One in two people worldwide will experience a headache in any given year. Most of these are acute, which means that they normally last for a few hours and don’t reoccur once gone. However, when they start recurring daily for more than 15 days in a given month, we can talk about chronic headaches.
Chronic headaches are usually caused by an underlying medical condition. Celiac disease, high blood pressure, and thyroid disorders can all cause severe headaches and migraines. The same is true of nutritional deficiencies, particularly a chronic lack of magnesium in the body.
Not all chronic headaches occur due to an existing medical condition, though. They can also be caused by environmental factors, unpleasant odors, as well as prolonged exposure to toxic materials.
Does Mold Cause Headaches?
If you’ve ever had a brush with household mold, you probably know that it can cause many health complications. Black mold – as it’s called due to its dark color – is closely linked to respiratory problems like throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, coughing, and wheezing. Mold can also affect the eyes, cause serious lung infections, and trigger asthma attacks. But does mold cause headaches, too?
According to a 2009 study, it might.
The authors of the study observed more than 800 office workers in the United States and tried to determine if certain environmental factors impact the occurrence of headaches. According to the results, mold was high on the list of culprits. Namely, the participants who worked in offices with higher levels of mold in the air were more prone to work-related headaches and migraines.
How Does Mold Cause Headaches?
Although scientists agree that there is a correlation between mold and headaches, there is still some controversy regarding the exact mechanism by which that correlation works. To understand how mold achieves its negative health effects, it is important to know exactly what it is.
As you may know, mold is a species of fungus that can be found everywhere around us. It thrives in moist and warm environments, so you’ll often notice it in your bathroom, kitchen, or basement.
Mold usually grows on open surfaces, including walls, wood, and wallpaper. When it gets in direct contact with water, it spreads and reproduces by creating the so-called mold spores. These spores are sometimes released into the air, making them very easy to inhale. While they are fairly harmless in small amounts, exposure to large amounts of mold spores can trigger a strong allergic reaction.
The symptoms resemble those of other allergies, including coughing, sneezing, mucus, runny nose, itching, and dry skin. Because they affect your respiratory tract – including the sinuses – most allergies can also cause headaches that can last for days on end. For this reason, most scientists believe that mold-related headaches are a symptom of mold allergies.
A 2014 study provides evidence for this claim. Its authors asked more than 10,000 people with a history of severe headaches and migraines if they had any allergies. The results showed that almost 67% of them had rhinitis, an allergic inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose. What’s more, mold was cited as the contributing factor in most of the cases.
According to this study, not only does mold cause headaches but it can also trigger an allergic reaction in your body’s upper respiratory system. However, some experts believe that mold doesn’t have to be inhaled in order to cause headaches and other potentially serious conditions.
The Mycotoxin Connection
In recent years, some authors have expressed the belief that mycotoxins can also cause headaches. These toxic substances are produced by certain species of mold commonly found in the household. However, rather than being inhaled, they are mostly ingested. That’s because mycotoxins are typically found on food items. What’s more, they are so stable that they can easily survive food processing.
Due to their toxicity, mycotoxins are associated with a variety of chronic illnesses, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome. Until recently, the claim that mycotoxins can cause headaches was considered controversial due to a lack of research to back it up. However, a study published in 2018 identified a link between mycotoxin exposure and problems like asthma, fatigue, anxiety, depression – and headaches.
How Are Mold-Related Headaches Treated?
The research into the effects of mycotoxins on our bodies is still in its early stages. Until scientists come up with ways to diagnose and treat toxic mold exposure, all mold-related headaches are treated just like any other headache – with medication, hot/cold compresses, massages, and plenty of rest.
If in addition to the headache you’re experiencing other symptoms of mold allergies, your doctor will likely recommend other standard treatments. These include nasal corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation of the respiratory tract, antihistamines to relieve sneezing and itching, and montelukast to fight excess mucus. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may also have to take allergy shots (immunotherapy) or rinse your nose every day with salt water (nasal lavage).
How to Remove Mold from Your Home
The best way to relieve your symptoms and/or prevent mold allergies is to remove mold from your home. You should first look for black growths in your household, especially in warm rooms with high levels of moisture. Even if you can’t see any mold, if you start coughing or wheezing the moment you enter a room, chances are that it may contain mold buildups.
If you find mold on your walls, tables, or other surfaces, you need to remove it promptly. More importantly, you also need to identify and remove the causes of mold growth in your home. These can range from leaky roofs and improper ventilation to old, deteriorating wallpaper and wood.
As explained, mold and mycotoxins can also be ingested through food. It is thus important to ensure that all food items in your home are stored safely. Rather than stocking up on food, try to buy it shortly before you plan on consuming it. This is especially important with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, which can all go bad if you don’t eat them shortly after buying them. Make sure to throw away any items that are past their expiration date.
The Final Word
There is strong evidence that not only does mold cause headaches but it can also cause allergies and other respiratory symptoms. To avoid the problems, you should identify and remove mold from your home. This is especially important if you have respiratory problems like asthma and chronic allergies.
If you believe your headache and/or other allergy symptoms are the result of exposure to household mold, you should consult with your doctor.