How frequently do you get headaches? Are they a rare inconvenience that you sometimes contend with when you’ve spent too much time staring at your computer screen? Or are they a frequent issue that just seems to “act up” with little rhyme or reason?
At RealTime Laboratories, one question we sometimes get from clients is, “Can mold cause headaches?” The short answer is yes, headaches are a known symptom of toxic mold exposure—including exposure to stachybotrys chartarum, or black mold. Of course, the longer answer is a little more complicated…but it’s a lot more educational, to!
Pains in the Nose and Face
The main reason that mold exposure may cause headaches is because, more often than not, mold spores can irritate the respiratory system and cause problems with the immune system, which can in turn aggravate the sinuses. And anyone who contends with seasonal allergies on a regular basis and/or is hyper-sensitive to changes in barometric pressure will tell you that irritated sinuses can result in a whopping headache.
Sinus headaches usually feel like dull, constant pressure in your cheekbones, your forehead, the bridge of your nose, or your inner ears. In severe cases, folks may almost feel like something is trying to push one of their eyes out of its socket—and in very severe cases, a person may feel like their eye popping out would actually be a good thing, because at least then, they might experience some relief from the pressure in their skull!
(Nota bene: if your eye actually does pop out, please seek emergency medical treatment immediately. And, of course, you should always consult with a doctor, anyway, if you experience any kind of debilitating pain, especially in your cranium.)
The good news is that sinus headaches can typically be tamed with an over-the-counter painkiller, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Decongestants like pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can help reduce swelling in the nasal passages (and temporarily widen the Eustachian tubes in the ear), too, thus helping to reduce some of the pressure and curbing discomfort at its source.
Migraines and Chronic Headaches
It’s worth mentioning that migraine headaches are often mistaken for sinus headaches (the inverse is technically also possible, but much less common). If you experience any of the following symptoms along with your sinus headache, then you might not actually be experiencing a true sinus headache, after all:
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Pulsing or throbbing pain (instead of, or alongside, a sensation of pressure or a dull ache)
- Head pain that worsens with physical activity
It’s important to understand the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache so that you can take appropriate action. For example, nasal decongestants can actually be habit-forming, so it’s really not a great idea to take them if your headaches aren’t caused by sinus issues. Also, if you suffer from chronic headaches—that is, you have 15 or more headache “days” per month for a period lasting longer than six months, then sinus issues may not be the culprit, either.
So, let’s say you’ve eliminated the possibility that your frequent headaches are actually migraine headaches, and you’re sure that the root of your head pain is actually sinus issues. How do you know if exposure to mold is the culprit? Here are some clues to watch out for:
- The pain accompanies allergic reactions. Please note that, in this context, allergic reactions does not mean anaphylaxis linked to food allergies. Instead, we mean issues like a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, a scratchy throat, coughing and sneezing, etc.
- Your health problems seem to get worse when you’re indoors, or after you enter a specific building. Now, if you’re allergic to something outside (like ragweed or pollen), then chances are, coming indoors—where the air is filtered—won’t immediately relieve your symptoms 100%. But you should be suspicious if being indoors suddenly makes you feel worse. This could indicate that there’s mold in the building’s walls, carpeting, or heater / air conditioner, and that mold is what you’re reacting to. You should be especially suspicious if you feel fine at work or while running errands but start to feel pressure behind your eyes and a tickle in your throat a few minutes after entering your home.
Neither of the above scenarios should be considered proof-positive that there’s mold growth in your home or office. However, you definitely should take these factors into account when you’re trying to get to the bottom of your health woes and determining if mold spores and exposure to mold are the cause.
It’s almost the official start of spring, when many folks find themselves dealing with seasonal allergies and other illnesses. And while our immune systems are usually up to the task of keeping us healthy (or at least helping us recover from minor issues), even the most robust antibodies can sometimes struggle to fight off mold exposure symptoms. In some cases, one of those symptoms may just be an annoying pain in your head that prevents you from living your best life. When mold has you down, testing for household mold can put you on the right track to better health!