neurodevelopment for Children

Blog by Sabrina Wells

Each and everyday we find ourselves working, learning, playing, eating, and living in buildings. Buildings and places are essential spaces where we undertake important activities to live a meaningful and purposeful life. But for some children (and adults) with neurodevelopmental disorders, buildings may pose a hidden threat to their ability to build capacity and reach their goals (De Santis et al., 2017). The culprit is mould! It is beginning to be highlighted across the literature that mould can have significant impacts on individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (Serkan et al, 2021; Kraft et al., 2021). Prolonged exposure to mould may result in slowed functional outcomes for children with increased sensitivities (Ehsanifar et al., 2023).

The Origins of Mould

According to NSW Government, “mould is part of a group of very common organisms called fungi that also includes mushrooms and yeast. It is present virtually everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. Mould may grow indoors in wet or moist areas that lack adequate ventilation, including walls or wallpaper, ceilings, bathroom tiles, carpets, insulation material and wood. If moisture accumulates, mould growth will often occur on indoor surfaces. Many different types of mould exist, and they all have the potential to cause health problems” through the release of toxic spores (2022). With majority of Australian’s living in costal sub-tropical climates, exposure to mould is likely a daily occurrence. Exposure in smalls amounts is usually tolerable to most people, however, for those with increased sensitivities small amounts and prolonged exposure can have significant impacts on the immune and nervous system. Therefore, understanding mould’s impact on the body and how to minimise exposure to mould is important to ensure good health and development for children.

Mould’s Effect on the Body

When the immune system is exposed to mould toxins it sends out messengers to signal that there is a threat in the body and trigger systemic inflammation to fend them off (Ratnaseelan et al., 2018). Unfortunately, when an individual experiences prolonged systemic inflammation this inflammatory response can activate autoimmune disorders or increase severity of dysregulation within the body (Harding et al., 2020). PANS, ASD, ADHD and CIRS are just a few diagnoses that research is highlighting may be linked to mould-induced flares in symptoms for sensitive individuals (Theoharides et al., 2019; BioNexus Health, 2020). Mould toxins can make their way into the body and will often reside in the gut and brain. These are areas where the nervous system has significant innervation (Dando et al., 2014; Gonkowski et al., 2020). Inflammation of the immune system and mould toxins in the nervous system can disrupt the smooth flow of information within the brain and from the brain to the rest of the body. The messengers that send this information are known as neurotransmitters. This causes the nervous system to go into a state of ‘flight, fright or freeze’ response (Empting, 2009; Harding et al., 2020). This dysregulation in the body can cause many impacts on one’s everyday living.
Megan Neff, a neurodivergent psychologist has a beautiful article on ‘The Autistic and ADHD Nervous System’ which goes into further depth about nervous system dysregulation.

Mould’s Effect on Everyday Living

Here at Stepping Stones Therapy for Children, we see the impact that immune and nervous system dysregulation can have on the neurodevelopment of children. Although not always the result of mould, presentations are very similar with impacts on sensory processing, executive functioning, toileting, social engagement, learning capacity, mental health, energy levels, gross motor, and fine motor development (Ehsanifar et al., 2023; Kadan & Aral, 2021; Harding et al., 2020; Theoharides et al., 2019). Significant mould exposure can impact across several areas of a child’s daily life from their engagement in self-care tasks (such as toileting and eating), ability to engage in leisure activities (like riding a bike or playing card games) and their participation in school (difficulty remaining focused or remembering new information). Your child may also experience increased fatigue, brain fog or body pains which can impact their motivation and capacity to engage in daily life. At Stepping Stones we are equipped with the knowledge and skills to support your child to reengage in these essential and meaningful occupations, alongside provide recommendations for appropriate supports so your child can flourish in daily life again. For occupational therapy to be the most supportive for mould sensitive children, it is important to manage mould exposure and reduce the presence of mould toxins in your child’s body.

Managing Mould when Living in Australia

The NSW government outlines that there are many small and effective steps you can take in reducing mould exposure for your family (NSW Government, 2022). These include:

  • Maintain proper ventilation
  • Using exhaust fans in humid environments (e.g. laundry, bathroom, when cooking)
  • Reduce Humidity
  • Limit use of humidifiers
  • Limit number of indoor plants
  • Control moisture and dampness
  • Repair water leaks and plumbing problems as soon as possible
  • If flooding occurs, completely clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building materials. Discard porous materials that cannot be cleaned or dried completely.
  • Get Testing and Remediate
  • If you suspect mould damage in wall cavities or beneath flooring, get these surfaces tested by a professional building biologist and undertake certified remediation if necessary.
  • Report Water-damaged Buildings
  • If you notice mould or water-damage in public or private buildings, report this to the organisation so they can remediate.
The Road Forward: Supporting Your Child’s Neurodevelopment

It is important to be informed about the potential adverse health effects of mould and ways to minimise exposure for sensitive children, particularly with neurodevelopmental disorders. If you suspect your child may have mould sensitivities, consult with an allergist, immunologist, or integrative doctor to provide testing so they can support you to minimise the impact on your child’s nervous and immune systems. It is also helpful to discuss your concerns with your allied health team so they can work together to support your child to live at their fullest potential.

You may wish to check these organisations for further support, information, and guidance about mould or other environmentally acquired illnesses.

  • International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness ISEAI Physician List – ISEAI
  • Australasian Integrative Medicine Association AIMA
  • Toxic Mould Support Australia Health Professionals – Toxic Mould Support Australia

References
BioNexus Health. (2020). Environmental Illness, Autism, Mold/ Biotoxin Illness, Lyme Disease, and PANS/PANDAS. Retrieved on Feburary 29,2024 from https://bionexushealth.com/environmental-illness/environmental-illness-related-autism-cirs-lyme-disease-pans-and-chronic-inflammatory-disorders/
Dando, S. J., Mackay-Sim, A., Norton, R., Currie, B. J., St John, J. A., Ekberg, J. A., Batzloff, M., Ulett, G. C., & Beacham, I. R. (2014). Pathogens penetrating the central nervous system: infection pathways and the cellular and molecular mechanisms of invasion. Clinical microbiology reviews, 27(4), 691–726. https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00118-13
De Santis, B., Raggi, M. E., Moretti, G., Facchiano, F., Mezzelani, A., Villa, L., Bonfanti, A., Campioni, A., Rossi, S., Camposeo, S., Soricelli, S., Moracci, G., Debegnach, F., Gregori, E., Ciceri, F., Milanesi, L., Marabotti, A., & Brera, C. (2017). Study on the Association among Mycotoxins and other Variables in Children with Autism. Toxins, 9(7), 203. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins9070203
Ehsanifar, M., Rajati, R., Gholami, A., & Reiss, J. (2023). Mould and Mycotoxin Exposure and Brain Disorders. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 22(6), 137. https://doi.org/10.31083/j.jin2206137
Empting L. D. (2009). Neurologic and neuropsychiatric syndrome features of mold and mycotoxin exposure. Toxicology and industrial health, 25(9-10), 577–581. https://doi.org/10.1177/0748233709348393
Gonkowski, S., Gajęcka, M., & Makowska, K. (2020). Mycotoxins and the Enteric Nervous System. Toxins, 12(7), 461. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins12070461
Harding, C., Pytte, C., Page, K., Ryberg, K., Normand, E., Remigio, G., DeStefano, R., Morris, D., Voronina, J., Lopez, A., Stalbow, L., Williams, E., Abreu, N. (2020). Mold inhalation causes innate immune activation, neural, cognitive and emotional dysfunction. Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, 87, 218-228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2019.11.006
Kadan, G. & Aral, N. (2021). Effects of mycotoxins on Child Development. Current Molecular Pharmacology, 14(5), 770-781. https://doi.org/10.2174/1874467213999201214225531
Kraft, S., Buchenauer, L., & Polte, T. (2021). Mold, Mycotoxins and a Dysregulated Immune System: A Combination of Concern?. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(22), 12269. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms222212269
NSW Government. (2022). Mould. Retrieved on February 21, 2024 from https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/mould.aspx
Ratnaseelan, A., Tsilioni, I., & Theoharides, C. (2018). Effects of mycotoxins on neuropsychiatric symptoms and immune processes. Clinical Therapeutics, 40(6), 903-917. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.05.004
Serkan, Y., Beyazit, U., & Ayhan, A. B. (2021). Mycotoxin Exposure and Autism: A Systematic Review of the Molecular Mechanism. Current molecular pharmacology, 14(5), 853–859. https://doi.org/10.2174/1874467213999200819145942
Theoharides, T. C., Kavalioti, M., & Martinotti, R. (2019). Factors adversely influencing neurodevelopment. Journal of biological regulators and homeostatic agents, 33(6), 1663–1667. https://doi.org/10.23812/19-33n6Edit_Theoharides

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