Why do my hands swell at Costco?
April 23, 2012 12:48 PM   Subscribe

My hands swell to the point that I have to remove my wedding ring every time I go into a Sam's Club or Costco and only when I go into a Sam's Club or Costco. Why?

I have no allergies that I know of and this doesn't happen any other place. Once I am in the door it takes about 3 minutes and my fingers just start swelling. Happens to my dad too so I guess we are allergic to something maybe? It doesn't happen ever anywhere else. It's the damndest thing.

(As I typed this I realized that this question is ripe for jokes, so if you got good ones (or incredibly bad ones) MeMail 'em to me.)
posted by Subterranean Homesick Pygmalion to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you been to other warehouse-style stores? Could it be stress?
posted by amicamentis at 12:54 PM on April 23, 2012


Do you clench your hands while you're in there? Notice that next time whether it's without holding something or if you are gripping a shopping cart/basket tightly.

It could be an atmospheric thing since they're temperature controlled.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:56 PM on April 23, 2012


I've been to other stores in similar settings, furniture stores, electronics stores etc and haven't experienced the swelling.
posted by Subterranean Homesick Pygmalion at 12:57 PM on April 23, 2012


Do you push a cart when you go? They may use a sanitizer or cleaning solution you're allergic to for cleaning the handles.
posted by carsonb at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


And if you don't push a cart, could it just be the walking? Those places are big, and my hands will swell when I walk significant distances with my hands down by my sides, I guess the blood pools there or something.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:08 PM on April 23, 2012


Usually I push a cart. But I would think that WalMart and Sam's would use the same sanitizer, maybe not though. Perhaps next time I should not push a cart and see what happens.
posted by Subterranean Homesick Pygmalion at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2012


Hmmmm.

My guess is that either your visits to Sam's Club or Costco coincide with something unrelated that's causing the swelling (do you visit these stores at a particular time of day? do you have to walk some distance from the parking lot to get there, or do you walk long distances within these shops? does any of this differ from your visits to other stores?) or that, indeed, there's something chemical present in these stores that you're allergic to.
posted by rjs at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2012


Do you follow a set path everytime you go? It may be that you are allergic to something widespread in the store and it hits critical mass after x minutes, or it may be that after x minutes you walk in the vicinity of something specific you are allergic to.
posted by mikepop at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2012


I am thoroughly talking out my ass here, but I wonder whether those places are set to different air pressures than other stores, because they're so huge.
posted by Etrigan at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


How's this for a theory: Sam's Club and Costco both have oversized shopping carts that are not typically used at other retailers. Perhaps those carts are made by the same manufacturer, and perhaps that manufacturer uses a paint or coating on the handle that you are sensitive to.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:19 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Following on from what rjs said: do you notice your hands swelling to that extent in any other context other than going to Costco/Sam's Club? I can't help but wonder if you're noticing a false positive, is all. I can't imagine what those stores might contain that would be so radically different to your average big box store, apart from maybe a bit more dust.
posted by LN at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could take a hand wipe of your own and wipe the cart down. Not a bad policy even if it's not the culprit.
posted by carsonb at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2012


How about when you go to Home Depot or another store with polished concrete floors? Perhaps you are sensitive to the concrete or the silicates used to achieve the diamond-polished finish.
posted by acidic at 1:23 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


My hands used to swell up whenever I went to Mervyn's. I never figured that out and the two in New Orleans closed so I can't do further research. My dad used to say his hands would swell up at the mall.
posted by artychoke at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2012


Industrial cleaning agents that you're breathing in? Mildew in the ventilation systems?
posted by tilde at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2012


How about when you go to Home Depot or another store with polished concrete floors? Perhaps you are sensitive to the concrete or the silicates used to achieve the diamond-polished finish.

For about four years I worked at Fry's Electronics, which is a big-box electronics retailer that had the same type of flooring and never had the swelling problem.
posted by Subterranean Homesick Pygmalion at 1:29 PM on April 23, 2012


Does this happen before you've touched anything, like a shopping cart? If it's happening after you've touched a cart, that would strongly suggest that it may be a reaction to something they're using to clean the carts. You could try wearing gloves, and see if it still happens. Just wiping the handle first might not help -- there may be an anti-bacterial substance incorporated into the plastic.

Otherwise, it would have to be something in the air -- air "fresheners"? cleaning products? pesticide residues? If you really want to pursue it, you'd need to talk to store management and see if they'll tell you what products they use. Ask to see the product labels, or MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets). They are legally required to keep this information and make it available to employees; I don't know how hard you'd have to push to get it as a member of the public. You could also submit a Freedom of Information request to the state and/or local environmental agency for copies of any inspection reports related to pesticide applications.

The air pressure theory is interesting. Pure out-of-ass speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if they manipulate the air pressure as part of climate control in a building that large.
posted by Corvid at 1:31 PM on April 23, 2012


The air pressure inside Costco is going to be essentially the same as outside. It's not a well-sealed building designed for pressure containment.
posted by 6550 at 1:35 PM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wal Mart I can understand but COSTCO, it is the good guy. In the absence of any other systemic symptoms ( stuffiness, itching, hives, swollen ankles, watery eyes, etc.) I tend to believe it either is something your hand comes in contact with or is incidental and antecedent to the visit (as previously suggested). If you want to find out put on a pair of latex gloves (assuming you are not allergic) in the car and go in the store. If it your hand/fingers do not swell probably environmental. If they do it is either airborne or antecedent. I must admit--I am perplexed.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:41 PM on April 23, 2012


I often find that I get lots of minor electric shocks from the carts in Costco--as opposed to other stores. No experience with Sam's Club unfortunately and no idea whether this could be the culprit of your swelling.
posted by juiceanddoom at 1:44 PM on April 23, 2012


If there was enough air pressure differential to be causing this effect, you would either be unable to open the door of the store, or it would always be pushed open by the huge amount of wind generated. (A 0.25 psi differential, 1/60th of an atmosphere, would be pushing against a 36x78 inch door with 700 lbs of pressure.) If you were that sensitive to a very small amount of pressure, you'd get the bends stepping out of the shower.

I'd guess some sort of allergic reaction. Rather that mess with gloves, I might consider going into the store sometime and browse with my hands in my pockets and see if that resulted in a response. Another tactic would be to take an anti-histamine of some sort and see if that prevented the phenomena.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:52 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The air pressure inside Costco is going to be essentially the same as outside. It's not a well-sealed building designed for pressure containment.

Indeed. In my area, there isn't even really a "door", it's just a giant opening in the side of the store that they leave open, and close with a rolling overhead metal door (like a truck dock) when they close up.

Also, the concrete floors may be polished, but if they're left exposed they're typically epoxy-coated for applications like this. That may or may not be the problem, but it would probably be the same at a Home Depot or Fry's.
posted by LionIndex at 1:54 PM on April 23, 2012


Are those stores particularly warm? My hands swell when I'm very warm.
posted by missmagenta at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2012


My hands get itchy, red, and swollen sometimes when I go to the mall. It sucks. I'm not sure why it happens, but it can sometimes help to go to a bathroom and wash them really well with cold water. It helps a bit with the swelling.
posted by zoetrope at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2012


Do you eat any of their salty fast food before going further into the store?
posted by Good Brain at 2:32 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could it be some kind of agent on the membership card? Something to do with the laminating process maybe?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:39 PM on April 23, 2012


Next time you go: put on gloves before entering the store. You should learn something.
posted by grobstein at 2:52 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I had to bet, I'd say that it is the residue that is left on the cart by shoppers who have wiped down the bar with the disinfectant wipes. However...I have noticed that my hands sometimes get tingly and numb in Costco but only if I am pushing the cart. Something in the interaction of an oversized cart with the flooring makes the "handle bar" (Is there a better word for this?) vibrate at a frequency that feels really uncomfortable.
posted by Morrigan at 3:01 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have horrible headaches upon walking into Costcos that have tires for sale onsite, the off-gassing is noxious to me to the point that I have thrown up from simply being in the stores too long. Are these Sam's and Costcos ones that have tires onsite? Perhaps you suffer from a similar rubber off-gassing related allergy?
posted by banannafish at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2012


You know, I've always expected it could be the tires bannanafish (on a perfect day). Yes the costco and sams i go to both have tires. Maybe you are on to something
posted by Subterranean Homesick Pygmalion at 3:57 PM on April 23, 2012


I use to size wedding bands. One thing that contributes to hand swelling is water retention, and heat. Do you go the Costco at a certain time of the month? Also salt leads to bloating. :)
posted by brittaincrowe at 4:11 PM on April 23, 2012


How fast does the swelling go away when you leave the store?

I agree that a two-pronged test of gloves and antihistamine (on separate visits) would yield interesting results.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:38 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it only takes a few minutes to happen, why not investigate it systematically and try to narrow things down?

Next time you go, bring some gloves with you. Grab a cart, and spent a few minutes walking around in the parking lot as if you were in the store while wearing gloves, then repeat without gloves. Then go inside and walk around for a few minutes with gloves and no cart. Then do the same with gloves and a cart. Then repeat without gloves and with a cart. That should at least tell you whether the cart is significant, and whether skin contact with your hands is important.

Once you've figured out how it's getting to you, try moving very quickly to a different, specific part of the store and then lingering for a few minutes each time you enter. That may tell you whether it's localized or store-wide.
posted by eotvos at 4:47 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


You could test the tire theory by visiting a different store that sells tires.
posted by aniola at 5:05 PM on April 23, 2012


How are they swelling? Just getting bigger, or are they getting red, or blotchy, or itchy?
posted by gjc at 5:31 PM on April 23, 2012


Do the bigger carts force you to hold your hands or wrist at an awkward angle that provokes swelling?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:50 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you should try the gloves experiment. Nitrile gloves are cheap and impermeable. Also try wearing them to some big-box store you don't get the reaction at as a control. I'm not sure how you could test the offgassing-tires theory though— go to an auto shop and hang out near their tires for a little while?

Do you get any other allergic-style reactions at the same time? Swelling feet, face, phlegmyness? Or is it just your hands every time?

Could Sam's Club and Costco be associated with stress for you somehow? Do you shop there for things you don't like shopping for?
posted by hattifattener at 11:44 PM on April 23, 2012


One thing that contributes to hand swelling is water retention, and heat. Do you go the Costco at a certain time of the month? Also salt leads to bloating. :) ~ posted by brittaincrowe

If you have an undiagnosed auto-immune disorder, it could be triggered by breathing in something (again, cleaning agents, mold) like the tires you mentioned above.

Heh, here I am worried about your immune system freaking out, when there could be another reason for it to happen to you. Some people are more sensitive then; sometimes there are changes before or after that could include that.

If walking around without a cart doesn't help, or visiting places with tires doesn't trigger it, chalk it up to "who knows" and then seek medical advice if it's happening again this time next year.

No advice for dad; might be coincidence, might be genetic AI issue, might be nothing.
posted by tilde at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2012


« Older Help Me Find a Photo of Jobs and Woz   |   Keep my car running! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.