Sunday, July 02, 2000

Cincinnati mold is something to sneeze at

        I feel like February. I look like Monday. My head bangs like the inside of Ricky Ricardo's conga drum.

        It's the mold.

        The newspaper counts it, so you can wake up every day and know how miserable you are. One day last week, the mold was in the 5000s. A 3,500 mold day is considered big, so 5,000 must have been The Mold of The Century. Every allergist in town was ordering a new Lexus.

        Cincinnati is a fine place to live, but they don't tell you about the mold. The Chamber of Commerce does not say, “Our chili is delicious, our zoo is world class. You can buy a house here without mortgaging your children. But the mold. Oh, my god.”

        Mold begins in the spring; by July, it attains Hall of Fame status, according to local allergist Tom Fischer. The only time we're mold-free is when snow's on the ground.

        Mold is also inside, in carpets and upholstery. It's in the attic and the basement. It's in the fruit cellar, like Mother Bates waiting for Norman.

        Pollen gets some people. Ragweed gets others. For the rest, there's the lovely heat-humidity thing that turns the sky white on cloudless days and makes breathing an Olympic sport. They call that “haze.”

        I know people who don't leave their houses from April to October. I know people who have had their noses Roto-Rooter-ed. They dream of living in a four-bedroom, two-bath Zip-Loc bag.

        I'm not that bad. I sneeze at pollen. Metaphorically speaking. I sniff at ragweed. The white summer sky doesn't bother me. I just play golf with an iron lung.

        But the mold is a killer. “Microscopic fungi related to mushrooms and mildew,” was how Dr. Fischer defined it. “They float in the air like pollen.”

        All these little molds, flying free and easy into my breathing space.

        When I got here, in 1988, I'd get ear infections. I hadn't had an ear infection since I was a year old. I bought antibiotics by the ton. I needed a walker with an IV stand, pumping a continuous flow of amoxicillin.

        It was annoying, because whenever I became ear-infected, I had to go to the doctor. I knew what was wrong. He knew what was wrong. I just needed a couple quarts of drugs to send those little molds running.

        But no. He wouldn't write a prescription without seeing me, so we'd have to do the whole heartbeat-blood-pressure dance. It was almost as bad as the mold, making the drums play “Wipeout” on my temples.

        Dr. Fischer says there is hope. Most of it involves shutting yourself inside for six months, in dry, air-conditioned air. Mold likes humidity. AC gets rid of 90 percent of mold, Dr. Fischer said.

        That's great, except I hate air conditioning.

        A second solution is to drug yourself: Topical nasal sprays and allergy shots. “Non-sedating” antihistamines that don't make you fall asleep.

        Another thing about mold is, when it takes over your head, all you want to do is nothing. That's usually how antihistamines make you feel. I took them once, when I was molded-out. I slept for six weeks.

        Finally, to evict the mold creatures from your house, you can buy filters for your furnace and bleach everything in sight. Your house will look like a sanitarium. But you'll breathe OK.

        You could do that, or you could just beat yourself senseless.

        Now pardon me while I sneeze.


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