• Dr. Bettina Herbert

The Four-letter Word I Never Heard in Med School

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

There is a four-letter word I barely heard in medical school. It can be responsible for year-round sinusitis, rashes, new onset illness such as autoimmune disease, brain fog, worsening anxiety or depression, muscle and joint pain, new onset digestive problems, new onset allergies, even perhaps a diagnosis of mast cell activation.

Although each person responds differently to environmental exposure, here in the southeast and in many regions the culprit may be exposure to a water-damaged building. Many traditional providers are unaware of mold-induced illness and treat symptoms without inquiring about

the cause.

During my medical training, I was taught that taking a complete patient history needed to include many environmental exposures most providers don’t think about: industries/factories/power plants nearby, coal emissions, pesticides, high voltage power lines, mercury exposure (from the old “silver amalgam” fillings), etc.

Currently, however, thanks to the foresight and vision of experienced providers and several organizations, environmental hazard awareness is on the rise vis-à-vis adverse health effects. The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine,

the International College of Integrative Medicine, the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI) and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, among others, have made huge strides in promoting awareness of the effects of our environment on

patients’ health or lack thereof.

Ever since volunteers returned home after helping clean up from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana (2005), many of my patients have become ill from exposure to mold found in those water-damaged buildings. The illnesses were diagnosed and treated traditionally, but very few providers asked why or what caused them. There was new onset fatigue, autoimmune, neurological, psychiatric, gastrointestinal and allergic disease, among many other syndromes.

The tragic flooding in the southeast these past few years has led to a massive increase in these illnesses.

The most recent Hurricane Dorian that devastated the Bahamas also passed by South Carolina. Fortunately my roof damage was quickly repaired and the water-damaged area was sealed off and put under negative pressure so no mold was able to grow. The room was sealed (see photo below) while the mold lab results were pending.

If you have a known water intrusion (leaky pipe, overflowing sink, HVAC condensation, dishwasher or refrigerator leak, water stains on the ceiling or ceiling tile, any flooding), please immediately protect yourself and your

loved ones. Any remediation starts with removing drenched materials as quickly as possible, drying the area and finding a qualified contractor to help if needed. Use personal protective gear such as a P100 mask available at many stores. Inhaling mold spores and mold toxins can be very damaging to susceptible people.

If the water intrusion was more than a week ago and nothing has been done, please consider this four-letter word: MOLD as a health hazard. If you can see it or smell it, it's there. Yet half of indoor mold is not visible, and may be behind a wall.

Look at EnviroHealth’s website:

and the sister website:

for more ideas on protecting yourself and your loved ones.

The number one rule of environmental medicine is to get away from the exposure or get the exposure away from you. Often that is enough to lessen symptoms and illness. If not, find a ‘mold literate’ physician through one of the organizations listed above, or via this website, to help you regain your good health.

Door to water-damaged room sealed off almost completely to prevent potential mold from spreading


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