How can I find out if mold is causing her migraines?
May 28, 2008 10:51 AM   Subscribe

My fiance has been experiencing rather severe migraines for close to a year now. Since they began she's been to many different doctors, specialists, chiropractors, etc. all of whom have failed to provide an answer. Its only now that I'm seeing a correlation between her migraines/headaches and our move into the first floor of an old house within the same timeframe. Could this be mold or another allergen? Help me figure this out and (possibly) get out of here before our wedding.

A little background—in August of last year we moved into this first-floor old-house apartment in a hurry. Its been somewhat of a disaster but we've managed through it. After we moved in my fiance began experiencing more and more frequent headaches and which led to migraines—every day. She has seen several different doctors, a headache specialist, a neurologist and most recently a chiropractor over the course of the past year, none of whom could provide a solution or an explanation. She's been taking increasingly high doses of various medication, but neither of us have noticed a significant difference.

Recently our relatives and I have been considering the possibility of some sort of allergen or irritant in the house that could be causing the problem. The timeframes match up, the house in pretty bad shape (the basement is particularly disgusting) and things seem to settle down if we're away from the place for an extended period. I don't believe that this has ever been brought up to or asked about by a doctor.

Is it possible that mold could be causing this (or some other factor related to the place?) We're 2 months away from our lease being up, but only 1 month away from our wedding. I'd like to end these migraines so she's not suffering on our wedding day.

I'm willing to just pack up and move today if it would mean that she'd get better. However, she's not happy with the idea of paying rent for two apartments concurrently—which leads to the second part of my question. If something in this place is causing these, how can we prove it and convince the landlord to let us out of our lease?

Keep in mind that this particular landlord, when confronted by the contents of all tenants toilets being dumped into the basement (yes, the smell was unbearable) said that it wasn't remotely a health risk.

I called today to see if they had ever had the place checked for mold and was told that they "didn't think so."

Oh, and we're in Naperville, IL if that means anything to anyone.
posted by joshwebb to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i once lived in an apartment where the previous tenant had torn up all the carpet because the carpet padding gave him migraines. so i think it's totally possible.

usually there is a clause in most leases that if something makes the apartment uninhabitable, you can end the lease early and/or stop paying rent until it's repaired. have your fiancee go for allergy testing and see if something pops up. if so, have your apartment tested. if the allergen is present, you probably have a case for breaking the lease.

alternatively, you could just threaten to call the health department over the toilet situation--a basement is not a septic tank. i bet he'll let you out of the lease quickly.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:07 AM on May 28, 2008

The only way to know if anything it in fact is something in the environment (that is, the house) that's causing the headaches is removing her from said environment.

Honestly, things being the way you put them with the toilets and all, even if it isn't causing the headaches, it can't be good. I'd leave now - do you really wanna be going back there after your wedding?

As a migrane sufferer myself (all my life, unfortunately), I can't imagine thinking it *could* be the house and not wanting to move. Like, right this second. Screw rent money, if that's the case. And even if it isn't something in the house per se, it could all be deriving from the stress of living in what I can assume is not such a pleasant place. (Or something else. Like getting married. But you won't know that until you move out).
posted by neblina_matinal at 11:09 AM on May 28, 2008

Fact sheet about moisture in the home from the Illinois Dept. of Health

This is all pretty easily google-able.
posted by amro at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2008

You can buy a mold test kit (Target, $12.99, widely available elsewhere). If it's positive for a mold that you can show is causing her problems, or even one that's generally toxic, you'll have hard evidence to show your landlord.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2008

This site seems to offer advice and test kits.

The best test is a long stay somewhere else -- if the migraines stop, then you've isolated the Two months of rent is not necessarily an absurd amount to spend to ensure health and a pleasant wedding. Try putting it this way to her: the lease is up in two months, so you'd likely be moving in 1.5 months as it is. You'd certainly have to start looking for a place in 1 month, if not sooner. So this is, at most, 1.5 months rent. Write down that number. Now add up the cost of all of the doctor's visits and medications. Write that number down. That's how much she has been willing to spend to cure her condition so far, and it sounds like it's probably a substantial amount. So, if one or all of the doctors suggested a medication that would take her migraines away and that cost as much as 1.5 months of rent, would she take that medicine? Well, if you determine that the apartment is the cause, then Dr. CommonSense is prescribing an immediate move.
posted by prefpara at 11:13 AM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Testing the house for allergens won't necessarily tell you the cause of the migraines. Nor would it necessarily be the landlord's fault/problem if she is allergic to the house.

You could try spending some time away (a weekend? a week?) and see if that makes a difference. If it does make a dramatic difference, then your fiancee is making an informed choice, one way or the other -- if she knows the difference and decides to put up with the problem, then that's her decision (or, if it does make a dramatic difference then you could spend a few days away before the wedding).

Also, if you wonder if she has environmental allergies, then she should get a referral to an allergist. It's possible to have a sensitivity other than an allergy, but an allergy is pretty easy to test for.
posted by winston at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2008

I can't really speak to the question of mold and migraines but as a migraine sufferer and a former pharmaceutical representative for a triptan (the class of medicines most commonly used to treat migraines) I have a few suggestions:

If she has not tried ALL the triptans she should. There is something very mysterious about migraines and how/why triptans work to treat migraines. While some people are in love with Imitrex, the powerhouse of the class of medications, other people feel tired and hung over after taking Imitrex and prefer Amerge, Zomig, Maxalt, Relpax, Axert, or Frova.

She should also try all of the formulations of the triptans: Maxalt and, I think, Imitrex and Zomig have oral formulations - pills that dissolve on the tongue and Imitrex has a spray. She may prefer the orally dissolving tablets, or she may find their tastes (mint or orange, respectively) exacerbates her symptoms.

The best symptom relief I've heard from the most people was with Maxalt MLT (their dissolving tablet -get it, MLT = melt?), Imitrex spray, or Frova but more so than with almost ANY class of drugs, different people respond to different triptans. She needs to try ALL of them. If she's seeing a neurologist, they should have samples of all of them.

Remember, triptans are intended to treat migraines (acute symptoms) not prevent them.

If she gets a lot of migraines, perhaps she should ask her neurologist about Topomax? Topomax is intended for long-term treatment to controll the incidence of migraines.

Finally, I can't make any suggestions for IL, but where I was I visited a number of allopathic physicians who also practiced (or referred patients for) acupuncture for the treatment of migraines. I've never tried it myself, but I met several patients who said that acupuncture had totally changed their lives. Best of luck. I know that migraines can be truly debilitating.
posted by arnicae at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2008

It just occurred to me: are you sure that the cost is really the issue for her? Maybe she is using the cost as an excuse to avoid having to move right before your wedding. Is she doing most of the wedding planning? If so, I can certainly understand her reluctance to take on a second enormously stressful project. Just in case that’s the problem, would it be possible for you to take on the work of moving? If you put it that way, maybe she will find that the money isn’t such a big barrier after all.
posted by prefpara at 11:17 AM on May 28, 2008

Keep in mind that this particular landlord, when confronted by the contents of all tenants toilets being dumped into the basement (yes, the smell was unbearable) said that it wasn't remotely a health risk.

Did this happen when you and your fiancee were living there?

Not to be a member of the mefi drive-by "maybe it's this!" diagnosis squad, but as a data point, I have a family member who became very ill after moving into an apartment with what she thought was a mold problem. Turns out the "mold" in her apartment was actually an area where raw sewage had leaked under the carpet and never been adequately cleaned up. She was eventually diagnosed with parasites, which none of her docs had thought to test for until after she ended up in the hospital and was having some blood work done. (She was living in a nice apartment in a first-world country, and parasites doesn't jump to the top of anyone's list in that situation, I guess.)

So, if your fiancee has been exposed to raw sewage, you might want to let your doctor know about that in particular. It could affect what sort of things he/she tests for.

Good luck--I hope she feels better. I'd encourage you to just find another place and deal with the money aspect later, because getting really ill in a situation that might ultimately be preventable is really just so, so, SO much worse than losing two months worth of rent. The money you end up spending on doctors (or, god forbid, if you end up in the hospital) ends up to be potentially more than you'll save from not moving out anyway.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:07 PM on May 28, 2008

Migraines every day? The triptans are powerful, and very expensive. I don't think this is something you want to take every day. Anyway, I am sure this has come up with her doctors. (an interesting side note, LSD is related to the triptans and some research has shown that sub-tripping doses actually prevent migraines for weeks or more at a time, although I am not advocating this).

If the apartment has the dreaded black mold you should be able to get out of the last two months rent. I would have it tested. With other molds and types of allergens may be too difficult to correlate the symptoms with the allergen, but the black mold, the home insurance industry nightmare, is different.
posted by caddis at 12:07 PM on May 28, 2008

Entirely possible, migraines are mysterious things. The fact that your sewers were dumping into the basement probably means you can walk away from that lease, ugh.

If you're not prepared to break the lease, why doesn't she move out. Stay with family or friends while you work on packing up your place and after the wedding you both come back to a new home. That way you only pay double rent for a month and she can leve immediately.

Moving all your worldly belongings to a new place would be a nice wedding gift that some of your friends or family may be prepared to take on.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2008

really quickly from one sufferer to another: try migraleve. that stuff works for me when nothing else does.
posted by krautland at 1:33 PM on May 28, 2008

After an indoor sewage spill such as you describe, ozone generators are a standard treatment to counteract odor and kill airborne pathogens, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are still some down there, but ozone is also a recognized migraine trigger.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2008

It seems likely that it's something in the house, since it clears up when you're away. Mold is only one possibility, though. Establishing that it's a particular allergen and that that allergen is in the house would take some effort. Carbon monoxide occurred to me. I think headaches from carbon monoxide clear up quickly when you get out of the house, and maybe you'd be experiencing symptoms also if that were it, but do you have a detector?
posted by daisyace at 4:45 PM on May 28, 2008

I would be testing your house for carbon monoxide.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

How old is she? Typically, real migraines start in adolescence or early adulthood and usually there's a family history. Have you actually established that these are migraines? Like someone said above, if they are migraines and there's a possibility that moving would cure them by removing some trigger, very few people would resist moving for cost reasons unless they were absolutely impoverished, and even then...

Also, there's a lot of hype about mold and little evidence that it causes the problems for which it is blamed.

But it seems to me that a move is in order for many reasons-- and if it solves the problem, it really doesn't matter what the cause is.
posted by Maias at 6:03 PM on May 28, 2008

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