According to the World Health Organization, "Headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system," and over 50 percent of the population experiences them yearly. These aches can range from relatively annoying to completely debilitating and drastically alter an individual’s quality of life. The question is, what’s triggering that pain? Could the root cause be in our indoor environments? Can mold cause headaches?
The final question is one that not all people ponder. Unfortunately, our environments are rarely brought into the conversation when trying to determine a potential diagnosis. Could exposure to an indoor contaminant like mold be to blame?
When the average individual breathes 20,000 breaths per day and spends 90% of their time indoors, it just makes sense that we include environmental exposures in health and wellness conversations. Otherwise, countless individuals will continue to suffer from chronic symptoms like headaches. These adverse health reactions will persist (and potentially get worse) until the exposure stops and the body is given an opportunity to heal.
Hence the importance of knowing the answer to "Can mold cause headaches?"
Important Facts About Mold
Before getting into the answer to "Can mold cause headaches?" though, it’s important to understand the indoor contaminant itself and why there’s a possibility that it could be the culprit.
Mold is a type of fungus, with over 100,000 species identified by researchers so far. Each species reproduces by releasing microscopic particles called spores into the surrounding environment. It’s similar to how a dandelion releases those fluffy, white seeds, except spores are invisible to the naked eye. Some of these species also release microscopic toxins into the environment called mycotoxins.
One of the main keys to mold’s ability to impact health is the size of the particles involved. Measured in a unit called microns, these particles can be inhaled, absorbed, and ingested into the body. The EPA further classifies these types of particles as particulate matter and breaks them down into two categories.
These two categories are:
- PM10: particles that have a diameter of around 10 micrometers or less.
- PM2.5: fine particles that have a diameter of around 2.5 micrometers or less.
A common misconception is that since mold is everywhere, it’s not a big deal when it grows inside a home. That is not true.
Yes, we are exposed to all of these particles throughout our regular day while driving down the street, walking into work, and even hanging out in our homes. As we can’t put a bubble around ourselves or our indoor environments, it’s impossible to completely avoid coming into contact with some of the particles floating around. When this typically occurs, the body will tag these particles as foreign invaders and send the immune system to kick them to the curb.
An indoor contamination situation is not the same scenario. Thanks to modern building practices pushing for net-zero energy efficiency, there’s very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments. So, while particles from a mold colony outdoors have the entire world to disperse through, a majority of those from a colony indoors only have that enclosed space to blow around. The longer that contamination situation exists indoors, the more particles will build up in the room and the rest of the house as well.
- Lowers the indoor air quality
- Contaminates the surfaces within
- Increases the chances of another colony developing elsewhere in the home
Now, instead of a few particles here and there throughout the day, the body is tasked with fighting off an entire army of them. This can lead to the immune system getting bogged down and/or malfunctioning, opening the door to chronic symptoms. It can also allow autoimmune conditions to develop, such as Aspergillosis, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Mold and Health
One of the main issues with understanding mold exposure is the overall lack of research dedicated to this indoor contaminant. While studies have shown that exposure can trigger an array of symptoms, there’s still not enough information on just how much mold can affect human health.
To make matters more tricky, no two people respond to mold exposure the same way. One person may have an occasional sinus problem while another develops 14 symptoms that alter their day-to-day life.
Various factors play a role in making this such a difficult subject to nail down.
- Genetics (some individuals are more sensitive to mold)
- Number of species (over 100,000 and counting)
- Presence of mycotoxins (a toxic byproduct produced by some species of mold)
- Presence of bacteria (often found along with mold)
- Length of exposure
- Volume of exposure
Immune system status (those with compromised or developing immune systems are at greater risk of developing symptoms faster and to a greater extent)
Pointing this out shows that while society knows that mold exposure can have an effect on the body, there’s a question mark over "just how big can that effect be?" That can lead individuals struggling with chronic symptoms to ask questions like, "Can mold cause headaches?"
So, Can Mold Cause Headaches?
In short, yes, exposure can trigger adverse health reactions such as headaches or migraines, especially in those that are sensitive to mold. Again, the tricky part is that no two people react to exposure in the same way based on a few of the elements listed above. This means that someone could be experiencing headaches for a variety of reasons.
A few examples include:
- Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome: As inflammation in the body increases due to exposure to water-damaged buildings, it can trigger chronic symptoms such as headaches.
- Asthma-related symptoms: Inhaling these microscopic particles can result in a long list of respiratory issues, which can lead to inflammation and headaches. In fact, studies show that asthma increases your risk for headaches and migraines by 45%.
- Central nervous system response: Inflammation of the central nervous system can trigger headaches and is attributed to non-vascular intracranial disorders.
The list goes on for underlying reasons as to how mold can cause headaches in individuals suffering from exposure. While much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind this adverse health reaction, anyone experiencing chronic headaches with no clear underlying cause should always look to their environment as the potential trigger, particularly hypersensitive individuals.
Can Mold Cause Headaches? Yes. Is it Causing Your Chronic Pain?
Knowing the answer to "Can mold cause headaches?" is a phenomenal piece of awareness to have because you’ll look to your environment much more quickly for chronic symptoms with no clear trigger. The important thing to remember is that as long as the exposure continues, those symptoms will also persist because the body is constantly being bombarded with foreign particles. You can’t exactly heal in the environment that’s making you sick in the first place.
To determine if there’s a problem, your best bet is to test your dust.
Gravity brings particles like mold spores, mycotoxins, and endotoxins down to horizontal surfaces like floors, doorframes, and furniture. So basically, where dust collects, so do these indoor contaminants.
Testing this dust will help to determine exactly what’s hanging out in your home and potentially causing problems. Highly contaminated dust is not only a health hazard, as all of those particles can enter the body when they’re kicked up into the air when the dust is disturbed. It also indicates that there’s an underlying contamination problem somewhere in the home.
The Dust Test is the first stop on your journey to help improve indoor air quality in your home. It will help you know if there’s a problem before spending thousands of dollars trying to find one (both medically and in your home). And, if there is a problem, The Dust Test will indicate what you’re being exposed to before your inspector comes so that you can ensure they will find where it’s coming from.
If these results show an issue, you can bring in a mold inspector to better hone in on what’s going on inside your home.
What to Expect From a Mold Inspector
A qualified mold inspector sets the foundation for success in properly handling a contamination situation. All of the data they collect will help create the comprehensive protocol needed by the remediation team to appropriately handle the toxic situation.
When looking for an inspector, don’t be afraid to ask questions about their experience.
- What’s their track record?
- What training have they had?
- Are they skilled at helping hypersensitive individuals?
- What’s their process?
- What tests will they run?
- Do they have any limitations?
- Will they draft a protocol after assessing the data for the remediation team?
This will help shine a light on how seriously they take this issue and ensure that the process is thorough enough to resolve the contamination situation.
A qualified mold inspector should tick a few boxes when answering these questions. For example, a proper inspection should then take a few hours at a minimum and use a variety of methodologies.
Some of the testing data you should expect to see are:
- Species of mold present
- Quantities of each mold
- Potential spore presence in the HVAC system
- Presence of mycotoxins
- Presence of bacteria
All of this information is needed to understand what’s actually existing in the home so that they can create the right protocol for the unique situation. If other contaminants such as mycotoxins and bacteria are present, the remediation protocol will need to address this. Should spores make their way into the HVAC, this will need to be remedied. Otherwise, those particles will blow all over the home and could turn into a new mold colony.
Successful remediation requires every piece of the puzzle to fit together correctly in order to decontaminate a home.
With These Results
Knowing who to hire for a mold inspection sets up an excellent foundation for remediation that’s successful. After the inspector comes in and collects data, your next step is to find a remediation team to come in and get rid of that contamination. Like mold inspectors, though, not all remediation teams are built the same.
Again, you want a company that prioritizes your health, understands the importance of creating a safe environment, and is confident that they can properly remediate the space. Make sure to ask as many questions as possible to thoroughly assess whether or not they can do the job and do it correctly. Do they have experience helping hypersensitive individuals? Are they confident they can remove mycotoxins, a toxic byproduct of some mold species? What’s their success rate like? If post-testing still shows high levels of contamination, what’s their next move?
This will give you a baseline for what to expect from the company. Another point you should look for is how thorough their remediation process is.
At its heart, a remediation team bent on success should always adhere to three pillars for success.
- Remediate the sources properly.
- Identify and address the problems that led to those sources in the first place.
- Eradicate all contamination created by those sources, including toxins and bacteria.
Failure to hit every point can lead to failed remediation. If the source that led to the contamination isn’t addressed, the conditions for growth are still there, allowing the problem to come right back. High levels of contamination left behind can lead to continued exposure. This includes mycotoxins and bacteria, which can be removed from the space. It requires a thorough decontamination process to deal with these hard-to-eliminate particles, but it is possible.
Once the remediation is complete, the mold inspector should then come back in and complete post-testing to ensure the job was done correctly. If a company does not agree with this, they are not the company for you.
Gathering this information will not only give you peace of mind knowing that they’ll do everything in their power to remediate your home, but you’ll also know that they’re in your corner fighting for a healthy home. When it comes to dealing with mold, that’s one of the most important things for winning the battle and getting rid of this fungus among us.
Keeping a Clear Head
At the end of the day, no one wants to deal with chronic headaches. They get in the way of our daily lives, and they’re just plain uncomfortable. While it’s easy to take a pain reliever to kick that headache to the curb, we need to start asking ourselves what is causing that discomfort.
Lack of water, changes in sleep, or high levels of stress could be the cause, but it’s important to always factor in your environment as well. You never know if high levels of contaminants and poor indoor air quality could be the root cause triggering your body to sound that alarm that something is wrong. It’s our job to listen to this signal and work to figure out what’s causing our immune system to go on the fritz.
Health begins at home.™
Still Have Questions?
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