How is my house making me, my girlfriend, and my dogs sick?
October 2, 2008 7:46 AM   Subscribe

We've seen doctors, home inspectors, alternative medicine practitioners and we've got nothing.

This is a 1924 freestanding house in Baltimore is occupied by a 30something couple and two dogs. When we're at home for extended periods, each of us, including the animals, get sick. We have been trying to solve this problem for two years. We did not make any major modifications to the house around the time our illnesses began.

When we're away from home-- especially when the humans are traveling and the dogs are at the kennel or a neighbor's home), the symptoms lessen and at times go away (this relief happens on both business and pleasure travel).

You're not my doctor. You're not my home inspector. We have not been afraid to consult professionals liberally. All together, we've seen GPs, allergists, neurologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and, of course, veterinarians. No one has an explanation.

My symptoms include headache, lightheadedness, and backache.

The girlfriend has headache and muscle twitching in her arms and legs.

Dog #1 has very noticeably swollen lymph nodes.

Dog #2 has a consistently runny nose. Like, every day, all the time runny nose, always the same nostril.

We've had the home inspected by three different companies, each doing air sampling and mold testing. The house comes up clean for mold (not 0 levels, but no levels or species that our various home inspectors considered significant). We have had the home tested for carbon monoxide levels and natural gas leaks. Also clean.

Does anybody in the hive mind have suggestions about what we might be facing, or what expert we might need to contact next? Any help at all is greatly appreciated.
posted by baltimoretim to Health & Fitness (76 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have oak trees around your house, or any large swaths of vegetation that could be triggering allergies? My husband, myself and my cat have experienced something similar, and we believe it's due to the seven oak trees within a 14ft. radius of the house - my cousins rented this place before we bought it, and they both had an oak allergy diagnosed a year into living here.
posted by annathea at 7:57 AM on October 2, 2008


When you start entering your 30s you suddenly get stuff like random aches, headaches, and back pains. There might not be any environmental factors here, you're just getting old.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:04 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


One more thing: Did you get your car checked? Car mold can be a problem for some people. In fact, cars are pretty filthy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2008


Have you had your water tested?
posted by boba at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2008


We have had our cars checked out by a mechanic. And we get better even on driving vacations when we take a car with us.
posted by baltimoretim at 8:13 AM on October 2, 2008


We have had the water tested, at the very beginning of our investigation (about 2 years ago). The lab report showed it checked out clean.

We have, over the years we've owned the house, had a few instances of dirty water coming from our taps, but those have been rare and usually tied to specific work the city was doing on the mains in our area.
posted by baltimoretim at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2008


CO poisoning

You had CO (carbon monoxide) checks done, but it appears the human symptoms do generally match those of CO poisioning ... could it be there's some equipment (furnace?) that comes on periodically and emits CO but was turned off when the inspection was done? Or that they didn't check the entire house?

What about installing your own CO monitor?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 8:25 AM on October 2, 2008


We have had the house inspected in the fall, winter, and spring. In each case, the inspector has asked us to turn on the heat (sometimes the heat had already been running that day). We have also run the hot water heater during the inspections.

I agree that the CO possibility is tantalizing, to the point that we have two separate home CO detectors. But neither those detectors nor any of the home inspectors' professional gear has ever picked up any CO in the house.

Tricky, isn't it?
posted by baltimoretim at 8:34 AM on October 2, 2008


Have you had the soil itself tested for toxins and other chemicals?

When the home was inspected, can we assume it was declared free of any asbestos insulation? Has the home ever been re-insulated? Some of the blown-in-the-wall stuff that contractors used back in the 70s and 80s could contain some rather toxic chemicals.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:42 AM on October 2, 2008


If you're looking for another expert to consult, you could try The Real Dr. House (Discover magazine article). And here's Dr. Bolte's own website. Sounds right up his alley.

It's not clear from your question, but did the onset of symptoms begin when you moved into this house, or have you lived there a while and the symptoms began two years ago? The answer would eliminate some possible causes.

And in a totally IANAD moment, the twitching you mention reminds me of something about MS. I know that some kinds of MS can be triggered environmentally (without anything being obviously "wrong" with your surroundings) and shared between spouses, sometimes termed "conjugal multiple sclerosis." Not sure how or if it might extend to canines. Good luck!
posted by cocoagirl at 8:45 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


We haven't had a soil test. Are there specific things we should test for?

The home is asbestos-free. I do not know if it has been reinsulated, but will check into that. We've had the home for about 10 years and only had problems in the last two, and we haven't touched the insulation, so I had been ruling that out. Could there be a delayed-release mechanism at work with the insulation?
posted by baltimoretim at 8:47 AM on October 2, 2008


Living in a house that you think is making you ill will definitely make you feel ill. The human symptoms seem completely consistent with stress and anxiety. Everybody gets headaches, backaches and muscle twitches occasionally; but once you start looking for it and attributing a specific cause, you'll notice it a whole lot more. It's a type of confirmation bias.

I'm not saying that this is what's happening. At least consider it as a possibility in the same way you considered all the other possible causes. You're obviously very invested in finding out the cause - you've spent plenty of time and money trying to do that. But you seem to be taking the lack of cause as proof that something's been missed. And maybe it has, but you've seen "GPs, allergists, neurologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and, of course, veterinarians" who can't find anything and neither can "three different companies, each doing air sampling and mold testing". To me, it seems much more likely that your symptoms are caused by stress and anxiety than they are by something unusual enough to be missed by all these people.

I doubt this is going to be a suggestion you like, but maybe you could see a psychologist or a therapist? Look at it this way: You've consulted all these other specialists - explore this possibility too.
posted by xchmp at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


This reminded me of a professor of mine who went through a real ordeal figuring out a similar health issue with his house/family. Turned out it was carbon *DI*oxide poisoning, much less common than CO poisoning. Not a complete match to all the symptoms you mentioned, but something to consider if it hasn't been already. Good luck.
posted by sapere aude at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2008


cocagirl - The rheumatologist ruled out MS, thank God. It was a concern.

I'm sorry I didn't include the extended timeline in the question, but we've lived in the house for about ten years and have only had problems for the last two. Thanks for the links.
posted by baltimoretim at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2008


xchmp - Thanks for the answer, and we've definitely thought about stress and potential psychological causes of our illnesses. Your answer will prompt me to consider that angle again.

The persistence and coincidence of the animals' illnesses with ours has caused me to discount the psychological possibilities a lot, though. I see the life my mutts lead, and I can assure you, it's pretty stress-free.
posted by baltimoretim at 8:55 AM on October 2, 2008


sapere aude - that's something I hadn't considered. I'll look into it!

Does anyone else have these odd angles for me to consider? I really appreciate the help.
posted by baltimoretim at 8:56 AM on October 2, 2008


Our family dog had a runny nose her whole life. Look, no house goes from fine to borderline unlivable in two years. You'd have a stronger case if you just moved in. Obviously, you have a lot invested in finding some mystery cause. No one is going to turn down your money to find some mystery cause, especially if its profitable. I hope you find it, but I wouldnt be surprised if all of this is a mix of confirmation bias, getting old, and being stressed.

FWIW, I'm your age and as I am sitting here and am wearing little pads in my shoes to help with leg and back soreness. My gf both twitch sometimes for no reason in bed. I dont sleep as well as I used to and that leads to fatigue. I also have sleep apnea which leads to more fatigue. It just happens. No one likes being told they are a borderline hypochondriac, but people do become hypochondriacs all the time.

Regardless, good luck in your search. Who knows what it could be, but at this point it seems youve exhausted all your options and moving is the next logical step if you honestly dont think its bias, aging, and stress.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:03 AM on October 2, 2008


Lastly, I just re-read your question. Did you check your mattress for allergens? Bedbugs? How old is your mattress?
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:09 AM on October 2, 2008


The Earth is an electromagnetic body, with its own electromagnetic grid pattern. The most important is called the First Global Grid, or Hartmann Grid or Net, comprised of parallel energy waves rising vertically from the ground. Dr.Hartmann, a German doctor, describes them as alternatively positive and negative, running from north to south and from east to west. He found that they are 4ins. (1 0cms) wide and 38yds (35m) apart in Switzerland. The distances differ from area to area.

Dr. Hartmann believes that where two of what he calls 'negative' lines cross (Hartmann knot), irritations of the nervous system and rheumatic illnesses can occur. He states that twelve hours prior to an earthquake, weak secondary rays can be found, one on each side of the main wave, gathering in strength until they are the same as the central one.

More on this here
posted by watercarrier at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's in the neighborhood? Any factories, etc.? Maybe a garage, or something emitting paint fumes?

Neighbors spraying chemicals on their lawns, or retreating trees for whatnot?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:20 AM on October 2, 2008


damn dirty ape - thanks for the contributions. A few months ago a friend suggested the mattress could be a problem, and ours was about 10 years old, so we replaced both it, the box springs, and the pillows. No change.

I understand your idea about aches-and-pains creeping in naturally with age. I have also considered hypochondria along with stress and other psychological explanations, and will do so again.

But the facts have seemed to me to line up against a psychological explanation. We get better when we leave the house and worse when we're in it, and that pattern works for both the humans and the animals involved.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:25 AM on October 2, 2008


Any new furniture or bulky textiles you've purchased in the last 2 years? If you have a basement and use it for storage it might be worth it to rent a storage unit and move stuff from the basement to it for a month to see if that improves anything. Did you have any sewer/plumbing work done about 2 years ago where the plumber might have neglected to install a proper P trap?

You're basically left, at this point, unless you start removing things from the environment with going back and creating a diary and timeline of purchases/changes around when these issues showed up.

I'd also do a nice drive around the area and see if anything looks interesting or new (dry cleaning plant, chemical processor/etc).

If you have a friend in the immediate neighborhood see if you can stay with them for a few days and determine if the your symptoms drive down a bit, if they do then you're likely working with something in the immediate household and you've limited area effects.
posted by iamabot at 9:26 AM on October 2, 2008


A Terrible Llama - We're in a pretty standard residential neighborhood a few blocks off of a major north-south artery. We've got a school bordering one part of our property, but no factories. The nearest gas station is blocks away.

I'll think about changes in the local flora tonight, but off the top of my head there hasn't been anything major.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:30 AM on October 2, 2008


Have you tested for Radon Gas?

Do other people or animals get sick when they come to your house?

How long does it take for you to feel sick after coming home from a trip?

Does this happen inside the house only, or in the yard as well?
posted by Vaike at 9:30 AM on October 2, 2008


Is the wind blowing fumes at you from the North South artery?

Could traffic have increased on it in the last two years (like maybe something else shut down, so more people are driving on it?)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2008


Carpeting installed a couple years ago? Any new particle board furniture in that timeframe? I'm wondering about off-gassing of formaldehyde - something that might not show up in any inspection but which might be irritating. How about insulation? What have you done or had done to the house? That might give clues.
posted by leslies at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2008


iamabot - Thanks for the great suggestions - we haven't made any plumbing modifications in the past few years. The home inspectors who have come in have all visually inspected the plumbing (especially in the basement), and they say it checks out.

We have already taken one piece of your advice and stayed with friends in the neighborhood (just three doors down) as a trial. We did find that we felt better, per the usual pattern. You would think that this helps rule out the "area effects" that you and a terrible llama suggested?
posted by baltimoretim at 9:37 AM on October 2, 2008


Vaike - Thanks for the questions! Here are my answers.

Have you tested for Radon Gas? Only when we bought the house around 10 years ago. It was negative, obviously. Should we retest?

Do other people or animals get sick when they come to your house? No. We haven't been having much company over since we've been having problems, which is a real pain because we love hosting. Since our problems started, if people do come over, they're only inside for a short while (30 minutes or less) before we go out.

How long does it take for you to feel sick after coming home from a trip? I haven't timed this. My initial reaction is one to two hours.

Does this happen inside the house only, or in the yard as well? Inside only.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:43 AM on October 2, 2008


leslies - More great questions! Here are some answers:

We have hardwood floors throughout. About nine months before our initial symptoms, we had the downstairs floors sanded and refinished. This is probably the most major thing we've done to the interior of the house since we bought it.

We have repainted the exterior twice, and our symptoms did begin right before that second repainting. I dismissed that as a coincidence, given that the timeframe doesn't exactly match up, and we used the same brand and type of paint both times we repainted and didn't have a problem the first time. We have been tested and do not have latex allergies.

We did not buy any new furniture before our problems started. We have, very recently, replaced our bed and our sofa.

I do not know much about the insulation in the house. I do know that we haven't made any changes to it in the ten years we've owned the house.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:51 AM on October 2, 2008


A Terrible Llama - we are on the east side of the artery, and the wind does blow towards us. We have several blocks of houses between us and the exhaust, though. My daily commute does take me on that street twice, and I haven't noticed an uptick in traffic. I wonder if there's a better method of gauging that traffic?
posted by baltimoretim at 9:53 AM on October 2, 2008


Have you tested for Radon? I am doubting that is the problem, but you may as well test for it since you have run everything else.

When you return home, who or what starts to exhibit symptoms more quickly? What does this person do differently? Where does this person spend most of his/her time in/around the house?

I think you have to start looking on a more macro scale. What happened in your town two years ago? What was built, what was knocked down, what roads opened, what forests were cleared, etc. What new business opened up nearby? Were there changes in flight patterns? What changed at your jobs two years ago?

I agree with the above advice to stay somewhere outside the house but nearby to see if your symptoms abate. Then you'll have a better idea of the scale you are dealing with.
posted by mikepop at 10:02 AM on October 2, 2008


Derail: damn dirty ape: "My gf both twitch sometimes for no reason in bed."

That's very common, and is called a hypnic jerk.

posted by WCityMike at 10:03 AM on October 2, 2008


Food? People tend to vary their diets when they're away on holiday etc.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:07 AM on October 2, 2008


At this point, I would look into behavioral causes, vs psychological causes.

Meaning, what do you do when you're at home that you usually don't do when you're away from home?


Example: I only watch TV at home. It gives me eyestrain and headaches. I might think it was my house, when really it's watching TV.

Maybe the dogs are carrying an allergen or irritant on their fur, as you get better when they're in a kennel. Maybe you use the computer too much when you're at home, or have a bad desk setup. Etc.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:18 AM on October 2, 2008


Static Vagabond - That's a possibility. At home, we usually cook for ourselves. She's a vegetarian, I'm a carnivore, and the dogs often get table scraps (even the veggies). So for food, we could rule out improper meat preparation ('cause she won't go near it), and fruit (the dogs never eat fruit). For this discussion, we can rule in veggies.

Many veggies live in the fridge. All veggies get washed with water from the kitchen sink. The water has been tested and is clean.

The fridge? It gets cleaned periodically. I don't think we overtax it. It gets cold--nothing goes bad abnormally quickly. I'll take a look at it tonight and see if anything nasty is hiding in there.
posted by baltimoretim at 10:18 AM on October 2, 2008


How much scraping was done with the exterior paint job? Signs of lead paint poisoning include some on your list, I don't think these persist for two years, though, but I'm not an expert and timing-wise it lines up.
* Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
* Muscular weakness
* Headache
* Abdominal pain
* Memory loss
* Mood disorders
* Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm

Radon - I don't think radon poisoning has any symptoms but wouldn't hurt to retest.
Allergies - you could both (all) just be mildly allergic to something that's relatively benign.
Family history - anything similar in your families or anything dissimilar that has an onset at roughly your age?
Eating/exercise patterns - did you have any changes to these patterns that might be affecting you? Change grocery stores? It could be something as imperceptible as your regular store changing a supplier of something that you eat regularly. Try eliminating things via an allergy-diet and see if that helps anything.
Baltimore/DC area - Have you looked into any clusters of illnesses that show up in your area more than in other populations? A quick call to Johns Hopkins might yield something. I know, for instance, that breast cancer shows up a lot in populations along Cape Cod and Long Island. Maybe coming at it from a larger scale would give some useful routes to pursue.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2008


1)If the problem is coming from inside the house I'd expect your symptoms to get worse in the winter when the house is closed up. If this is true then I think the next step might be to spend a couple hundred bucks on a portable hepa-filter for your bedroom. If you feel an improvement, then it would suggest that it's a particle allergy and a larger, furnace-type filter would be a good investment.
2)If not, it could be chemical. It's possible that your house has an old oil heating tank buried in the yard somewhere that has finally rusted through and is seeping into the soil beneath your home. If that's the case, it would make sense to spot test the soil below your basement floor rather that the soil in our yard (because you'd probably have to dig pretty deep to get an accurate sample).
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2008


sondrialiac - That's helpful. So, to test for dog-related causes we can send the dogs away for a few days, stay home, and see what happens. We'll try that.

If we rule out the dogs' presence as the problem (and we already know that we're not allergic to dog fur, and I assume that they're not allergic to themselves), then we would need to look for behaviors that the humans and the dogs have in common in the house, right? That would seem to rule out most ergonomic explanations, but might back up Static Vagabond's suggestion that food/eating is a possibility.
posted by baltimoretim at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2008


.....oh, and if I were testing for soil contamination I'd make sure there wasn't a paper trail that proved I had any knowledge of it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2008


cocoagirl - This last paint job was the second we'd done. The only paint that got scraped off was newish latex (lead-free) exterior from the late nineties, and the layer below that was tested for lead when we bought the house and is also lead-free.

Thanks for the "cluster" suggestion! I'll see what info I can get from Hopkins.
posted by baltimoretim at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2008


bonobothegreat - We have central air and had our system replaced (including the ductwork) last April.

We built a HEPA filter into the system then, and also added on a UV light to further clean the air. After running this for weeks at the outset and all of summer's regular use, we feel no change.

That's an interesting idea about soil testing. I'll look into it.
posted by baltimoretim at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2008


My allergies were the worst ever this year, as in I took time off from work whereas before I barely ever got a sniffle. So I called the local AAAAI testing center to ask what was up and they told me a few things. First, Elm trees have been breading like mad over the past two years, which is odd since they were supposed to be dying off. The scientists were actually a little baffled about where all the pollen was coming from. Secondly, they are seeing changes in the trees all over, with traditionally colder areas supporting warmer trees. If you've any Juniper trees or saplings around, like Cedar, all gloves are off. Almost everyone shows a reaction to their pollen and if they're moving in, that might just be it.

I'd see if you can find a naturalist at a local uni or environmental society come have a peak and tell you what they see.

Also, purely for the sake of dilligent science, I'd do whatever you need to do to get rid of the symptoms and then come back home and keep a detailed journal of where you were and what you were doing. Repeat this, changing things little by little till you've got a source narrowed down. Since the time period is so short, can you sit outside in a chair reading a book? That'd tell if you if was the non-House environment pretty quickly.
posted by jwells at 10:39 AM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


check for termites. they produce napthalene which is nasty.
posted by jaded at 10:55 AM on October 2, 2008


jwells - We actually have a civil engineer who is a pretty good naturalist in our neighborhood. I'll bring him a six-pack tonight and get him to assess the area. Thanks for the tip!
posted by baltimoretim at 10:55 AM on October 2, 2008


jaded - Interesting. The home inspectors didn't find evidence of current termite activity, but the house did have termite remediation done before we bought it.
posted by baltimoretim at 10:59 AM on October 2, 2008


Lifestyle changes such as staying indoors more (fear of crime; working too much) and drinking less fortified milk (vegetarians) are causing more people to be low in vitamin D these days.

I know lack of vitamin D can be one cause of twitching.

I wonder if you can't get the dogs up on some kind of raised platform to sleep. Maybe they are getting too much dust in their face if they sleep on the floor?

Have you tried anti-headache diets which means avoiding -

MSG, red wine, cream cheese, sour cream, rye, caraway seeds, sharp cheddar cheese, ricotta cheese, sardines, vinegar, yogurt, aged cheeses, chocolate, caffeine, beer, anything fermented or aged (aged cheeses, for instance), cultured yogurts, nitrates.
posted by cda at 11:05 AM on October 2, 2008


If we rule out the dogs' presence as the problem (and we already know that we're not allergic to dog fur, and I assume that they're not allergic to themselves), then we would need to look for behaviors that the humans and the dogs have in common in the house, right? That would seem to rule out most ergonomic explanations, but might back up Static Vagabond's suggestion that food/eating is a possibility.

You're assuming that you're all having the same problem. The dogs might simply have minor problems that exist when they're outside the house, but aren't bad enough for other people to notice them.

You, your girlfriend, and your dogs could all be doing individual things that contribute to the problem. Here's a hypothetical:

You: Bad posture, don't drink enough water when you're busy and distracted

Her: Stressed and your bed pinches a nerve in her back

Dog 1: Has a secret stash of dead, insecticide-poisoned bugs to chomp on

Dog 2: One side of his nose is runny for no reason
posted by sondrialiac at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2008


sondrialiac - I agree that it is possible that we have four separate problems. I'm assuming we all have the same problem because 1) the onset of all the symptoms listed occurred in a four week window straddling August and September 2006 and 2) all of the symptoms get appreciably better at once, when we leave the house.

And if Dog 1 has a secret stash of anything, it's barks. Though she's willing to share.
posted by baltimoretim at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2008


cda - Thanks for the suggestions. We have explored Vitamin D and calcium deficiency (consulting a nutritionist along the way), and those levels checked out OK. I was surprised to learn that calcium helps maintain the nervous system as well as build bone.

Per your dog-sleep-platform idea, Dog 1 is small and sleeps on furniture already. Dog 2 is large and not allowed on the furniture. So they already have different sleep "levels" (no marketing pun intended, but there it is anyway).

We have not tried anti-headache diets.
posted by baltimoretim at 11:27 AM on October 2, 2008


I read a recent article suggesting that MS & MS like symptoms can be exacerbated by lack of Vitamin D. I see you addressed that nutritionally, but the article was specific about getting Vitamin D from sunshine. Is it possible that when you travel you're getting more sun, and that's why you feel better?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2008


Since you refinished your hardwood floors a few months before the symptoms began, could you be having a chemical sensitivity to something there? This link goes into the symptoms of "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity," and they do seem to match your description. I'm not sure if the symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity would last this long but it's a possibility.
posted by 3fluffies at 12:03 PM on October 2, 2008


pseudostrabismus - That's a possibility, and I can't say for sure if we're getting more sun on the road or not. Stacked against that hypothesis a bit is the fact that we feel better even locally as long as we're out of the house (we stayed with friends down the street for a while and felt an improvement).

The dogs do not travel with us, always stay local at an indoor kennel, and get better in the process. A super-quick google shows that there isn't conclusive science on animals and vitamin D deficiency.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:14 PM on October 2, 2008


3fluffies - thanks for the link. I've gotten less and less suspicious of the hardwood floor finish as time has gone on. Every knowledgeable person I've asked has said that the finish would have cured by now and should not be a problem, even if we were sensitive to it in the beginning (which we weren't--we didn't have symptoms until about 9 months after the refinish).
posted by baltimoretim at 12:16 PM on October 2, 2008


Black Hat Feng Shui !
posted by hortense at 12:29 PM on October 2, 2008


I'd be pretty sceptical of suggestions like lead poisoning, since you say you feel better soon after leaving home. Heavy metal poisoning or any condition caused by a long-term buildup of something would not get better in a day or two.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:33 PM on October 2, 2008


hortense - That's just fun to say. blackhatfungshui. That should be a band name.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:33 PM on October 2, 2008


i_am_joe's_spleen - That's a helpful tip. Ruling things out is easily as important as ruling them in.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2008


I find something similar.

I get backaches and things at home.

When I go traveling on business, my aches and pains go away. But then, I'm getting more exercise, trolling through airports, walking along hotel corridors, lugging cases, etc. A lot of these things you might think at first glance would *cause* backache. But they don't. They alleviate it.

Maybe you're getting more exercise away from the house.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 12:58 PM on October 2, 2008


Have you had the air tested specifically for volatile organic chemicals? One suspect would be formaldehyde (such as offgassing from the new couch and bed, though I realize you had symptoms before you got them). You can get your own indoor air quality monitor for not much money, so you can sample the air at different times & places cheaply. I'm happy with the Oregon Scientific monitor that I got, though that model doesn't appear to be available anymore. It exuberantly warned me that the comforter cover that I had bought was gushing out formaldehyde.

It's my understanding that a HEPA filter doesn't do anything to reduce VOCs. In fact, when I had an air filter, the stinky offgassing from all the plastic involved, including the filter, made me feel sick. It was cranky out vinyl while filtering allergens.
posted by PatoPata at 1:08 PM on October 2, 2008


PatoPata - We have not had the air sampled for VOCs. Amazon has this Oregon Scientific unit available. Does it look similar to the one you like? Thanks.
posted by baltimoretim at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2008


Ask your neighbors if the people who owned the house before you ever mentioned anything similar to what you're experiencing. Find out about those owners in general, too, like what kinds of repairs & upgrades they made, and whether they tended to take shortcuts, etc.

Being a 1924 house, it was most likely heated with oil at some point--if it isn't still. Is there an old oil tank anywhere on the property? Very common in Baltimore city.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:16 PM on October 2, 2008


The monitor I have has a different, more rectangular housing and is black, but the display is the same and the description sounds like my product.
posted by PatoPata at 1:18 PM on October 2, 2008


ImproviseOrDie - We are still oil heated, and have radiators throughout the house. We have had the basement-dwelling oil tank checked out (the company did an ultrasound!) and it passed--no leaks. The boiler doesn't throw off any CO while running.

We don't know a whole lot about the previous owners--I'll ask around, but we've been in the house for about a decade and this neighborhood had a lot of turnover during the housing bubble. There aren't too many people left who would remember the former owners.
posted by baltimoretim at 1:24 PM on October 2, 2008


PatoPata - I just bought one of those models off of ebay. Thanks for the tip, and cross your fingers!
posted by baltimoretim at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2008


If the dogs get well when they stay at the neighbors', that seems to point to a localized effect. Might it be worth it to experimentally change which room you sleep in, to see if the symptoms get better or worse? Even if they get worse it could be indicative of what the cause of the problem is.

Perhaps another experiment could be to set up a temporary or permanent dog house in the yard, and keep the dogs outdoors more of the time, and see if this changes things.
posted by XMLicious at 2:36 PM on October 2, 2008


Sounds like Sick building syndrome. I'd second the suggestion to check for VOC's. Good luck!
posted by greatgefilte at 2:39 PM on October 2, 2008


XMLicious - We have tried sleeping in different rooms, and have not noticed a difference. I agree that the beneficial effects of staying with neighbors seems to localize the cause.
posted by baltimoretim at 3:10 PM on October 2, 2008


Where are your carbon monoxide detectors? CO sinks, so they should be low to the ground.
posted by Airhen at 4:12 PM on October 2, 2008


Airhen One is in the kitchen and one is near our fireplace. Both are units that plug directly into the wall. We have moved them around, too, sometimes in the basement, sometimes in the bedroom. They have digital readouts on the front, and neither of them has ever picked up anything.
posted by baltimoretim at 4:20 PM on October 2, 2008


Oops, sorry, I meant where on the wall. The units should be close to the floor, but since they plug directly in, I assume they are (unless your plugs are high).
posted by Airhen at 5:25 PM on October 2, 2008


airhen - Sorry, I could have been clearer--they are plugged into outlets near the floor.
posted by baltimoretim at 6:06 PM on October 2, 2008


What about dishes or cookware? Some ceramic glazes can have high lead levels. Uncoated copper pots can cause trouble as well. Have you had your blood lead levels tested?
posted by electroboy at 7:54 PM on October 2, 2008


With the temperatures moderating this fall, why not try something pretty cheap and easy, which should eliminate any airborne causes for your ills? I'm talking about totally replacing the atmosphere in your home. Buy (or rent) a couple of huge fans capable of moving a significant amount of air. Pick a nice, clear autumn day with a good breeze and low humidity, open up the house completely (windows and doors), and use the fans to help the breeze completey blow out the house. Pay particular attention to getting the basement air replaced.

After a total air exchange, you can probably safely assume that any in-home source of atmospheric pollutants has been temporarily alleviated. If you find yourselves feeling better for a few hours, then experiencing worsening symptoms shortly after the house is closed up again, I'd strongly suspect outgassing or some other internal, atmospheric source.
posted by dinger at 6:44 AM on October 3, 2008


If you figure this out I hope you post an update!

I'd be interested to hear how this turns out, and whether the testing turns anything up.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:34 AM on October 3, 2008


If the symptoms dont significantly decrease or go away completely in the winter then its not a plant/pollen/allergy issue.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:35 AM on October 3, 2008


I will post an update once we get this figured out. I hope that's sometime very soon, because this has already taken far too long.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:14 PM on October 3, 2008


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