Why is my apartment so itchy?!
December 5, 2012 9:31 PM   Subscribe

What is making me, my husband, and (potentially) my cat super itchy in our new apartment? It's clean, there's only one carpeted room, and none of us have any bug bites to speak of.

I just moved to a new home in Chicago. It's an un-renovated vintage brick 4-flat from the 1920's. It's generally amazing, but since we've settled in, I, my husband, and my cat have been itchy to the point that we're all feeling a bit crazed.

Very likely related but not 100% sure: The cat started on hyperthyroidism medicine a week before the move. When we got here 10 days ago, she barfed times infinity for a couple of days to such an extent that I contacted the landlord to make sure that there was no cleaner/poison that she may have gotten into (answer=no). After a couple of days, she was back to her old self: eating, drinking, and hanging out as normal. In the last two days, however (over two weeks since starting the Methimazole), she's been scratching at her ear area to the point of creating small scabs. There's been no upping of the meds since the move if that makes any difference, but nevertheless I'm willing to take her back to the vet before our next check-up (she goes back next weekend anyway if not now), but I'm wondering if there's an over-arching theme...

My husband and I have also been insanely itchy. Can't sleep through the night itchy. As in, when I brought it up to him, he responded with "Thank God! You too?! I thought I was going crazy!"

It's definitely affecting our exposed parts (legs, arms, back, necks, face, and tummy areas) more than the covered-up parts, and it's definitely mutual.

Possible contributing factors:

- We have steam heat, which is quite hot when it's going, but it's been a mild winter so far and it's been off all but one or two days since we've been here;

- There's one room that's carpeted (new to us- we've never done carpet) but it's not the room that we sleep in;

- The building is old, and while it's been kept up, I think the rest of the tenants have been around for a long time. Not sure what's going on in the basement/other units.

-We're on the first floor, so we're not being exposed to any insulation I don't think.

We don't have any furniture/drapery/pillows, etc that we didn't have before the move.

Also important: The itchiness subsides when we leave the house.

I'm developing sort of rough, bumpy skin on my arms and back (nothing that at all resembles bug bites...more textured/scaly if anything), the husband not so much. The cat's just... an old cat that probably just needs to go back to the vet. But it itches us all.

Are their any airborne allergins that affect everyone/ everything? Is there any sort of gunk that could be causing all of this? We're not known to be allergic to anything, so I'm fearing some sort of phantom contaminate.

Does any of this sound familiar to anybody?

Any clues would be helpful.

Any hyperthyroid cat advice is also appreciated... we really can't afford the radioactive iodine treatment in the immediate future and would like to ride out the pills.
posted by macrowave to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you rules out fleas yet? You don't necessarily get bug-bite-shaped bites, they can be very small, and it's possible to have an allergic reaction.

Did the precious tenants have a pet?
Because they may have left some fleas.

Buy a flea comb for your cat and comb her down to see if any of those suckers are gnawing on her.
posted by greta simone at 9:48 PM on December 5, 2012

Could it be scabies? I got that once and it was insanely itchy. My doctor said kids get it all the time from playgrounds and stuff, so it's somewhat common.
posted by gt2 at 10:37 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it a lot drier in your apt than it is outside? Maybe try a humidifier.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:45 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I second the flea suggestion - flea saliva can trigger skin allergies on cats, and you may be getting bitten too. It's suspicious that it's only exposed skin for you guys and fleas can live quite happily in floor-boards as well as carpet - comb the cat and look for black dirt (flea excreta) as well as live fleas. Try to pick a light-coloured comb - the fine black ones are for nits and useless to you. If it is fleas, my suggestion would be to flea-drop the cat with something like Revolution - I don't know what you have available locally but look for one that will interrupt the breeding cycle so that you get the eggs as well as the live ones.
posted by ninazer0 at 10:48 PM on December 5, 2012

Searching a bit shows that both the vomiting and the scratching in your cat can be a side effect of the Methimazole. Here's one question about that, but you can find much more info by googling something like: Methimazole cat scratching.

While reading a bit about this, I notice that one way of administering the Methimazole is via a topical gel that is rubbed onto the inside of kitty's ear. If this is the method you are using, you should be wearing gloves and washing your hands afterwards. I mention it just in case you are somehow actually getting a reaction from the Methimazole yourselves!

btw, is the carpeting in the one room new or old?
posted by taz at 11:03 PM on December 5, 2012

Re: the hyperthyroid, look into getting the liquid medication instead of the pills. The pills were always a bit of a struggle to administer but with the liquid my cat barely even blinks.
posted by platinum at 11:08 PM on December 5, 2012

Completely anecdotal, but I had similar itching not too long ago, mainly arms and legs. This pretty much coincided with cold weather onset and use of heating. I resolved it within a day or two with 2 -3 daily applications of Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion (OTC) on the most affected areas. Seemed to work. I now use every few days and have had no significant symptoms.
posted by uncaken at 11:26 PM on December 5, 2012

My skin itches exactly as you describe when it's very dry, which happens most often during the Winter. I'd buy a cheap hygrometer (less than $15) and use that to measure the humidity in the apartment. If it's anything less than 30-35% then that would be something I would address.

The solution is a humidifier or a lot of lotion, I suppose.
posted by empyrean at 1:34 AM on December 6, 2012

Older homes are not as airtight as newer ones and don't retain humidity well. So if the itchiness correlates with cold days, I'd suggest that's the problem. Especially with the steam heat, which tends to be very hot. This makes the air even more prone to sucking the moisture out of you.

That's all I can think of. Are you new to Chicago? Did you come from a place with particularly hard water? Maybe you are feeling the solvent-like effects of our relatively pure water. Whenever I travel somewhere with hard water, I feel like I can never rinse all the soap off of me. So if you are used to that, and then come here and get fully rinsed off, your skin might feel uncomfortable. Just a thought.
posted by gjc at 5:12 AM on December 6, 2012

Been dealing with something similar. To clarify some of the answers given:
- after you treat a cat with flea medication, do you need to engage in any large scale cleaning of eg upholstery, bedding, etc?
- is dry skin in cats from eg the cold something you can do anything about?
posted by Theophylactic at 11:33 AM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the help so far! We'll have to go out and get a flea comb.

As far as the cat meds, we're using the pills, so I don't think it's that.

We've been in Chicago for a decade, but we're unaccustomed to the radiators. Looks like we need a humidifier and hygrometer.
posted by macrowave at 6:40 PM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and Taz- I can't really tell how old the carpet is. It's low-pile office type carpeting, and it's not really showing wear.
posted by macrowave at 6:42 PM on December 6, 2012

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