I am allergic to something in my home that isn't pollen, dander, or mold.
September 15, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I am allergic to something in my home. The symptoms only show up while I'm at home. I don't know what it could be. Is there something or someone that can figure out for me?

In July of this year I moved into my first own home. Prior to this I lived with a relative in a house 5 miles away. I had no allergy problems at that house.

I have year-round allergies that are controlled with prescription medication and regular use of a neti pot.

My new-to-me home was built in 2004 and had 2 previous owners. It is a traditional ranch type home in the southern U.S. The kitchen has tile, the living room has laminate wood flooring, and the bedrooms are carpeted. The previous owners did not have pets as far as I know, and they lived in the home for 3 years. The neighborhood is less than 10 years old, so there isn't much mature vegetation.

I have had the carpets professionally cleaned, and had an indoor air quality inspector check the house. He also took air samples to check for toxic mold. The lab results for the air samples indicated that there was no mold in the home.

My symptoms include:

Thickening of the throat/needing to clear my throat before speaking
Restriction of the airway just slightly to be inconvenient but not life threatening
Persistent nose itch (where you feel constant little tickles right outside nostrils)
Eye irritation over time
Skin itchiness
Inner ear itchiness
Poor sleep quality
When I am outside my home, I feel like there is a "buildup" of some not so pleasant smell inside my sinuses that gradually goes away each time I blow my nose (hard to explain)
My sneezes are different. It's like they aren't as effective or satisfying.

I have noticed that I often feel temporary relief after taking a long hot shower, although I think there are too many things that play into this.

I have cleaned, dusted, and vacuumed as much as is humanly possible and have noticed no improvement in symptoms.

I have been trying to keep the windows open as much possible to circulate air, but this does not seem to help. I still have the above symptoms. I have aired out the home for 24 continuous hours at a time and still had no improvement in symptoms.

The HVAC system does not seem to be responsible. I actually have not been running it and am still noticing symptoms.

As crazy as it sounds, I feel like I am allergic to some THING in the house, whether it is the paint or the woodwork or the countertops, etc.. The difficulty is that I live here now and everything in the home is "new" to my body, so I can't eliminate the possibilities.

Is there some service that can essentially capture a volume of the air inside my home and analyze everything in it? I feel like if I at least knew what was in the air, I could narrow down the sources one by one.
posted by bosco_costanza to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have your doctor conduct an allergy test.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:41 PM on September 15, 2012

You can't really test a home for "everything", no. Have you had additional allergy testing for environmental allergens like chemicals commonly used in paint, carpet glues, flooring glues, and varnishes? Those are available, and if your particular sensitivities were identified, you could have specific items tested for those contents.

Carpet would be complete doom for me, as I am hugely sensitive to dust mites.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

What medication do you use?

If there is no mold, mildew could be a possibility. Perhaps animal dander that has been left behind?
posted by fieldcannotbeblank at 1:46 PM on September 15, 2012

This might be a stupid question, but since you say you've had the windows open a lot - is there anything growing right outside your new place that wasn't around your old one?
posted by harujion at 1:46 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

And is there any location that causes similar symptoms to appear? If so, try to compare that area and your response to the allergy response in and around your home.
posted by fieldcannotbeblank at 1:50 PM on September 15, 2012

All your symptoms are things I experience when I visit a dry environment. Is the new place...more dry? Have you tried sleeping with a humidifier on?
posted by emyd at 1:51 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do guests experience similar symptoms while in your home? Have you been to the houses of any of your new neighbors? That could help rule out whether you are allergic to building materials used in the houses in your neighborhood (is this some sort of subdivision where all houses have the same sort of flooring and layout?) or something in your house specifically.
posted by lovelygirl at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2012

"Is there some service that can essentially capture a volume of the air inside my home and analyze everything in it?"

You local university likely has a very expensive and very immobile machine that could tell you the molar mass of everything in the air of your home, but that wouldn't be remotely useful even if it were possible to do. What you can do however, is get a referral from your doctor for an allergist who will be able to do much better.

Allergies (That is if they are indeed allergies, I mean no one else gets these symptoms in your home right?) are caused by an immune reaction to something that is not actually worth reacting to. This is a process that is always mediated by antibodies, and antibodies are things that are really sensitive, which makes them easily detectable. Your allerigist will get a nurse to prick the inside of your arm with a whole bunch of small needles that will each be covered in a little bit of a different common allergen. If you have antibodies against any of them, causing you to react against whatever is in your home, they would also cause an immune reaction against the allergen in your arm and that will be visible in minutes.

Our adaptive immune systems work in a really cool way that should, in theory, protect us from an infinite number of potential pathogens but has a few significant drawbacks. As the white blood cells that mediate the adaptive immune response get made they each make a completely new antibody through a very randomized process that has a very specific and very random shap on the business end that could bind to anything. These antibodies are how our bodies recognize foreign invaders that have some means of evading our innate immune systems, and in theory there are enough white blood cells running around our bodies that one of them will have an antibody that will be efective. One of the big problems with that strategy though is what happens when the antibody recognizes something that is actually us or for what ever reason actually belongs in us and shouldn't be attacked. Our bodies deal with this by immediately killing all of the white blood cells that are born with an antibody that recognizes a target within the first few weeks of being born, the idea is that if it sees something that quickly its probably something that should be there. Auto-immune disorders are what happens when this system fails for a variety of reasons and our immune cells start attacking things that are us. Allergies happen when our bodies fail to kill white blood cells that react against something that is harmless yet nonetheless gets into us, thus making you sick in an attempt to protect you against something that isn't actually harmful.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The first culprit I'd look to is the carpet. I removed very high quality carpeting from my parents' house and that made me never want to live with wall-to-wall carpeting again. This was carpet that had been installed fewer than 10 years prior by them and it was very well taken care of: frequent vacuuming, no pets, regular deep cleaning, little contact with shoes (we wore indoor-only slippers), and the house is located in a dry climate.

Removing the carpet and padding revealed an unbelievable amount of filth. Piles of dust and dirt and who knows what else.

If you're allergic to something that the carpeting has trapped, you're spending many hours every night exposing yourself.
posted by quince at 2:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Allergists are also full of good advice about how to remove allergens from a home. Reasearch into that and giving the best advice for it is a surprising amount of what they do.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:47 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Foul smell when blowing your nose can also mean a sinus infection. This is a really bad year for us in terms of ragweed, pine pollen, etc.

My sister has bad allergies and rinsing off may mean you are rinsing off pollens and airborne molds that you are bringing into the house with you. Also, not all molds are toxic molds, there can still be mold in the air and by leaving the windows open, you are letting molds and pollens into the house. She has to run the a/c to keep the stuff out.

They also recommend taking off your shoes and changing immediately and throwing your outdoor clothes into the wash or a closed hamper.

Something that caused similar symptoms in me was taking certain blood pressure medications.

Have you changed your bedding? Did you buy a new mattress set and bedding when you moved? New furniture that may be off-gassing? Poor sleep quality indicates the carpeting may be the problem. Maybe the prior occupants smoked or there is something in the carpet that is imbedded in the padding.

Also: basement. My aunt had flooding in her basement this year due to a broken water main. It cost her thousands to clean up, and she has severe allergies.

Another friend of mine found that even with her meds, she had to restrict her diet during allergy season, as in cutting out wheat and corn (on the advice of her doctor) because it overloaded her system. Similar to people who have ragweed/melon allergies. Because of the drought, it might not be your house, but that the ragweed season is worse due to lack of rain to wash away the offending particles. Or is it possible that you've changed your diet since moving and are eating more bananas, melons, chamomile tea, sunflower seeds, etc.?

From this site:

What Are Its Symptoms?

The allergic reaction to all plants that produce pollen is commonly known as hay fever. Symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, stuffy nose, puffy eyes, sneezing, and inflamed, itchy nose and throat. For those with severe allergies, asthma attacks, chronic sinusitis, headaches and impaired sleep are symptoms.

I would work with my allergist or Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to at least relieve the symptoms while you continue to track down the source. My husband gets seasonal allergies and has to wash his eyes with baby shampoo to avoid bad eye bumps (chalazions, or styes) so he won't have to have $600 per eye surgery to remove them.

Keep track of the pollen and mold count in the air this time of year: it may not be your house but a build up of nasties floating around because it's a bad year for it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:00 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some carpet cleaning chemicals can have that effect on some people.

Perhaps a type of mold that was not tested for?
posted by yohko at 6:03 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Simple test to see if it's in or out of the house; camp in your yard for the weekend. If you feel better, it's likely the house and not the plants and if you feel the same, then maybe you should close the windows and run a HEPA air filter or 7.
posted by fshgrl at 8:05 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some carpets that have been cleaned regularly will stay damp and grow mold under the padding (especially if it is laid on a slab and the slab sweats), so that may be something to consider. Also, did you get new pillows or mattresses/bedding when you moved? Could it be dust mites? Something in the bedding?
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:21 PM on September 15, 2012

Do you have any down/feather bedding? It's possible to develop an allergy to something that didn't previously bother you -- I developed a feather allergy about six months after getting a down mattress pad and comforter.
posted by pie ninja at 5:21 AM on September 16, 2012

Have you changed your laundry washing chemical combo recently? I've heard before that that could be it.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2012

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