Hurricane Irene's Flooding May Bring On Allergy Symptoms

PHOTO: A woman talks about her experience during Tropical Storm Irene in this Aug. 31, 2011 file photo describing how she and her two sons had to be rescued from their home on County Rt. 7 in Prattsville, N.Y.
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Hurricane Irene may have dissipated into the universe, but it continues to wreak havoc on home and health.

Experts warn that the excessive flooding that followed Irene could cause a surge of mold. For those with allergies, this can mean coughing, sneezing and wheezing galore.

"As Northeasterners, we're not really accustomed to hurricanes, and as a result, we're not accustomed to the ramifications," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of N.Y. "People are coming in for mold-related symptoms and pollen allergies. It's like the perfect storm."

About one-third of all those with allergies are sensitive to mold. Allergic reactions to the fungi include nasal congestion and sneezing. Asthmatics will experience chest congestion, coughing and difficultly in breathing.

"Just because you don't see it or smell it doesn't mean the mold isn't there," said Bassett. "Dust mites love mold and moisture, so you're going to have an indoor allergy and asthma problem if it's not taken care of."

Those who have compromised immune systems from underlying conditions such as autoimmune disorders, HIV and cancer are at greater risk of severe health problems, including pneumonia, triggered by mold.

"Exposure to mold is a real problem, for people with allergies and even in people who don't have allergies," said Dr. Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If you can remediate the mold, you can get to your baseline and avoid problems."

Pollen is also seeing a spike and people with allergies are seeing the effects of that too.

"The excess water is feeding the water table and these ragweed plants surrounded by all this water are priming the pump," said Bassett.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, experts coined the term "Katrina cough" after so many people in the area experienced respiratory illness brought on by mold and dust. Symptoms included cough, headache, nasal congestion, pink eye and sore throat.

To avoid such an aftermath while cleaning up Irene's mess, Bassett recommended several devices and techniques, such as using an N95 mask to prevent inhaling the allergens.

Water and bleach is effective in killing mold and reducing in the future, said Bassett. Use caution when removing water-damaged items that can result in the release of microscopic molds into the air of the home. In some cases, a sensitive person may experience immediate respiratory symptoms if mold spores are inhaled.

A dehumidifier and a hygrometer, a device used to measure humidity, will help in gauging and eliminating humidity. Numbers should read "well below 50 percent" on the hygrometer to avoid mold growth.

"You might have to clean several times to make sure you got it all," said Fineman.

"The ones coming in after the storm aren't the ones who practice preventive care," said Bassett. "It's important for people to get tested to see if they have allergies to avoid problems."

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