The Case of the Mysterious Headache Mystery House: Or, Why does everyone have headaches?
November 6, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Why do we all have headaches? Or The Case of the Mysterious Headache Mystery House.

We moved in three months ago, and in the last month or so everyone has developed an ongoing headache that appears to be connected to the house. We cannot figure out the cause of it, but some possibly relevant clues are:

We all have it, but do not have it if we are away from the house for more than two days.

It often seems to worsen the longer we stay in the house, until it plateaus to irritating but not quite incapacitating .

One roommate describes it as "almost-migraine" and "tired-drowsy-burning eyes" and similar to an allergy headache.

The house was built in the 1930s and has had numerous not-to-code remodels.

Headaches lessen when away from the house for a few hours.

We are next to a car wash that uses a lot of crazy chemicals.


So... uh, what is causing our mysterious headache? Any ideas? And what can we do?
posted by TwelveTwo to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and I'd describe it as a base of the skull sharp pain throbbing, enough to make me irritable but not enough to keep me from playing Portal a third time through. I have no known allergies except to a few select antibiotics.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:35 PM on November 6, 2007

It sounds like you have a carbon monoxide problem, which could be deadly. Get your house checked immediately, you might have a faulty furnace. Carbon Monoxide is odorless and colorless but it will give you a headache. It will also cause drowsyness. Seriously, crack some windows in every room until you get your house tested. Call the landlord first thing in the morning.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

It might also be from the car exhaust from the car there any kind of overhang or something that is catching the cars exhaust and allowing it to saturate your building?
posted by 45moore45 at 9:39 PM on November 6, 2007

I'd look into mold, that could definitely cause allergies. It might not hurt to wash the walls down with bleach and water.

And yeah definitely the Carbon Monoxide like 45moore45 said, I knew one family that was basically in a really shitty mood for a week and they all felt like hell and that ended up being the cause. I remember something like if they hadn't kept their windows cracked they probably would have died.
posted by whoaali at 9:42 PM on November 6, 2007

Yeah, thirding carbon monoxide poisoning.

Fun fact: CO poisoning is also implicated in cases where people thought their house was haunted
posted by Mercaptan at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2007

Something in the house, presumably! You seem to already know this... and without knowing the house ourselves I'm not sure anyone here can tell you specifically what it is that ails you.

Do you get the headaches outside? Might help to determine if it's the carwash or something in the house.
posted by polyglot at 9:48 PM on November 6, 2007

CO poisoning was my first thought before seeing any of the other answers. Check your furnace, open the windows, get a CO monitor, call the city, call the fire department, whatever, but be aware CO poisoning can be deadly. Check it out, please.
posted by unSane at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2007

Re: Carbon Monoxide: I just put our Monoxide detector in our upstairs to see if it'll go off. It used to be in our kitchen and doesn't beep except when I try to reset/test it.

Re: Mold: Is there a way to test this hypothesis before we go at the walls with bleach?

polyglot: Sometimes the same sort of headache appears outside of the house, like at work or on campus. I just asked your question to one of us and the answer was "I feel like I have them all the damn time now."
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2007

(Can it be the water?)
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:05 PM on November 6, 2007

I think I've heard that you can call the fire department and they'll come check for carbon monoxide, but I'm not sure about that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:08 PM on November 6, 2007

If CO tests negative make sure there arent' too may volatile organic compounds seeping up from the carwash. You shold be able to get someone to measure air quality for you.

Mold or your allergen/toxin may not just be on the walls: it could be in the air ducts.

How about getting allergy tests and seeing if you're all allergic to something.?

Needles to say, all of this will cots a lot of $$.
posted by lalochezia at 10:12 PM on November 6, 2007

I vote mold. People never think they are allergic to mold...until they go somewhere where there is a high enough concentration of spores in the air, enough to give basically everyone problems. Then again, if a "mold specialist" is brought in make sure they SHOW you the mold before they start to "remove it."
posted by SassHat at 10:13 PM on November 6, 2007

Can mold take over a place within a year? The landlady had it tested when she bought it in 2006, and it checked out a-ok. Admittedly, the previous tenants were slobs. -- I suppose we can still take out the bleach rag tho'.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:17 PM on November 6, 2007

Once upon a time, I had one of those little dorm frigs in my bedroom. Something went wonky on it. I started getting headaches and sleeping all the time and feeling generally bad, and only in my room, to which the door was always closed. I'm not sure why I began to suspect the tiny frig, but mere hours after I got it out of there I was feeling like at least a hundred bucks.

Just moved out of a place with a mold problem, and my body reacted to that with flu-like symptoms. I think it can be really expensive to test for it, and some folks in that business are very interested in making bank off of their customers.

Have you all spent any time only in one room of the house? Might help narrow it down if it has a source rather than being a CO problem.

Good luck!
posted by modernpoverty at 10:23 PM on November 6, 2007

My fancy pants monoxide detector and fire alarm is unalarmed by the furnace room, the windowless upstairs and the kitchen. So, I'm pretty sure we can rule that out (unless I'm mistaken?) Well... I'm headed to sleep with my window open regardless. I'll answer more questions to help solve this mystery in the morning. But keep your thinking hats on.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:37 PM on November 6, 2007

Sorry, your fancy pants carbon monoxide detector is not sensitive enough. Get someone in with a real one.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:44 PM on November 6, 2007

Re: Mold: Is there a way to test this hypothesis before we go at the walls with bleach?

Putting bleach in a bucket of warm water and then scouring the walls ain't gonna do it. The mold that people are referring to is toxic black mold. It's not just on the walls, it will be *in* the walls. You're going to want to move.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:05 PM on November 6, 2007

I suppose we can still take out the bleach rag tho'.

Bleach has not been shown to be effective against toxic black mold (stachybotrys) spores. So choose your disinfectants carefully.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:31 PM on November 6, 2007

Did a quick google search for "air quality testing" and came up with these home testing kits. No idea how effective they are, but worth a shot. Also, tried searching for air quality testing companies and got this listing, in case you wanted to bring in a professional.
posted by platinum at 12:04 AM on November 7, 2007

Not an answer, just more question, because I'm curious about the place I'm in now too and I have been for a while:

Is there any way to usefully test for most of these things at home? What about new buildings? (This apartment was built no more than 20 years ago, probably more like 5, I can't remember at the moment.) Is there anything to do, other than having a vague unhappy sickness until you can move? What if you can't move?
posted by blacklite at 12:05 AM on November 7, 2007

Talk to your neighbors and see if they're experiencing the same symptoms. If so, that would suggest it is the car wash. Talk to the car wash employees as well.

If the home test kits don't turn anything up, it looks like you'll have to go with a accredited lab / professional.

I'd also suggest going room by room, checking for black mold, under the carpets, in the attic/crawl space.

What is your house like? Any new carpeting, paint or plastic-surfaced furniture or cabinetry? Is it air conditioned? When were the furnace and water heater serviced last? Did you start using the furnace a month ago?

Have you contacted the previous tenants? Did they have the same symptoms / run a meth lab?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:53 AM on November 7, 2007

Also, tips on how to find mold/
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:55 AM on November 7, 2007

I would also ask if the house has new carpet. I had, once in my life, a series of cluster headaches. I was driving a new VW, and I would get a headache every day while driving the car. My brother was in the car and had no ill effects, but I would get a searing headache that would subside if I got out of the car for a while and generally wouldn't come back that day.

I appreciate this also could have been a CO problem, but after these episodes I looked around and found that certain chemicals used in the manufacture of carpets can cause cluster headaches. The car was new when I rented it. I have never since had such a problem, and on days I wasn't in the car I didn't get the headache.
posted by sagwalla at 1:17 AM on November 7, 2007

Please don't rely on the CO detector. Many were taken off the shelves in the UK a few years ago because they blatantly didnt work. Get a professional in to be on the safe side. If the boiler hasn't been checked in a year, the landlord needs to cough up for it to be serviced. The CO levels can be checked then.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:55 AM on November 7, 2007

You should have a service come check for CO, but you may also want to schedule a deep cleaning (with or without hired assistants) and wash the walls with a weak solution of an environmentally safe cleanser, mop/seriously vacuum floors, dust everything - pull the furniture out of place to get under/around, vacuum the furniture.

If the problem is the chemicals from the car wash, it may be aerosolizing and drying on all your surfaces, basically making chemical dust.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:09 AM on November 7, 2007

This could be a longshot, but someone I know had recurring headaches at home and eventually traced them to an old teakettle she used to brew tea -- it was lead-lined.
posted by xo at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2007

Also, your gas company can come out and check for CO. They usually do this free of cost. (At least in San Francisco, PG&E comes out on request to do a CO check).
posted by Arthur Dent at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2007

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