What in my new apartment is making my skin itch?
August 14, 2009 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Am I allergic to my apartment? If not it, what?

I moved two weeks ago and about one week after being in the new apartment, my legs started to itch like crazy below the knee. Every once in awhile my arms will itch as well, but it's mostly the legs. There is no rash, but occasionally I lose it and itch until the skin is bumpy or bleeds. I am almost positive this is because of something in my apartment, because I don't really have this problem when I'm at work or stay at my boyfriend's apartment.

I've tried switching to a hypoallergenic detergent, washing all my bedding, and cleaning up dust, etc. The apartment was very clean when we moved in and, as previously stated, I went a solid week without having problems. All the things in the apartment were things I had at my previous place with no problems.

My question is whether anyone else has had this sort of inexplicable problem or whether either of my two somewhat out there explanations have any validity:

first, I sit on my bed a lot to study/ready/use my laptop, at which point my legs are exposed to to my comforter below the knee. I've had the comforter for about two years and have never had any problems, but is it possible I spontaneously developed a down allergy when I moved to my new apartment? If so, will dry cleaning the comforter help?

secondly, my air conditioner is about ten feet away from the building next door, where the apartment across the airshaft from mine is abandoned and home to many pigeons and, I would imagine, pretty gross conditions. They sit on the window sill a lot and so I thought maybe this was contaminating the air in my room. This, however, seems like a stretch as it doesn't explain why the itch is contained to specific areas. I also feel like the apartment couldn't realistically be that gross since other people are living in the building.

Other than this, I am at an absolute loss. I have a roommate and she hasn't had any of these symptoms. I've never had problems with allergies, aside from a mild cat allergy. I live in a city where there's a considerable wait to see a dermatologist and so thought I'd give this a try first.

Thanks in advance!
posted by lxs to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
No air is exchanged between the outdoor and indoor parts of your air conditioner, so that's not it.
posted by fritley at 9:08 AM on August 14, 2009

Maybe the person who moved out had a cat that had fleas?
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:12 AM on August 14, 2009

Is the water at your apartment particularly hard? I get this kind of itchy dry skin thing sometimes on my arms and legs. Lotion and bathing in cool water help.
posted by kathrineg at 9:17 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding bonobothegreat, I vote for fleas living in the carpeting. They jump and bite you as high as they can, hence, your itchy legs. They'll get your arms only occasionally if you're reaching for something on the floor. If you go barefoot, your feet are itching too. If you usually wear shoes or socks, it's probably from your ankles up. If you're not looking for them, you won't notice them. The landlord should exterminate.
posted by beagle at 9:24 AM on August 14, 2009

My first thought was fleas, too. I know you don't see a rash, but do you see tiny bites? They are usually pretty noticeable and red so it seems like you'd see them and feel them when you are itching, but maybe you have a unique reaction to them. Google image search has some (ew gross) examples.
posted by juliplease at 9:26 AM on August 14, 2009

Is the carpet new? If so, it may be off-gassing chemicals. Have you talked to your landlord about the problem?
posted by Carol Anne at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2009

My first thought was something off-gassing from the carpeting, too.
posted by sarcasticah at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2009

Riding on Carol Anne's answer - carpet glue can also cause irritation.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2009

I suspect the pigeons of carrying fleas - in which case it could be hard to get rid of them from your apt.

My in-window a/c units have the option to go between external and internal air circulation - and there are some cracks between the unit and the window pane. If it's similar in your apt in either of those two ways, then I'd be surprised if the fleas wouldn't eventually get back in - if they are from the pigeons anyway.
posted by lorrer at 9:59 AM on August 14, 2009

Did you buy any new bath products recently? New kind of razor blades for the legs? Could it be that little soap strip they have on the razor that is causing the itching?

Is the air conditioner new to you? While they don't exchange air with the outside, they do have filters that can be clogged with exciting gunk.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2009

people often blame mold in their building for a ridiculous amount of health problems problems, and 95% of the time they're wrong. However, 5% isn't particularly long odds. Be careful though, since I've never seen anything but anecdotal evidence (including in a graduate seminar where the guest lecturer decided not to talk about the work she was famous for, and instead tell us about the dangers of mold).
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:02 AM on August 14, 2009

fleas, fleas, FLEAS. ugh. I know what I am talking about. right now, in fact.
The thing is, even if the apartment was clean when you move in, if there were fleas, they left eggs and it takes (I think) two weeks for the eggs to hatch which means,possibly, a week of flea-freeness for you and then they're back. There's lots of good info on the web. Vacuuming helps. So does Borax. So does washing and especially drying (HOT) all of your bedding etc.
posted by nnk at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2009

I've no experience but I've read some pretty chilling accounts of dealing with bird lice and I'd investigate that too if I were you. Maybe take some clear sticky tape to all the problematic surfaces and look at it under a low power microscope or maybe your video camera can zoom in close enough.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2009

BTW your roommate may not be experiencing fleabites (yet) if her room is not affected and/or she wears stockings, tights, etc. most of the time. Or she keeps her feet well off the floor most of the time. But you've indicated that you sit quite a bit with bare legs and your feet on the floor, presenting a feast for the little buggers.
posted by beagle at 10:53 AM on August 14, 2009

Fleas should be pretty easy to test for. Just sit quietly with your feet on the floor and look to see if little black things are jumping on you. If you have any knee-length white socks to wear, they'll be easier to see.
posted by muddgirl at 11:38 AM on August 14, 2009

Interesting. I've had a similar problem in my apartment, complete with an outside deck taken over by pigeons, nesting on an AC unit. I noticed my cat was acting itchy too, and assumed fleas, but I've been giving him the once monthly doses for almost a year, with no stop to the itching, but a lessening at least. I definitely can't see anything jumping around on my whites though. Would bird lice be visible to the naked eye?
posted by No1UKnow at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2009

When I was a teenager, I was having what looked like allergic reactions, mostly on my legs. They itched so badly that I scratched myself raw. My home had fleas. I was the only one getting bitten. Like any insect, they are drawn to certain body chemistry and I guess our dog was in my room a lot. Anyway, the way my parents determined for sure that it was fleas was to close the bedroom door for (2 days? I can't remember) but long enough that those suckers were hungry and would jump on anything when they stepped back into my bedroom. After starving them, when I put my hand palm down, I could feel them jumping and hitting into my hand.

I would also check for the off-gassing, I've had problems with irritants like that.
posted by Librarygeek at 12:58 PM on August 14, 2009

I took the down comforter out of my bedroom and haven't had problems. Does anyone have any idea why it would suddenly make me itch like this? Could it be from jostling it a lot when I moved? Would dry cleaning it help? This is absolutely bizarre, since I've had the comforter without problems for awhile, and also have a down pillow that isn't giving me problems.
posted by lxs at 1:29 PM on August 14, 2009

Did it get wet? Presumably you haven't laundered it, maybe it got coated with something or drug through something while you were moving.
posted by kathrineg at 2:43 PM on August 14, 2009

I think you'd be better off washing the comforter than dry cleaning it. I have down pillows that I wash periodically in a big laundromat machine in hot water, then I dry them hot with a couple of tennis balls. I assume this would work as well for a comforter, but check the label if it still has one.
posted by mareli at 2:45 PM on August 14, 2009

When did you last wash your comforter? Did you use a different setup or detergent than the previous time? It could be that it wasn't rinsed enough and you've been effectively rubbing hypoallergenic detergent all over your legs.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:43 AM on August 15, 2009

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