Molds are tiny fungi whose spores float through the air. They like damp environments and need four things to grow: food, air, appropriate temperature and water. Molds can be found outdoors, in homes and in other buildings.
If you are allergic to mold, your immune system is overly-sensitive to specific mold spores and treats them as an allergen. When you inhale the mold spores, your immune system triggers symptoms such as sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion or itchy nose, mouth and lips.
There are hundreds of types of molds, but not all of them are responsible for causing allergy symptoms. The most common allergy-causing molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium and Penicillium.
While Penicillium is best known as the mold type that gave birth to the first of the antibiotics, penicillin, some species of this mold type are known to cause a number of specific allergies including asthma and hay fever.
With over 300 accepted species, the Penicillium genus includes some of the most common fungi in the world. (1) Look for it outdoors in soil, decaying plant debris, compost, grains and rotting fruit. Indoors, it usually grows on wallpaper, wallpaper glue, carpet, paint, fabrics, house dust and water-damaged buildings in general. (2)
Penicillium colonies range in colour from blue-green to white, yellow and pink with a velvety or powdery texture. They grow rapidly and release a strong musty odour.
Penicillium is a common allergen, triggering allergies such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and hay fever. It can also trigger or worsen asthma symtpoms. (3) While Penicillium is typically non-pathogenic, there are a few exceptions. Some Penicillium species are capable of producing microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) and toxins that can be harmful to human health, especially upon long-term exposure.
Are Penicillium molds dangerous?
Since Penicillium molds can cause food spoilage, they also present a health hazard when consumed. This is because some species of Penicillium produce toxic compounds known as mycotoxins. (9) These toxins make food inedible and dangerous. It is therefore better to be safe than sorry, and to discard any food items that show signs of mold growth.
Penicillium spores can trigger allergic reactions in individuals who are sensitive to mold. As such, the health of the building’s occupants can be adversely affected if the indoor environment contains high concentrations of Penicillium.
However, some Penicillium species are beneficial to humans. A good example is cheese like Brie, Stilton, Roquefort and Camembert, which are ripened using Penicillium species and are safe to eat. (10) Another example, as mentioned earlier, is the penicillin drug, produced by P. chrysogenum, which is frequently found in many households.
The allergy symptoms associated with Penicillium mold
Since Penicillium molds are fungi, their tiny spores can become airborne easily and linger in the air without us knowing it. And because we all need to breathe, we are likely to inhale these spores if there is a mold contamination in our home.
How each person reacts to the inhalation of Penicillium mold spores is unique. Some individuals may experience asthma symptoms or allergic reactions, while others may not feel anything.
If you do have an allergy to Penicillium, your immune system’s response will be to trigger symptoms like itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy lips, mouth, and nose, or a runny nose.