Please make it stop.
October 16, 2011 2:19 PM   Subscribe

What is it about my apartment that makes me so itchy!?!

I live on my own in a pretty great basement apartment. It's not dank or dark or musty - in fact, I rented it because it's new and clean. I've been living here for the past 8 months and besides a few spiders, haven't had any of the issues I did with my last basement apartment (centipedes, drafty/cold). But over the past few months, I have been noticeably itchy, and it's really starting to bother me.

I first noticed it a few months ago, after a few consecutive days/evenings spent at the beach, so I figured it was just an itch from the sand, or from mosquitoes. But it persisted, and I noticed it was worse before bed (I've read itching gets worse at night..?) and first thing in the morning too. I had a few red spots on my legs but I'm certain they were from mosquitoes, and I haven't had any more bites since August. The itch persisted and fearing the worst, I checked for bedbugs but didn't find anything. I've checked for them 3-4 times since, but haven't seen anything and since I don't have any bites, I don't think that's the problem.

My skin is pretty sensitive (I often get itchy red spots when I dust), so I'm wondering if it's because my apartment is a bit dusty. I don't have a screen on my window, so I don't open it (the neighbourhood cat is always in the yard, and frequently tries to come into my apartment when I come home at night). Air circulation isn't the greatest, and until last week I didn't have a good vacuum, so I'm sure the carpet wasn't the cleanest it could have been.

More complicating factors: I have short hair and shed a lot, so I often have lots of little hairs all over my sheets (I wash my sheets every 1-2 weeks). I also had a plant that seemed to attract tiny little flying bugs (fruitflies, or something like fruitflies), but I got rid of it about a month ago in an attempt to stop the itching.

Last week, I bought a heavy duty vacuum cleaner and vacuumed the carpets (a lot of dust), my mattress (a foam mattress from IKEA, if that matters), my bedframe, and all of the baseboards in my apartment. But I'M STILL ITCHY.

Of course, the more I think about it and wonder what's causing it, the itchier I get. I can hardly fall asleep anymore without turning on the lights 3-4 times to see if there is a bug on my arm or my face. There's never anything there though. Recently, I was away for a week for work and I wasn't itchy at all. When I got back, I was itchy again, so I tried sleeping on the couch for a few days, but it didn't help much.

Any ideas what the heck is making me itchy? Is it the mattress? Dust? Invisible bugs that you can't see but you can feel? Is it all in my head?!
posted by gursky to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
You could try taking some Benadryl at nite--if you're allergic to something (even if it turns out to be fleas or mites) the Benadryl will help you sleep until you figure out what's bothering.

Also Excedrin PM and Tylenol Pm contain dyphenhydramine which will help with the itching--also Gold Bond Lotion, the original is a good topical anti itch creme. Good Luck!
posted by AuntieRuth at 2:27 PM on October 16, 2011

It could be anything, and doesn't necessarily have to be your apartment.

Have you eliminated your shampoo, conditioner, and body soap? How about any lotion you use? Makeup? Perfume? Clothes detergent? Fabric softener (liquid or sheets?) Do you have hard water?

If you're still convinced it's the apartment and not some of the things I listed above, then I would go to your doctor and either see what he says or get a referral to an allergist.

also, try taking a benadryl at night. It should help you sleep and also cut down on any allergic reaction you might be having.
posted by royalsong at 2:28 PM on October 16, 2011

Response by poster: I actually bought Benadryl last week, and it did eliminate a little bit of the itching. My skin still crawls though.

My shampoo/conditioner/soap/lotions/cloth detergents/etc. haven't changed in the last year or so.

Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by gursky at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2011

Could it be dry air? Are things especially staticky in your new place? In the wintertime I get horribly itchy all over-- my skin doesn't necessarily look any drier but it turns out that the dry air is the culprit. A humidifier could help, if this is the case. I had one plumbed into our furnace to preserve my sanity, but since you're renting, you can get one pretty cheap at London Drugs.
posted by mireille at 2:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Complete anecdata so take it w/ a grain of salt but:
Mrs. Pyro started itching and getting small red bumps about a year ago. There was a lot of red herring around: we had just came back from a mediocre hotel, we have cats, etc. Doctors considered everything: bedbugs, allergies, scabies, fungus infection. After it got really bad we went to a university hospital's Dermatology dept. and there they finally figured out that it was a blistering auto immune disease.

Moral of the story, go to a good dermatologist (and allergist) if you can't figure it out on your own. And if it gets really bad, have them consider auto immune.
posted by pyro979 at 2:44 PM on October 16, 2011

It doesn't matter if you haven't changed your various detergents, etc. - you could still have developed an allergy to them. After growing up using the same detergent, in my 20s I developed an allergy such that when I wear clothes or sleep in sheets washed in a non-hypoallergenic detergent, I get little prickly itches. Worth switching things around to test.

(Also seconding the allergist - my partner resisted going to one for a year and a half after we moved in and didn't realize how miserable he was from his allergies until I pointed it out to him! He'd just gotten used to feeling like that. After the allergist and the meds he got, it was like night and day.)
posted by telophase at 2:49 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could be fleas. They only need a little humidity, the basement, while not musty, could be humid enough for them. You could still be itching after you vacuumed because (a) you might not have gotten them all, and (b) the allergic reaction to them can continue after they're gone. If the itching is more prevalent on your legs than on the rest of you, that would particularly be a flea indicator.
posted by beagle at 3:14 PM on October 16, 2011

From what you say about getting itchy when you dust, it could be an allergy to dust mites. Just because you remove visible dust doesn't mean the mites don't stay. You can get tested for it easily enough. Unfortunately there's not much you can do about dust mites in a rental (as soon as I bought a place, I ripped out all the carpets and put in hard flooring and my life-long itching has finally stopped). But you can enclose your mattress and pillows in special mite-proof cases, and if you can afford it, hire someone to vacuum for you so that you don't get so exposed. You might find you need to vacuum more often, too.
posted by lollusc at 3:32 PM on October 16, 2011

Could also be a food allergy. Have you recently made any changes to your diet? For years I experienced itchiness in seemingly random bursts, until one day I finally realized it was correlated with eating chocolate. Sadly, I gave up the chocolate almost entirely. Problem solved.

Also, have you started any new medications recently?
posted by spitbull at 3:42 PM on October 16, 2011

Fleas in basement - yes.

But I am surprised no one mentioned this earlier...

Call your local jurisdiction and see if they will test for mold. While your place may be renovated, underneath... not so much.

posted by jbenben at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2011

If it were fleas, you would see them, and see their bites on you.

Definitely see a doctor. Although itching can seem like just an annoyance, it can occasionally be a symptom of a serious illness. My father was hounded by itching all over; he tried all the lotions and hypo-allergenic detergents and such, and finally found out that it was a symptom of lymphoma. He said one of the best things about getting the lymphoma cured was not itching anymore. I've had periods of maddening itchiness from an autoimmune disease.

So check your health, and check for mold, allergens or dry air. Happy hunting.
posted by Corvid at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2011

My shampoo/conditioner/soap/lotions/cloth detergents/etc. haven't changed in the last year or so.

This does not mean that either a) the manufacture hasn't changed what is in them or b) that you have developed an allergy or sensitivity to them.

Nor do you have to have made any changes to your diet for this to be a food allergy/sensitivity. Both of my major food allergies came out of the blue, to foods I ate regularly, and same with my inability to use some soaps/detergents.

Seconding Corvid - you would SEE fleas. Trust me. If there are enough around that you feel itchy all the time, you would see them. Especially wearing white socks around the house (which is a good test for fleas).

My thoughts:

1) has the humidity level dropped or risen where you are living, either inside or out?
2) have the place tested for mold spores - new on the surface doesn't mean new under the surface
3) check around the intake and unit for your AC/Heat - see if any leaf piles are up against it, or anything is decaying near it
4) to deal with the itching until you find a source, try the oatmeal bath packets that Aveeno makes. I usually use 2 in a bath, rather than one, if the itching is very bad. Do not use soap after you have used them, just rinse off.
5) Go to a doctor, have them refer you to a dermatologist, after you have done all of the above
6) do you have any signs other than the small red bumps? even if you can't see anything, are there any raised or oddly textured patches where you are itching?
posted by strixus at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.

I just noticed two red bites/marks on my legs, so I am wondering if I should check (again) for bedbugs. The itching gets worse at night, so maybe I do have them..?

If it's not bedbugs, I will make a doctor's appointment and ask to be referred to a dermatologist and/or allergist.

I appreciate the input. Any other suggestions/advice welcome.
posted by gursky at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2011

I have multiple allergies, but what makes me itchy all over, and feel like I want to crawl out of my skin, is exposure to certain chemicals, especially perfumes. Benadryl is a life-saver. as others have recommended above. It can affect me a few hours later, so it might not even be something in your apartment.

Do you have an air cleaner? One with a HEPA filter could help if it's something in your apartment.

Another thing that will itch more at night is skin mites.

Do go see a doctor, just to be careful (I see you are planning on doing just that).
posted by annsunny at 5:34 PM on October 16, 2011

I'm not being patronising, but check out delusional parasitosis. It doesn't mean you're nuts or weak minded, it's just a thing that can happen and I wouldn't want to see you get caught up in it if it is the case.
posted by Not Supplied at 5:39 PM on October 16, 2011

Itching at night, combined with marks, makes me wonder about scabies. Both my husband and I had it a few years ago, and for me it was an insane amount of itching with large numbers of marks on my legs and arms, but he only had five or six marks total, and just enough itching to be irritating, without it driving him crazy. My doctor confirmed that people do react differently to scabies. It's an easy fix, though - you use a cream which is a bit messy and has to go all over your body, and leave it on overnight. Then vacuum thoroughly, wash all your bedding and clothes, and then you might have to redo the cream a week or two later.
posted by lollusc at 6:23 PM on October 16, 2011

I've had very similar experience with mold (no rash except the redness from scratching, worst at night). It was never directly linked, but it went on for months and finally went away when I asked my landlord to get rid of the mold on the bathroom ceiling. If it's not too convenient, try staying away from your apartment for a few days (while using the same body/hair products)?
posted by bread-eater at 5:31 AM on October 17, 2011

Is the itchiness in a particular area? I was VERY itchy from a new IKEA foam mattress, mostly around my neck, upper chest and inside of my arms. Took me a while to figure out, because it didn't go away for several days when traveling.
I eventually aired the mattress and washed all the covers multiple times which finally stopped the nasty itching.
posted by Yavsy at 5:36 AM on October 17, 2011

Scabies is an awful, itchy, mess. It itched worst in the evening. There would be pacthes of red marks that get scaly. I have a daylight, basement bedroom and I get occasional spider bites that itch locally. My skin starts to get dry just after the 1st hard frost, gets worse in deep, cold, dry winter, and is happy again in summer. I don't know why oatmeal would work, but oatmeal baths are often recommended. Add baby oil or olive oil if you don't mind cleaning the tub after. Allergen-free lotion helps a lot.

Are you on any medications? Some medications made my skin crawl. You may want to give your doctor's office a call.
posted by theora55 at 8:41 AM on October 17, 2011

Nthing the humidifier, although I'd be careful in a basement apartment with minimal ventilation (as you don't want the room to become *too* humid).

Oatmeal baths work wonders for dry skin, which may be the culprit.

If you can swing the doctor visit financially and time-wise, it's probably not a bad idea to go and either get some peace of mind or some effective treatment.

Good luck!
posted by brackish.line at 9:42 AM on October 18, 2011

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