Headache Causes in the Home

For some headache sufferers, the one place in which they often assume they are safe--their own home--is actually the site triggering their headache pain. Whether they contract an infection from a pet or the problem is a family member smoking indoors, headaches can take root under their own roof.

Some innocent-looking homes have insidious headache triggers.


Many people enjoy sharing their lives with pets. However, pets may carry diseases leading to headaches in humans. In their article on bird diseases, Keels S. Jorn, M.D., and colleagues note pet birds can cause disease to their estimated 6 million owners in the United States. For example, the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum is transmitted by doves and pigeons and is present in their droppings. Of the approximately 10 percent of exposed humans who develop symptoms from this infection, they report headaches, fever, chills and chest pain.

Birds may also transmit Q fever, an infection causing severe headache, fever and photophobia, which is sensitivity to light. In the worst cases, meningitis and hepatitis may develop, according to Jorn and colleagues. They note bird owners can keep their bird friends as long as they wash their hands regularly, maintain good sanitation and take the bird to the veterinarian regularly. It is also a good idea for individuals to wear masks while cleaning the cage.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

If anyone in the home is a smoker, everyone who lives there is affected by the environmental tobacco smoke, known as ETS. In a study of home exposure to ETS among 16,000 men and 26,000 women who never smoked, C. Iribarren and colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine found a link with health problems.

Among men, the researchers found an increasing risk for severe headache with more hours of home exposure to ETS. For example, 7.9 percent of the men had severe headaches with no exposure to ETS. Of men exposed to ETS from one to nine hours per week, the rate of severe headaches rose to 9.4 percent. It increased to 13.8 percent for men exposed to ETS for 40 or more hours.

Among women, 17.4 percent had severe headaches with no ETS exposure at home. This rate increased to 20.7 percent for women exposed to one to nine hours per week of ETS and to 28.4 percent for women exposed to 40 or more hours per week of ETS.


In their article on migraines and the environment, Deborah I. Friedman, M.D., and Timothy De Ver Dye, Ph.D., note that mold causes a higher percentage of headaches, as well as trouble concentrating, in women than men. They noted that molds produce substances that generate pungent odors, and it may be the individual's response to the odor that triggers headaches.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises in its booklet on cleaning up mold in the home to wear a respirator mask, long gloves that go up to the the forearm and goggles with no ventilation holes.

Home Computer

Friedman and De Ver Dye note that working at the computer triggered headaches in 14.5 percent of one group and aggravated existing headaches in nearly a third of other subjects with chronic migraines. In addition to headaches, some individuals develop neck and shoulder pain working at their computers.

They also found individuals using a computer for more than five hours are more likely to develop headaches and back pain, stiff shoulders and other physical symptoms.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, thousands of people go to hospital emergency rooms for headache, fatigues, dizziness and shortness of breath. Fireplaces, portable generators and charcoal burned inside the house can cause carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. Some individuals leave cars running in their garages, and, even if the garage is open, this is dangerous and can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

John N. Kirkpatrick, M.D., analyzed blood levels of individuals suspected of having carbon monoxide poisoning. He found 15 patients were exposed to defective gas furnaces, seven to malfunctioning automobile exhausts, three to malfunctioning oil furnaces and one to a defective exhaust system in a bus.

In one case, a husband and wife failed to show up for an engagement, so a friend checked on them and found them unconscious. The friend called the fire department, which found the family's fireplace was full of soot and unable to vent properly. The couple was treated with oxygen and hyperbaric oxygen for both acute and chronic carbon monoxide poisoning.

The doctor noted the problem with carbon monoxide poisoning may become worse as more people try to insulate their homes better to save money.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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