Think Your House is Haunted? Check Again.
We all know what it feels like to live in a haunted house: a feeling of pressure on your chest, an unexplained sense that someone’s watching you, strange drafts, ghostly sounds, constant fear. These symptoms permeate our common culture. We see them constantly in movies and scattered throughout the ghost stories we tell each other over campfires. When we experience these sensations ourselves, we jump to the conclusion: this building is haunted.
Not so fast. There are a few alternatives to ghosts to explain these unsettling symptoms. You shouldn’t sigh in relief if that’s the case, though: some of these alternatives can be just as scary as a supernatural presence.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
This is one of the causes of hallucinations, headaches, and fatigue that is truly dangerous. Carbon monoxide poisoning includes symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, chest pain, and confusion, and it kills more than 400 Americans — and hospitalizes more than 4,000 — each year. The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your house is to install a carbon monoxide detector and replace it every five years. If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, leave the house and contact your local fire department. You should also make sure that heating equipment and car exhaust systems are inspected at least once a year, and you should never run gas generators, camp stoves, or vehicles indoors.
Pesticide and Formaldehyde Poisoning
The most common type of pesticide poisoning is long-term low-level exposure through contact to pesticides in the environment. The people who are most at risk are retail workers in stores that sell pesticides, emergency responders, flight attendants, farm workers, and gardeners. Symptoms of mild pesticide poisoning include headache, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, restlessness, nervousness, and other common sensations attributed to hauntings. Formaldehyde poisoning is much less common, but it also presents symptoms that can be associated with hauntings, like irregular breathing, abnormal heart rhythm, and restlessness. You can avoid these symptoms by handling garden pesticides carefully. The dosage of pesticides on produce shouldn’t present a problem, but you should always wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. If you work in an at-risk industry for pesticide or formaldehyde poisoning, take safety precautions to protect your skin and lungs from exposure.
Of course, some causes of haunted house behaviors aren’t so scary. Fluctuations in magnetic fields, or the movement of electrical currents, can affect your brain. They can cause hallucinations, dizziness, and the feeling of someone standing behind you - all neurological symptoms that don’t transfer into tangible differences in the environment. These changes in magnetic fields can cause disruptions in your cell phone service or other electrical devices. Some people claim that the changes in magnetic fields are caused by ghosts. The truth is that the research that tracks magnetic fields and reports of hauntings cannot determine which causes which. Correlation does not imply causation, as any scientist will tell you.
Low-frequency Sound Waves
Also known as infrasound, these sound waves can make people feel nervous and uncomfortable and think they’re sensing ghostly behavior. Sound waves can also affect your sight and make you hallucinate. Such sounds can come from fans, severe weather, engines, and speakers. Sometimes, fixing them can be as simple as adjusting your fan settings.
The period between waking and sleeping can open you up to hallucinations. It’s why, if you’ve been playing Candy Crush right before bed, when you close your eyes you might still see the colors (it’s called the Tetris Effect). These sensations aren’t just limited to sight, though. You might also hear random noises, smell unfamiliar scents, or feel strange things on your skin. Because you’re in such a vulnerable condition in those moments before you fall asleep, it might be difficult to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.
Creaking sounds and cold spots are features of old houses. A drafty window or chimney can draw cold air into a house. The house might settle at strange moments, making the walls and floors creak for seemingly no reason. Additionally, mold that has developed in your old house might be causing you to experience hallucinations. In New Jersey, NJM policyholders can get an endorsement to cover the cost of removing mold and fungus from a building.
If you’re told that a place is haunted, you might expect to experience signs of a haunting. Confirmation bias is the inclination to interpret information in a way that favors your original understanding of it. Stories about the building could predispose you to expect to find something supernatural. When you perceive something even slightly abnormal, you might immediately attribute it to the haunting, without considering possible alternatives. In fact, in studies of hauntings and public perception, people who believed in ghosts were more likely to report unusual activity and attribute that activity to a ghostly presence.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it’s probably a good idea to look into any symptoms of ghostly behavior. While some of the causes, like confirmation bias and an old, deteriorating house, might be trivial, others, like carbon monoxide poisoning, could be much more dire. If you think your house might be haunted, pause to consider the other possibilities. The true causes of your perceptions might be a matter of life or death.