House Calls runs every other Saturday. Today's column is written by Doron Andrews, a respiratory therapist at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Many people who live in Crescent City will agree with me when I say that this town offers more outdoor beauty than most places in Northern California.

What more can we ask for? We live on the beautiful coast of California where sunsets, wildlife and nature are everywhere to be seen. Living on the coast of the Pacific Ocean is great, or is it?

There are a few disadvantages to living as close to the ocean as we do, and today I hope to educate you on the one of the things that most of us know about, but don't completely understand: black mold.

Although there is not definitive scientific or medical proof that mold growing in homes causes certain health problems, there is enough evidence to make people be cautious of mold and be on the lookout for unexplained health problems.

With Crescent City's relative humidity usually ranging from 85 to 95 percent, this town has perfect conditions for mold. There are three types of mold - black mold, toxic mold and allergenic mold, which are present all the time around us and in the air we breathe. In low levels, molds and mold spores are generally harmless, but if their levels increase they can affect people negatively; especially people with allergies, asthma and respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems.

The symptoms of mold allergy are similar to others, such as sneezing, itching, nasal discharge, congestion and dry, scaling skin. Some people with mold allergies may have allergy symptoms the entire summer because of outdoor molds, or year-round if symptoms are due to indoor molds.

A 300 percent increase in the asthma rate over the past 20 years has been linked to molds, according to a USA Today article.

According to a 1999 Mayo Clinic Study, nearly all chronic sinus infections (afflicting 37 million Americans) are a result of molds.

Now, let's get some facts straight. There is a difference between black mold and toxic black mold.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black mold itself is not toxic but is actually considered toxigenic. Toxigenic means that the mold can reach a stage where it is able to produce small aggressive spores called mycotoxins, which can easily become airborne and cause serious health problems in humans and animals. Toxic black mold requires water, not just elevated relative humidity, to grow. It also needs some form of organic substance like wood or paper, such as the paper backing of drywall, in order to thrive.

According to the website, black molds do not constantly produce mycotoxins. Only under certain growing conditions can mycotoxins be produced. But when humans contact these "black mold" mycotoxins either by ingestion or skin contact, the toxicity can cause life-altering or life-threatening medical conditions.

It should be noted that toxicity from black mold exposure is extremely rare and the severity of this condition will differ from person to person. However, black mold toxicity in extreme cases can lead to difficulty breathing, chronic fatigue, mood swings, irritability, chronic cough, blindness, brain damage, permanent memory loss, bleeding lungs, cancer and even death.

Toxic black mold is greenish-black and gelatinous. It is usually slimy because of a wet layer on the top. However if a toxic black mold colony's water source runs out, it can appear dry and powdery.

There are several molds that look similar to toxic black mold. If you find what you think might be toxic mold, the only way you can tell for sure is to have a mold expert look at a sample under a microscope.

Never try to remove toxic black mold on your own. Disturbing toxic black mold can make it release huge amounts of spores and mycotoxins throughout your home, making your symptoms much worse. It's important that you determine whether the spores are producing toxic black mold or a non-toxic species of mold. Once you know for sure, then you can plan how to remove it.

Toxic black mold often grows in hidden places and professional mold inspectors can use tools such as moisture meters and fiber optics to find hidden mold with minimal disturbance to your home. There is no cure or antidote for toxic black mold. The only solution is to remove it from your environment or remove yourself from its environment.

Once you are away from toxic black mold your body will start to recover and most of your symptoms should go away over time. However, some of the damage can be permanent.

Sutter Coast Hospital is here to give you the best care options and information we can.I have personally seen the effects of toxic black mold.But it is very important to take into consideration that not all black molds are considered dangerous.

Remember, someone can only be harmed if the mold is toxic.If you have black mold where you live, or you know someone who suffers from symptoms of black mold, the first thing you should do is to contact a professional to run specific tests to decide whether the mold is toxic or no-toxic.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, then take appropriate measures to remove the mold or yourself from the environment. If you feel you are suffering from symptoms of toxic black mold, please contact your physician or health-care provider.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital,