Invisible Biting Mites and Black Mold
What Invisible Things Are Biting Me?
Do you feel a crawling sensation on your skin when sitting on furniture or in bed, or even in your clothes? Or odd pinpricks on exposed skin as you move around the house? It may sound strange, but it could be mould spores.
I was suffering from those very symptoms when, googling 'invisible insects' and 'crawling feelings', I came across an account by a woman going through the same thing; she believed it was down to the toxic mould growing in her humidifier. I thought, "But I don’t have a humidifier, or even air conditioning. My house seems dry as a bone." But, as the various creams and sprays and daily launderings seemed to be having no effect, I thought it might be worthwhile having a hunt. I was horrified by what I found.
My symptoms started in April (we’re in France so that’s the start of the warmer weather): tiny, pinprick sensations felt in different areas around the house. In our bed and on sofas, there was dust that felt like itching powder. I also felt these unnerving crawling sensations whenever I sat on the sofa or on chairs, and in bed at night. I wondered if it was a new breed of dustmite, as whatever it was seemed to have set up camp in the upholstery, rugs and bedding.
Mysterious Biting, Crawling, Flying, Itchy Sensations
At first, the crawling and bites were the worst part, but in late September, as the weather became cooler and drier, I felt invisible, midge-like things landing on my face and exposed skin at night. It was difficult to sleep. My young kids would wake up itching, and after I'd settled them I’d lie awake for the rest of the night, my mind reeling and roiling, feeling like I was under attack by thousands of minuscule dust-like insects, some flying, some crawling.
My car became infested, and also my chair at work. I would feel things hopping from the floor on to my ankles. At the height of the affliction, I would feel crawling sensations in my trousers and on my face and hair, and once I also felt something fly into my eyes.
There was definitely something physical there, but whatever it was, it was invisible. I did sometimes notice what appeared to be a particle of dust darting off in the corner of my vision.
Discovering the Mould
At home one day, I starting picking at some of the wallpaper in the bathroom ... and there it was: a big splodge of furry black mould.
A man came to inspect. He placed his humidity gauge here and there, took a sample from the wall, took a look around and said that we probably didn't have anything to worry about - the house was dry and the patch of mould in the bathroom was too little to worry about.
This 'good' news plunged me back into despair. If it wasn't mould, then what on earth was making us itch and sting, and interrupting our sleep? What was spooking the cats so much that they refused to sleep in the house?
Not long after the expert's visit, I was sitting at my laptop in the living room. I could feel tiny specks of dust landing on my face and arms. Dust that stuck to my skin and tingled. It was almost like a miasma of electromagnetic static around me and the computer screen. I started googling again -- 'invisible biting bugs' and 'mold spores' -- but could only find talkboards where terrified people came to share their nightmarish accounts of GM bugs, bird mites, morgellons and skin parasites.
Terrified, and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, I went back to the small mould patch in the bathroom and starting pulling off more strips of wallpaper. To my surprise, and enormous satisfaction, I uncovered metres of slimy black and green mould growing between the layers of old wall covering.
More paper-peeling revealed the slimy fractals of mould had spread to the living room wall, too; near where I'd been sitting on my laptop. And finally, on the stairwell, in the middle of the house (basically serving as a conduit for the warm fireside air to waft upstairs and all around the bedrooms), was the thickest, slimiest covering of all.
I WAS OVERJOYED. Disgusted, naturally, but mostly overjoyed. I think it's the happiest I'd been in a year.
Frequently Asked Questions
What invisible thing is biting me?
You my not be able to see it, but I bet if you keep looking, you'll find mould hiding somewhere in the house. It hides behind walls, between layers of wallpaper, under cabinets and refrigerators, and under carpet. Don't forget to check the attic and basement.
Does mold bite people?
No, mould doesn't have teeth, but it can feel just like a mild insect sting.
What exactly is causing this skin-crawling sensation?
Allergies, perhaps, or sensitivity to certain types of mould.
Getting Rid of Mold in My Home
- Note: Be careful not to disturb the mold itself until the specialists arrive. Also, try to avoid fluctuations in temperature or humidity in the affected area. The last thing you want is more spores being released into your home.
- For cleaning other areas, I used natural detergent from the organic shop on the floors. The bottle I bought had clove, eucalyptus, and pine essential oils in. It smelled so much better than horrible bleach. It was almost a pleasure to mop!
- I wrapped the mattresses in plastic sheeting and taped them up. I also put the pillows in plastic bags, taping them shut. Luckily we have removable covers on the sofa, so I bagged up the cushions and put the covers back over them.
- I went a bit mad on laundry, and this was definitely overkill, soaking clothes and bedding in ammonia and sometimes bleach - and now, looking back, I'm not sure how effective it all was.
- I stayed away from the sofas as much as possible, also kept iPad/iPhone/laptop activity to a minimum, especially in bed, as this seemed to make the symptoms worse.
- I cleaned the house with white vinegar and sometimes bleach (but not at the same time or in the same spot, since these two ingredients are toxic when mixed), and also clove oil.
- Again, be careful not to disturb the mould itself until the specialists arrive.
Does Mold Enter Your Body?
When this all happened, I was desperate for answers and turned to the internet, where I found some unsubstantiated anecdotes about people's bodies being 'contaminated' by mould. I now believe that the mould affliction was purely external (i.e., in the house/walls) and not in our bodies. Since I got the 'body invasion' idea from a bunch of terrifying online chatrooms, these treatments might not be necessary. But it did seem to me at the time that they reduced the crawling and nipping sensations.
- Teaspoon of turmeric powder each night (moving on to a mixture of turmeric, cinnamon, and clove) swilled about in some water and knocked back with great stoicism
- Fermented cabbage juice: half a glass twice a day
- No alcohol (well, I couldn’t quite manage that of course, and noticed the high sugar content caused a spike in symptoms)
- I also took a multivitamin tablet every night, along with a B vitamin complex tablet and capsule of powdered apple cider vinegar (knocking back a mouthful of the liquid would probably be more powerful though
- I drank herbal teas. Pau D’arco and a floral blend that promised to treat candida
- I ate well: fish, green veg, plenty of water
On my skin, I used:
- Organic coconut oil
- Clove or cedar essential oil: a drop or two added to moisturiser before bed kept the biting/crawling at bay amazingly well.
In the bath:
- Apple cider vinegar (one cup).
- Baking soda is also good.
- Clove essential oil.
The recovery and beyond
After we persuaded the landlord to remove the mould from the walls, things cleared up. There was heaps of the horrible stuff apparently (though hidden beneath layers of paint and wallpaper) and it was a big cleanse-and-replaster job. Two months later and the crawly, nippy sensations were gone, as was the feeling that tiny invisible bugs were landing on me at night.
We lived another year in that house, all the while jumping at every mosquito bite or tiniest itch, ever expecting it all to return, but it never did. We now live in another house, and though I sometimes feel itches from the mattress and sofa we brought with us, it's nothing like the plague of invisible insects we experienced before.
We still talk about it and wonder what on earth it all was, and how we managed to survive it. I know you're probably, like me, reading all the horror stories online about morgellons and other types of bacterial infection, but I now believe it really was all external and simply related to a bad case of mould. It got into our clothes and sheets and upholstery, but I don't think it affected us internally. (I wrote in my original post that 'it gets into your blood'—I wish I could erase that hysterical assumption, as it'll only cause further alarm to other sufferers.) As soon as the mould was gone, our symptoms cleared up.
I think we carry a sensitivity to it (apparently this is normal following exposure to certain types of mould) and I do believe the type of mould we discovered—chaetomium—is particularly insidious/virulent, which is why I now itch at first contact with dust mites in carpets and fabrics.
A word on the dust mites: I have a theory that they were instrumental in spreading the mould around our house and into mattresses, sofa cushions, etc. According to yet more stuff I read on the web, dust mites adore mould and their population size rockets when they find a source of it to eat. They don't digest it though, so it sort of circulates through their bodies and back into and around the house, delightfully.
Another thought I had: around the same time as the symptoms started, we came into contact with a nest of processionary caterpillars, those furry little beasts who live in a candy-floss-like nest at the top of pine trees (we live in France). They came down the tree in April and after my daughter and I came into contact with them in the garden, we both came out in spots for a week or so. The little caterpillar hairs got into our laundry and continued itching and bothering us for a month. I don't know if it's related, but worth mentioning.
So there we are. It was mould all along, and probably some form of miniscule mould-eating bug, along with another big mould fan, the household dustmite. It makes me very happy to be able to say that we're all healthy, well-slept and itch-free these days.
Have hope, all ye in peril on this sea of madness. Be strong, be kind to yourselves, try to get out of the house and distract yourselves with the good things in life. But, most importantly, find that mould!
Even some doctors are unaware of how mold can affect skin, but awareness is growing.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences includes skin rashes on their list of the health effects associated with mold exposure.
The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health's Immune Response Among Patients Exposed to Molds was a study in which 53% of the patients reported skin reactions to mold.
In Mold Exposure And Rashes- Angioedema, Luke Curtis, MD MS CIH asserts that "A number of studies and case reports have linked indoor exposure to molds and or water damage to significantly greater risk of skin rashes and angioedema. Both molds and bacteria produce a large number of toxins that can cause toxic or allergic skin reactions."
Lastly, see A Study of Clinical Sensitivity to Air-Borne Molds by Edna S. Pennington, MD for more research.