Allergic to the girlfriend?
December 11, 2007 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me. I think I'm allergic to my girlfriend....

Well, not to her, but to her apartment.

When I stay at my girlfriend's apartment, typically just on weekends, I break out in hives. This started three or four weeks ago. At first it was only a couple spots on my right arm, and I thought it was spider bites. During the week, staying back at my place, they subsided. The following weekend, they returned and increased in number, though they were still located on the one arm (with a couple on my right shoulder). At that time I decided it was poison oak residue lingering on my shoes (which I only had been wearing at her place in the city), so I treated it as such. Again, during the week, the itchy spots subsided.

For the past couple weeks, they get worse every time I'm at her place. They welts are still mostly on my right arm, but this weekend they also showed up on my left leg.

After doing some research, I'm convinced they're hives. I'm assuming they're an allergic reaction to something, but I can't figure out what, or how to stop it.

We've washed the sheets and changed the detergent, to no appreicable effect. I'm not using any soap or other toiletries that I haven't brought from home. There are no pets in the apartment (and I'm not allergic to any animals, anyway).

What else could it be, and what else should we try? I'm seriously considering the possibility that it's the water. Is it possible to be allergic to water? (Either from the shower, or from drinking it from their Brita filter?) This is in San Francisco, by the way.

Other data points: Girlfriend has no hives, either from the primary source, or from having come in contact with mine. Whatever it is isn't contagious and doesn't affect her. Also, I'm not at all allergy-prone (except for seasonal allergies). This is the only reaction I've ever had like this.

Any advice on other suspects to eliminate (excluding the girlfriend) would be greatly appreciated.
posted by mudpuppie to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
See an allergist and have a skin prick test done?
posted by hjo3 at 2:20 PM on December 11, 2007

Maybe it's not the sheets, but other bedding. Could the blankets or comforter on her bed be the source of your hives?
posted by contessa at 2:23 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Forgot to mention: Can't get a doctor's appointment until January. Am trying to eliminate possible causes before then so that I don't have to resort to self-amputation.

Also, girlfriend stays at my place during the week, so it's not related to her presence.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:23 PM on December 11, 2007

Are there girl products (soaps, perfumes, etc.) that she uses at home, but not at your place?

My husband is horribly, HORRIBLY, allergic to "Miso Pretty" and similar perfumes, to the point that he got hives from a towel shared with a girl who was wearing it.
posted by Gucky at 2:30 PM on December 11, 2007

Could be something on the mattress, couch or other furniture. My old SF apartment had significant mold problems that caused me allergy hell - could it be something like that?
posted by gnutron at 2:31 PM on December 11, 2007

A friend of mine had a very bizarre rash and it turned out to be the comforter itself, not the detergent. It cropped up again on a trip, using a hotel comforter. Hers migrated a bit - thighs, arms, underarms - and this one skin tag she had would swell up as well.

There's also my father's random rash - it was one of those automatic shower cleaners, the kind that spray all the shower once you leave. It was leaving residue on his bar soap, but not my mother's body wash. No one thought of it until they went on vacation.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:32 PM on December 11, 2007

do you get more of them when you're there, or do they just seem to get worse when you're over there? if the latter, it may be psychological (well, the preception that they are worse over there..the rash is obviously real).

i mention that because it sounds a bit like shingles, which can pop up on just one part of the body, and slowly worsen over the course of several weeks.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:33 PM on December 11, 2007

Pets? Plants?
posted by stleric at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2007

If something makes you break out, my usual suggestion is to look for more common allergens - fragrances, dust, pets, mold, etc. I'm the hive queen so I'll go through a (slightly Sass-specific) rundown of what I look at when someone's dwelling gives me a rash:

- Does she use a different brand of laundry detergent than you or scented body products?
- Does she spray Febreze or other fabric refreshers on her couch/bedding? Does she use air fresheners or cleaners you are not familiar with/have never been exposed to before?
- Does she have a pet (you can be allergic to individual animals of the same species and not others, you know.
- Does she have dust in the house? Is it an older building? How old is her mattress/upholstered furniture?
- Does she have houseplants indoors that you have not been exposed to and/or might have mold lurking in their planters? Any other leaks or damp spots in the house where mold could be?
- This is a biggie - is her couch or furniture new and/or coated in protective spray like ScotchGuard (either that she used or as a 'perk' they threw in at the furniture store)? My dad's couch gave me hives two years ago and it took a week-long visit to realize it.

Take a benadryl or other OTC antihistamine before you go to GF's house again. Use an OTC hydrocortisone cream on the rash if it's itchy/really red. If you can at least rule out the options above, it might help. If you can narrow it down to a specific problem, all of the above have solutions (ie: dust covers on the mattress, etc). Welcome to my world, Pups! :P
posted by SassHat at 3:02 PM on December 11, 2007

check for food allergies. What are you eating there. Plus, I think the location says spiderbites or the sheets, fabric softener or some other element close by to you.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on December 11, 2007

posted by gaspode at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2007

It may be the apartment itself. A friend of mine spent a summer in agony because of an allergic reaction that no allergist could pin down. When she moved, it went away like magic. She suspects it was mold under the carpets of her old apartment.
posted by doift at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

bedbugs? weird that she hasn't been bitten, but you never know, maybe you're sweeter.
anything on her driveway or yard that you might be brushing up against on your way in, while locking up your bike or car, etc? maybe there's nettles or ivy or something outside of her place?
posted by twistofrhyme at 4:30 PM on December 11, 2007

If it only started 3 or 4 weeks ago, get your girlfriend to look through her credit/debit card records for purchases she made around then. Maybe it'll jog her memory about things she recently started using that you are allergic to.

Other than that, I would go to the doctor and get a skin prick test like someone suggested earlier.
posted by catburger at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Could the blankets or comforter on her bed be the source of your hives?

No blankets -- just a comforter. I assume it's down, in which case it shouldn't be a problem since I have one at home as well. Maybe it's a weird synthetic, though. I'll ask.

Are there girl products (soaps, perfumes, etc.) that she uses at home, but not at your place?

I don't think so, given the huge bag of stuff she carts to my place from hers, but I'll ask.

Could be something on the mattress, couch or other furniture. My old SF apartment had significant mold problems that caused me allergy hell - could it be something like that?

I'll look into the mattress. The couch belongs to her roommate, so I'll ask if it's been treated or anything.

As for mold, my own house has a mold outbreak every winter. I've never had this problem. of those automatic shower cleaners...

I'm fairly certain that no shower cleaner has been used since I started staying there. :| you get more of them when you're there? ...i mention that because it sounds a bit like shingles...

As far as I can tell, I ONLY get it there. Probably need to skip a weekend to make sure, though, in case it's just some weird 7-day cycle.

I'm pretty sure I can rule out shingles for two reasons: One, it's hella itchy, but not painful. Two, I apparently have an inherited immunity to chicken pox (no one on my dad's side of the family has ever had it, and neither have I), so I presumably wouldn't get shingles.


Heh. My own place has more.


Yeah, see, I think anything buggy can be ruled out because of how localized it is (why would the bugs just go for one arm and not my back/legs?) and because it's only affecting me.

Maybe it'll jog her memory about things she recently started using that you are allergic to.

One thing she only started using 3 - 4 weeks ago is me, so....
posted by mudpuppie at 5:20 PM on December 11, 2007

First off, see and allergist ASAP and get a prescription for an EpiPen. (It might make sense to stash one EpiPen at your girlfriend's and one at your place or your car.) Because your reaction is getting more severe with each exposure and because the next step after hives is often your throat swelling shut, you need to be armed to deal with a more dramatic reaction.

Like you, I've got contact dermatitis to one or more chemicals that I can't really identify. And like you, it's worse every time. I had a minor episode in middle school, then several more noticeable ones in college. My allergist said that, while they have tests to determine allergies to things like cats and plants and foods, there's no effective way to determine exactly which household chemical is making me itch. I can usually trace it back to unwashed new clothing, but sometimes I have no idea what caused the outbreak. You may never figure it out, but you need to do whatever you can to eliminate ALL potential causes because, well, breathing is preferable to not breathing.

I would think, because your only symptom is hives, you're probably looking at something that touched your skin rather than something you inhaled. Although you're seeing the hives in primarily the same spot, that may not be the area of skin that came into contact with the toxin (my hives show up in random spots, then migrate around for a few days until they go away), so keep your search wide. And it only takes very brief contact (seconds even) to provoke a response, so don't focus just on sheets or clothing.

Things I'd investigate:

-- Furniture, especially couches or anything fabric-covered
-- Pillows (including throw pillows on the couch) and pillowcases
-- Towels, wash cloths, dish towels, napkins, etc.
-- Anything the girlfriend wears, including makeup or perfume
-- Condoms, lubes, etc. that you don't use at your place
-- Carpet
-- Air fresheners, candles, anything that puts a smell into the air
-- Do you read the newspaper on the weekends but not during the week? I had a reaction to paper (maybe the ink, maybe something else on it) once

I hope you figure out what the source of toxin is. You don't want to expose yourself to it more than you absolutely must (the next time can always be The Big One). Drastic measures, like convincing her to move, are obviously a bit extreme (unless you'd been considering asking her to move in with you before this whole ordeal?) and not something you want to consider. Good luck and let us know if you figure out the puzzle.
posted by katieinshoes at 5:24 PM on December 11, 2007

It could be something other than a fabric. The bathroom wall collapsed on my girlfriend's house once because of bad plumbing, which meant that there was a butt-load of mold. It made me break out in terrible hives until we cleaned up the mold and had the wall fixed. What's happening to yiou sounds exactly like what happened to me.

Did anything break recently?
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:48 PM on December 11, 2007

Seconding the contact dermatitis thing. Benadryl cream on your arm will help with the itching, but I'm wondering--if she sleeps with her head on your shoulder, could it be her hair products that are bothering you? If it's only on your arm and the one leg, I'm thinking it's either the bedding (sheets, comforter or pillowcase) or a product she uses on her hair or skin that you are coming in contact with. Since you've changed the detergent, it could also be a synthetic fabric in the bedding.
posted by misha at 5:51 PM on December 11, 2007

Hasn't anyone seen Guys and Dolls?
(I'm referring to Adelaide, who comes down with a psychosomatic cold due to lack of a wedding ring from Nathan Detroit.)

Maybe its psychosomatic about staying at her place?
posted by NoraCharles at 5:52 PM on December 11, 2007

I had to switch hotels in SF because of bedbugs---and the bites were localized in one spot.
posted by brujita at 10:24 PM on December 11, 2007

I thought bedbugs too. Maybe it's a new infestation, and you are lucky enough to have found it.
posted by bink at 11:03 PM on December 11, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, so I've googled bedbug bites, and they look a little similar.

But if that's it, why, oh why, would it be affecting just me? GF has slept in this bed much more than I have, and she has no bites. That makes me want to rule it out, even though a couple of google images look like they might match.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2007

Don't overlook misha's question above. Shortly after my girlfriend and I moved in together, she started breaking out on her chest. After a few months, we realized that she was reacting to my harsh deodorant, and her spots were occurring exactly where her chest came into contact with my under arm while we were in our going to sleep position.

I switched to an antiallergenic deodorant and her problem cleared up in a matter of days.
posted by syzygy at 2:26 AM on December 12, 2007

I'm allergic to some of the makeup my mom uses. Could be that?
posted by agregoli at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2007

Try switching sides of the bed to test for bedbugs! What about outside the bedroom? Couch covers/pillows? Toilet paper? What is the temperature like there? Sometimes when I have to sleep in a really warm room, I get odd rashes. Anything different around her place? Such as - neighbors have anything wafting over? places you visit every time you go there? Could just be something in the air vents, too.
Just throwing out ideas here. Good luck!
posted by s77v at 4:58 PM on December 12, 2007

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