Dust mites and the protein produced by their feces are the most common allergen contaminants found in the indoor environment and is the number one cause of asthma in the home. In fact, persons which exhibit serious symptoms to house dust are confirmed by testing to have a strong allergy to the protein found in dust mite feces.
What are dust mites?
Dust mites are microscopic bugs which live in most homes and are 1/100th of an inch in length and have translucent bodies, so they are not visible to the unaided eye. To identify one of these microscopic mites, one would need a 10X magnification device. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology identifies them as an insect which belongs to the family of eight-legged creatures called arachnids that also includes spiders, chiggers and ticks. They will thrive in temperatures above 70 degrees F, especially with humidity levels above 65 percent and usually die off when the humidity falls below 40 percent. They are more prevalent in areas which have moderate to extreme humid climates. A female mite will lay many eggs which are coated with a sticky substance that clings to most materials. An immature egg will reach adulthood in just four weeks time.
Dust Mites Have Huge Appetites
They may feed on dead human skin cells which are in the air and on furniture surfaces. Since humans may shed as much as 1/5 ounce of dead skin each week, dust mites never run out of a food source. They will also consume animal dander and may be plentiful in the bedding of family pets. Since we spend about one-third of our lives in the bedroom, higher levels of mites are usually found on the surfaces of a mattress and bedding materials. A typical mattress may have millions of mites living inside and on the top surfaces. They can also be found in large numbers in carpeting and furniture where humans spend the most time.
Dust Mite Symptoms
A person who shows an allergy towards dust mites will produce an antibody in response to the proteins from their feces. An allergic individual will produce white blood cells that release histamine thus triggering allergic symptoms. Histamine may produce allergic symptoms at various places in a persons body. Allergies caused by these microscopic creatures can range from mild allergic rhinitis to severe asthma attacks. Extreme exposure cases have reported a red rash around the neck, arms or legs.
Controlling Dust Mites
Regular cleaning of the places they can be found can make a real difference in the number of dust mites in your home. The only effective method of controlling them is to focus on microscopic dust control. A high efficient particulate air (HEPA) vacuum is the primary weapon for effective cleaning of all areas which they can be found. Here are some other great ways to control dust mites in your house:
- In the bedroom, encase your pillow and mattress with allergy proof covers.
- Wash all bed linens in hot water (130 degrees F) weekly.
- Use fitted sheets to help keep dust off the mattress covers.
- Replace feather and down pillows with synthetic filled alternatives.
- Keep stuffed toys off beds and discard stuffed toys for children with asthma conditions.
- Make sure that your hair is dry before going to bed since the moisture may attract dust mites.
- Keep blankets enclosed in allergy free bags or covers when not in use.
- Thoroughly vacuum all upholstered furniture and carpeting weekly with a HEPA cleaning device.
- Limit the use of a humidifier unless needed for other health reasons.
- Maintain a dry environment in your bedroom especially if it is directly connected to a bathroom.
- Wash all curtains and window coverings on a monthly basis.
- Purchase a quality Relative Humidity (RH) meter and attempt to keep RH levels below 50 percent. Central air conditioning is effective at lowering RH in the warmer months.
- Use a pleated high efficient filter in your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to control dust. Avoid all filters which are sold as “washable”.
- Utilize a HEPA air purifier in bedrooms and heavily used rooms.
- A common recommendation is to treat dust mite areas with a powder chemical compound. I strongly warn against using any powder chemical of any type for any reason since the chemical itself can be inhaled causing other acute or chronic respiratory problems.