Itchy eyes? A nagging cough?
If you've been suffering from sniffles that won't go away, it could be that mould, not the common cold virus, is to blame.
Along with being unsightly, household mould can contribute to health problems. Although most people don't feel the adverse affects of mould, numerous medical studies have linked household mould to increased asthma attacks. People with asthma and allergies are more sensitive to it, and can also suffer from other disorders, from nasal congestion to breathing problems.
Joel Mayor, the general manager of Saniservice in the UAE, says mould spores can grow just about anywhere that's moist, and air conditioning ducts provide the perfect environment.
"The consequences of being exposed to mould and specifically their airborne spores usually triggers simple allergies such as rhinitis and sinusitis but, as well, more serious illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome. It causes symptoms such as headaches, nausea, runny nose, watery eyes and coughs. Subsequently, mould is also a common trigger for asthma, which is one of the leading health risks for all residents of the Gulf."
When you see mould, don't simply wipe it away - look for the source. Among the myriad problems could be a leak, bad insulation or a clogged air-conditioner drainage tray. "Always look for the source of humidity; this is the golden rule and it will determine the severity of the case."
Until the problem is sorted, the mould will remain. "As the air-conditioning system is often the source of the problem, people should get an inspection ASAP."
Mould can signal impending disaster at villas or apartments and should always be monitored. "The mould will attack all organic matter," Mayor says, and can easily ruin furniture, clothes, books and walls.
Ceiling mould is often an indicator that the pipes above are water-saturated. "In that case the ceiling will have to be replaced."
Unfortunately, building managers often prefer to mask the problem. "I have seen houses in very bad condition that were painted just before a new tenant moved in. Obviously, painting over contaminated walls doesn't solve anything; it's even worse and makes the problem bigger, as the air will be contaminated with no visible signs of contamination."
Saniservice uses an eco-friendly bio-sanitiser that doesn't trigger allergies so people can re-enter their home straight after a treatment.
Online sources suggest tackling mould by wiping small problem areas with a mild detergent solution. Once dried, spray with a bleach solution, then wipe with a soft sponge until it is gone. Once that has dried, wipe again with a borate-based detergent, which can help stop new mould growth.
It is important during cleaning to close off all vents so the spores cannot spread. Goggles and a face mask are recommended.
But Mayor warns against tackling even small mould problems without professional guidance. "I wouldn't advise anybody to start their own cleaning of mould due to the health hazard."
What people can do is take preventative measures. Open windows and doors to increase air flow. You can also improve air circulation by keeping large objects about 10 centimetres away from the inside of exterior walls. And always use fans in rooms where water is frequently used - the kitchen, bathroom and laundry area.