More than 50% of the general population experiences headaches. (1) Often, the headache trigger is unknown.
Could a previous exposure to toxic mold be to blame?
Did you know that your brain can’t feel pain?
Yep. The human brain possesses zero pain receptors. But that doesn’t make you immune to headaches. You, me, and every other human out there has plenty of pain receptors in the tissues surrounding their brains. This includes tissues like your veins, arteries, sinuses, nerves, muscles, and even your teeth. (2)
While medical professionals know which tissues are able to register pain signals, they’re still stumped as to what may cause or trigger headaches and migraines. As it turns out, toxic molds found in water-damaged buildings may very well be an insidious cause of your headaches.
Meaning if you remove yourself from the moldy environment and follow the necessary steps to overcome toxic mold or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, you could be headache free for the rest of your life!
The dangerous world of toxic mold
In case you missed it in the above articles, mold is thought to be the underlying or root cause of many complex, poorly understood illnesses. Illnesses like: (3)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Gulf War Syndrome
- Multiple chemical sensitivities
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Another condition to add to the list now includes chronic headaches and migraines. Yes, toxic mold might be the root cause of your long-standing headaches or migraines.
Is mold actually dangerous?
There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding mold out there. If you visit one site, you’ll find that mold conveys no risk to your health. But a second site will say that mold is the cause of everything that ails you.
Like most reports in the health world, the truth lies in somewhere in the middle. No, mold is not the cause of everything that ails you. But it could be the cause of some of your conditions. And no, mold is not something that’s safe to be exposed to. Exposure to toxic mold may make you sick. Very sick. And toxic mold will make you even sicker if you have certain genes.
While it may not be common knowledge in your family doctor’s office, the general consensus is that mold and its mycotoxins are dangerous. Regardless of the genes you possess, if you live in a water-damaged building, mold will cause a swath of seemingly unrelated symptoms. Headaches could very well be one of those symptoms!
If you have the moldy genes and live in a water-damaged building, then mold exposure can morph into a condition known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). CIRS is no fad diagnosis. Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker spent the better part of his career developing a diagnostic and treatment picture for this illness.
In patients with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, headaches are a commonly reported symptom. So, whether you have CIRS or just exposure to mold, your headaches could be caused by this toxic fungus.
Sick buildings vs healthy buildings
A condition known as sick building syndrome (SBS) describes a medical condition where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason. (4) Sick building syndrome is thought to be present in nearly 30% of buildings. (5)
Exactly what it is that makes a building sick is still up for debate. The current hypothesis suggests that the primary culprit is heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. But there are other potential causes such as off-gassing of building materials and inadequate fresh air intake.
One known cause of sick building syndrome is mold. The percentage of sick buildings would be much higher if researchers included data from the EPA on water-damaged buildings. 50% of buildings – both residential and commercial – are estimated to have mold growth from water damage.
As I’ve written about in the past, properly identifying mold in your home or building is no easy task. All too often, mold growth occurs in areas you cannot see. Areas like HVAC systems, crawl spaces, attacks, and exhaust fans.
- Eye, nose, or throat irritation
- Neurotoxic effects (headaches, fatigue, irritability)
- Skin dryness and/or irritation
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Asthma-like symptoms (chest constriction, wheezing, etc.)
In most cases, symptoms improve after exiting a sick building. But if sick building syndrome illness is anything like toxic mold illness and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, we know that those with specific genetic mutations will experience symptoms whether they’re in the building or not.
If you only get headaches at work, it’s worth investigating the health of your company’s headquarters. A sick building and/or hidden growth of toxic mold could be the root cause of your headaches.
Your head + mold = pain
Let me be crystal clear, the connection between mold and headaches isn’t clearly established. If you’re a patient, be prepared to get a lot of pushback from your family physician. Mold illness still isn’t recognized as a disease, let alone a cause of headaches or migraines.
If you’re a practitioner, you’ll likely get a lot of pushback from your colleagues and respective colleges. In the context of headaches, we cannot conclusively say mold is the cause. But that’s no reason for you to give up on further investigating toxic mold illness and CIRS in your patient populations.
There have been studies published that do strongly show the connection between sick building syndrome and headaches/migraines. (8, 9, 10, 11, 12) What these studies don’t show is whether or not it’s mold that’s causing the headaches. It could be. But these studies did not isolate mold as the sole cause of headaches.
There are studies that show mold’s profoundly negative effect on the central nervous system (CNS). (13, 14) Headaches are, of course, one symptom strongly associated with central nervous system abnormalities. Mold has been found to enter the CNS through inhalation, IV drug use, surgery, and even via contaminated medical supplies. (15)
Another study found that those with irritation/inflammation of the mucous membranes inside their nose (a condition known as rhinitis) had a significantly higher prevalence of headaches and migraines. (16) Those with rhinitis have often had mold exposures. (17)
The key takeaway here is that there are a lot of signs that point in the direction of toxic mold be the cause of headaches. But at the time of this writing, we cannot conclusively say that mold causes headaches. Even though I’m confident it does!
Even more ways mold can affect your headaches
By now you should be suspicious of both your home and work environments. Both have a 50% chance of harboring molds and their dangerous mycotoxins. If either environment is water-damaged, then mold could very well be connected to your chronic headache or migraines.
Mold illness and CIRS both put the body into a state of chronic inflammation. (18) This state of elevated inflammation is thought to be a potential trigger for headaches. (19, 20) That’s right, the age-old cause of headaches and migraines – a malformation of the blood vessels in and around your brain – is being challenged. Perhaps inflammation is what causes these malformations in your blood vessels to occur in the first place.
Another potential trigger for headaches is asthma. Asthma increases your risk for headaches and migraines by 45%! (21) Mold has been linked to respiratory conditions like asthma for some time. (22, 23) It is thought that mold is responsible for more than 30% of all asthma cases. (24) Even conventional medicine recognizes that mold can be a potential cause of asthma and respiratory conditions!
If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s quite likely you’re dealing with inflammation of one form or another. Your chronic fatigue could also be caused by allergies. Those with CFS are far more likely to have allergic reactions. (25) And those with asthma are 60% more likely to have allergies. (26) Thus both asthma and inflammation could be other potential headache triggers.
The key takeaway of this post is that the common thread of every headache trigger discussed – whether its asthma, inflammation, sinus infections or sick buildings – is mold. Mold underlies the large majority of headache triggers. If you’re dealing with chronic headaches, investigating your home and work environments for mold is the perfect first step.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What triggers your headaches?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!
Also published on Medium.