If you're alert to the hazards of off-gassing from new carpeting and the volatile organic compounds in traditional paint and clear wood finishes, you're probably also concerned about the possibility of allergic reactions to wallpaper glue. Even though it's covered by the wallpaper, traditional wallpaper glue can cause serious respiratory problems for you and your family. The problems aren't caused by off-gassing or VOCs, but by mold which grows on wheat-based products.
Two Common Wallpaper Adhesives
Cellulose methyl ether -- methylcellulose -- is a common wallpaper adhesive, but it isn't the one that is likely to cause allergy problems. Instead, the culprit is traditional wallpaper paste made from common wheat flour. It has a stronger "tack" than methylcellulose, which makes it better for hanging grasscloths, silks and many other heavier wall coverings. Wheat-based adhesive is available in hardware stores as a brownish powder that you mix with lukewarm water. Besides its white color, methycellulose paste is distinguishable from wheat-based products by its insolubility in warm water; it only dissolves in cold water.
How Mold Grows
Besides wheat, one other ingredient is needed to promote mold growth, and that is water. It can come in the form of condensation that forms on the walls on cold days when the indoor humidity is high. It can also come through small gaps in the siding or the roof or from the plumbing pipes. Mold spores are everywhere, and they spawn when they encounter a nourishing substrate and sufficient moisture. Because it's behind the wallpaper, you can't see the mold growing, but if you're allergic to it, you'll begin to experience symptoms once the colony is established and it produces more spores.
Common household molds, such as hormodendrum, aspergillus fumigatus and phoma are responsible for a variety of health problems; asperillus is the number one cause of respiratory disease. These molds thrive on old wood, hay, newspaper and grain. When inhaled, spores from these molds can cause fatigue, headaches, restlessness and poor concentration -- all symptoms of what Dr. Ronald Hoffman calls "sick building syndrome." These symptoms of mold allergy are often related to an overgrowth of candida, a fungus in the body that reacts with other fungi, yeasts and mold. This overgrowth makes the mold allergy worse.
Controlling Wallpaper Glue Allergies
The best solution to an allergic reaction to wallpaper glue is to remove the wallpaper, thoroughly clean the walls of all residue, and put up new paper with methylcellulose or another wheat-free adhesive. You can use an adhesive treated with a fungicide, but wear rubber gloves if you do, because the fungicide may trigger skin allergies. If re-papering is more than you want to do, make an extra effort to keep the walls dry. Open windows to ventilate the house and control humidity with dehumidifiers. Find and fix any outdoor or plumbing leaks.