Just the thought of microscopic bugs living in my pillow, sofa, or carpet is enough to give me the creeps! These little creatures live uninvited in our homes. Yikes! Dust mites are microscope bugs that primarily live on dead skin cells regularly shed from humans and their animal pets. Dust mites are generally harmless to most people. They don’t carry diseases, but they can cause allergic reactions in asthmatics and others who are allergic to their feces.
According to the American College of Asthma,& Immunology, approximately 10 percent of Americans exhibit allergic sensitivity to dust mites. In the spring, pollen aggravates allergies, and dust mite infestations make it worse. The fall and winter months are a particular problem, as we close up our houses and the concentrations of dust mites and their feces increases inside.
Skin cells and scales, commonly called dander, are often concentrated inside your home in areas that are soft with cushions and pillows. These cushioned areas not only are excellent collectors for dead skin cells and dander, but also provide wonderful homes for dust mites. The average human sloughs off 1/3 ounce (10 grams) of dead skin a week. That gives dust mites a lot to eat. Cats and dogs create far more dander for dust mites to eat.
A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands of dust mites. Nearly 100,000 mites can live in one square yard of carpet. These little creatures eat like crazy! A single dust mite produces about 20 waste droppings each day, each containing a protein to which many people are allergic. Yuck! The proteins in that combination of feces and shed skin are what cause allergic reactions in humans. Depending on the person and exposure, reactions can range from itchy eyes to asthma attacks. The good news, though, is unlike other types of mites, house dust mites are not parasites, since they only eat dead tissue.
Dust mite allergy symptoms caused by inflammation of nasal passages include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pressure and pain
- Frequent awakening
- Swollen, blue-colored skin under your eyes
- In a child, frequent upward rubbing of the nose
If your dust mite allergy contributes to asthma, you may also experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness or pain
- An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Bouts of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as a cold or the flu
A dust mite allergy can range from mild to severe. A mild case of dust mite allergy may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In severe cases, the condition may be ongoing, or chronic, resulting in persistent sneezing, cough, congestion, facial pressure or severe asthma attack.
Some signs and symptoms of dust mite allergy, such as a runny nose or sneezing, are similar to those of the common cold. Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you have a cold or an allergy. If symptoms persist for more than one week, you might have an allergy. If you think you have an allergy, it is always best to get tested to confirm or deny that allergy.
ImmuneTech has an allergy test which you can order online and provide a little finger stick blood sample in the comfort of your home. This sample is then returned to ImmuneTech and is processed using complex technology to determine your allergies. You can order the test from www.immunetech.com. Use code ILG for a 15% discount! Another option for testing allergies is to see an allergist. Regardless how you choose to get tested for allergies, the key is to get tested!
If you do test positive for dust mite allergies, beyond taking medications that may be prescribed by your physician, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of dust mites in your home. Actually, I think these are great ideas whether or not one has dust mite allergies! I think reducing the number of these little creatures in my home is a good thing, regardless!
While you can’t completely eliminate dust mites from your home, you can significantly reduce their number. Use these suggestions:
- Use allergen-proof bed covers. Cover your mattress and pillows in dust-proof or allergen-blocking covers. These covers, made of tightly woven fabric, prevent dust mites from colonizing or escaping from the mattress or pillows. Encase box springs in allergen-proof covers.
- Wash bedding weekly. Wash all sheets, blankets, pillowcases and bedcovers in hot water that is at least 130 F (54.4 C) to kill dust mites and remove allergens. If bedding can’t be washed hot, put the items in the drier for at least 20 minutes at a temperature above 130 F (54.4 C) to kill the mites. Then wash and dry the bedding to remove allergens. Freezing non-washable items for 24 hours also can kill dust mites, but this won’t remove the allergens.
- Keep humidity low. Maintain a relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent in your home. A dehumidifier or air conditioner can help keep humidity low, and a hygrometer (available at hardware stores) can measure humidity levels.
- Choose bedding wisely. Avoid bedcovers that trap dust easily and are difficult to clean frequently.
- Buy washable stuffed toys. Wash them often in hot water and dry thoroughly. Also, keep stuffed toys off beds.
- Remove dust. Use a damp or oiled mop or rag rather than dry materials to clean up dust. This prevents dust from becoming airborne and resettling.
- Vacuum regularly. Vacuuming carpeting and upholstered furniture removes surface dust — but vacuuming isn’t effective at removing most dust mites and dust mite allergens. Use a vacuum cleaner with a double-layered microfilter bag or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help decrease house-dust emissions from the cleaner. If your allergies are severe, leave the area being vacuumed while someone else does the dirty work. Stay out of the vacuumed room for 20 minutes after vacuuming.
- Cut clutter. If it collects dust, it also collects dust mites. Remove knickknacks, tabletop ornaments, books, magazines and newspapers from your bedroom.
- Remove carpeting and other dust mite habitats. Carpeting provides a comfortable habitat for dust mites. This is especially true if carpeting is over concrete, which holds moisture easily and provides a humid environment for mites. If possible, replace wall-to-wall bedroom carpeting with tile, wood, linoleum or vinyl flooring. Consider replacing other dust-collecting furnishings in bedrooms, such upholstered furniture, non-washable curtains and horizontal blinds.