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There is something in the house in which I live that gives me and my partner itchy eyes, aching joints and extreme fatigue.

Extensive medical examination excluded allergic reactions to dust, pollen, cloth detergent and a few other medical conditions. Moreover, all symptoms disappear for both of us within 24 hours whenever leave the house for holidays or business trips.

We then thought our symptoms were cause by some type of mold, so we thoroughly cleaned the house with anti-mold detergents, installed de-humidifiers and constantly monitor humidity, which is always < 50%. There is no visible mold spot in the house. We purchased a high-quality air-purifier, which helps a tiny little, but not enough.

We have a feeling (but no certainty) that it is somehow related to fabric and organic surfaces: clothes, mattresses, couches, divan bed. Being in the same room as drying laundry makes things even worse, and instead the bathroom - which has tiles and ceramic - is the least irritating room. We deep-cleaned the washing machine with all kinds of commercial products.

We have not conclusively excluded mold as the irritant - but this is what we did so far.

We have excluded carbon monoxide leaks, because our boiler was recently checked and we have several CO detectors at home. We ventilate the house a lot and have no A/C unit.

As a last bit of info (it's a lot, I know, I'm sorry): we likely brought this issue into our current house from the previous one in which we lived, where we also suffered from this problem. We moved into our current house before all our belongings were moved (across country), and we had no symptoms until the moving company brought our stuff from the previous house and we unboxed.

What can the irritating agent be? What can I test further? Any help is hugely appreciated.

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    The agent can be almost anything that you are sensitive to, but unusual for two people to be sensitive to the same thing. To find might have to isolate a few things at a time, either by placing them outside(shed) or wrapping completely in plastic(heavy), for a few days. It should be a bit easier since you only need to check on the things that moved with you and not the house itself. With two people, each one might be sensitive to different agents.
    – crip659
    Jul 3 at 14:26
  • Agree w/@crip659 100%. You'll have to isolate items (shed or storage unit would be best) until you find out what item(s) have to be missing to relieve symptoms, then live without those items.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 3 at 14:33
  • thanks for the suggestion, we tried that. But it seems that also objects that were already in the house, such as the bed, are now a source of irritation. Jul 3 at 14:41
  • Maybe you're allergic to each other.
    – JACK
    Jul 3 at 14:48
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    I’m voting to close this question because diagnosing a medical condition is not home improvement
    – mmathis
    Jul 4 at 0:44

5 Answers 5

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The fact that it affects both of you is very important, coupled with the fact that it did not happen until your stuff arrived. That probably means it's not an allergy or an "environmental illness" (notoriously difficult to detect, to the point where many sufferers are written off as psychosomatic).

Unfortunately two sad realities inform the problem: First is the proliferation of plastic items into our lives, to the point where you now have only 3 minutes to escape a house fire when you once had 17 minutes. Plastics can emit a variety of irritants. Second is the explosion of peer-peer direct mail such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon Marketplace which entirely bypass the consumer safety apparatus which protects goods sold in retail stores. It's easy now to have some scary stuff in your home. I would deal with this threat by looking with suspicion at anything basically made of plastic, especially if it lacks the standard product certification markings of UL, ETL or CSA e.g. from being bought mail-order. Sunlight exacerbates emissions.

However, noting that you had the problem at the previous location, I think you need to do a much more careful and systematic search of your possessions. I am guessing that your search has been a hasty one, merely covering things in plastic or not giving very much time to see if the effect actually worked. With these things it can be days to see an effect (not that it's an allergy, but an IgG reaction takes 12-72 hours to react - and this trips up lots of people searching for allergens! So I am saying a more systematic and slower approach may be called for. I would consider a shed or storage unit.

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    Many points are very valid, however, "we likely brought this issue into our current house from the previous one in which we lived, where we also suffered from this problem." It's definitely something they owned before the move, but not caused by the move itself.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 4 at 0:14
  • Thank you for the answer. The suggestion of storage unit is perhaps the best path of action (with the temptation of throwing everything there and never opening the container again). Jul 4 at 17:27
  • @FreeMan good catch! Edited. Jul 4 at 17:33
  • @enricosandro yes, my sweetie suffered a forced purge over a ... well, we never figured out what it was. By the way, they actually have a storage service where they photograph your items and throw them in mini-storage, and then, on their app you can just click a photo and say "I need that item" and their staff gets it for you. Obviously they are betting hard that you won't want any of it! Jul 4 at 17:38
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Based on your description and actions taken, I would take look at your furniture, that might be made from MDF boards.

MDF board it’s made with an adhesive containing urea-formaldehyde (or urea-methanal formaldehyde), which “off-gasses” into its surroundings. It will irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

You can do a brutal test, by going to store that sells MDF boards, and see if your symptoms get worse, when close to the MDF boards.

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  • Thank you, I'll try the "brutal" test. Jul 3 at 22:01
  • @enricosandro, I was just kidding about brutal, but was serious with exposure to MDF panels for a test. You might have a furniture not made in US, so not compliant to our laws about formaldehyde levels.
    – Ruskes
    Jul 3 at 22:04
  • @enricosandro Because of the health hazards MDF presents, the U.S. government passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act in 2010, which sets limits on how much formaldehyde home products can contain—in this case, a max of 0.11 ppm (parts per millions).
    – Ruskes
    Jul 3 at 22:08
  • There are many formulations of formaldehyde, and also, many allergens/reactions take longer than a few minutes to kick in. So it would not be conclusive. Jul 4 at 19:15
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica you are right. The MDF manufacture in USA, has to comply with rules here. If the OP has furniture made in China or other place then the story is different. However a exposure to raw MDF boards in a huge pile might trigger the reaction in short period (just few inhales).
    – Ruskes
    Jul 4 at 19:33
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The fact that you had no symptoms in your current location until your belongings arrived suggest that your belongings contain an allergen or another substance. Have you considered a cockroach allergy? If you ever had a cockroach infestation at the old place, even if it was years ago, you could still have cockroach allergens in / on your belongings.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:

What Is a Cockroach Allergy? Cockroaches contain a protein that is an allergen for many people. An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic immune reaction. The body parts, saliva and waste of cockroaches are allergens. Even dead cockroaches can cause allergic reactions. What Are the Symptoms of Cockroach Allergy? Common cockroach allergy symptoms include:

Sneezing
Runny nose
Itchy, red or watery eyes
Stuffy nose
Itchy nose, mouth or throat
Postnasal drip (a flow of mucus from behind your nose into your throat)
Cough
Itchy skin or skin rash

If your cockroach allergy triggers your asthma, you may also experience:

Difficulty breathing
Chest tightness or pain
A whistling or wheezing sound when breathing out
Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing

How Do Doctors Diagnose a Cockroach Allergy? To diagnose a cockroach allergy, your doctor may give you a physical exam and discuss your symptoms. If your doctor thinks you have a cockroach allergy, he or she may suggest a skin prick test or a specific IgE blood test. If you have symptoms year round, you could have a cockroach allergy.

More info can be found at AAFA.org.

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  • Interesting ! so the cockroaches moved with them ?
    – Ruskes
    Jul 4 at 16:56
  • Thank you for the answer. (Un)fortunately, there were no cockroaches where we were before, and also not where we are now. Jul 4 at 17:14
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Too many irritating agents out there to guess. Box up the belongings you unboxed when the problem arose and wait to see if the problem goes away. If it does, decide whether to get rid of the boxed items or unbox them one at a time with time in between to see if the problem re occurs.

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  • Thank you for the suggestion. We have tried to box old things but to no help. Would you perhaps know where to find a comprehensive list of irritating agents somewhere? Jul 3 at 14:43
  • @enricosandro Everything can be an irritating agent under the right conditions.
    – JACK
    Jul 3 at 14:50
  • @enricosandro There is even a tick that if it bites you, could make a person allergic to meat. Think it has Texas in the the ticks name.
    – crip659
    Jul 3 at 14:57
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Being in the same room as drying laundry makes things even worse.

Consider your washing powder or any additives. Try washing some clothes by hand instead of with a machine. Do new clothes irritate? What if you tried using a laundromat-type washer or someone else's machine for a couple day.

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    Yes, I should have mentioned this - sorry! Changing washing powder, washing methods and washing machine altogether was one of our best guesses - despite not suffering from skin irritation. Laundromat and alternative washing machines alleviated symptoms a little bit, but did not solve the problem. Jul 4 at 17:31

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