Everything You Should Know About House Dust Mites
It’s hard not to notice that allergies have escalated significantly in recent years, particularly amongst children. One of the most common causes of allergies is house dust mites. They may even be the most common trigger of all year round allergies and asthma. An allergy is an over-reaction of your immune system to a normally harmless substance, called an allergen.
Although completely harmless looking, dust is comprised of just about everything. The concoction can include pollen, soil, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, pet hair, fibres, flame retardants, dust mites, insect parts and faeces, lead dust, paint and asbestos. House dust mites feed on dead skin cells which are also found in dust. An allergy to dust can, therefore, be an allergy to any of these components including house dust mites.
House dust mites feed off your dead skin, bacteria and pet hair, and are found in the millions, although you cannot see them as they are microscopic. It is actually a protein in the dust mite faeces that you are allergic to. However, with high concentrations of dust mites, even non-allergic people can develop symptoms. About 45% of households are understood to be inhabited by house dust mites!
RELATED: What Causes Allergies in the House?
Symptoms of an allergy to house dust mites
House dust mites are strongly linked to asthma, eczema and hayfever. They can trigger asthma-related symptoms and even cause asthma in children who have never previously displayed asthma symptoms. If you wake up in the morning all sniffly, coughing, wheezing and clogged up this may be a good clue that you have found the cause of your problem. Some people will find the symptoms come on at night time too.
House dust mites are found on every continent except Antartica. It’s pretty much impossible to rid your home of them entirely but the good news is, you can do a lot to reduce their numbers and alleviate your allergies.
What Can You Do to Prevent House Dust Mites?
The microscopic invisible dust mites thrive in moist, warm conditions such as in your mattress, curtains, carpets, couches and soft toys. To keep their numbers under control you need to remove the dust mites’ food source and keep your rooms dry and cool, as they love moisture and heat. Here are some ways you can do that!
- Purchase dust mite resistant protectors made from natural fibres to encase your mattress, doona and pillow. These covers are woven very tightly so dust mites cannot get through. You can often pick these covers up in large department stores, just make sure they are made from 100% natural fabric and no chemicals have been added.
- Regularly wipe down the surfaces in your home using a damp micro-fibre cloth to physically remove the dust. Don’t ever dry dust.
- Purchase a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filter. Unlike mainstream vacuums these filter the air down to 0.3 microns, preventing these tiny particles escaping back into the air. If you have a carpet you should also purchase a vacuum with a motorised head. Some vacuums can be retrofitted with a HEPA filter – check with your brand. A vacuum with a double-bag would also help reduce dust emissions especially on emptying.
- Vacuum your mattress regularly and as soon as you get up before the dust mites migrate away from the surface of the mattress.
- Dispose of vacuum bags after every use.
- Wash all your bedding and blankets once a week in hot water (at least 55 oC or 130 oF) and dry in the sun.
- Anything that cannot be washed, such as soft toys, can be frozen in a plastic bag for 12-24 hours to remove dust mites.
- Leave the covers pulled back on your bed every day to allow the bed to dry out. There’s a good excuse not to make the bed!
- If practical, bring your mattress outside in the sun for a few hours. Alternatively, if it’s too heavy or awkward try tipping it on its side by a window in the sunlight.
- Don’t use an electric blanket.
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- Monitor humidity levels using a hygrometer. Dust mites cannot survive in a room with less than 50% humidity.
- Reduce humidity levels using a dehumidifier to 45-50% humidity, if required.
- Always use your exhaust fan and open windows in the bathroom when showering to reduce humidity.
- With really bad allergies you may even need to replace carpets with wooden floorboards, ceramic tiles etc.
- Rugs made out of natural fibres such as organic cotton, bamboo or hemp are an alternative to carpet but should be aired outside (given them a good beating) and vacuumed using a HEPA filter.
- Replace fabric curtains with blinds and even upholstered furniture where practicable.
- You can have customised dust mite protection covers made up for your upholstered couch but it’s usually not possible to encase the entire couch. You may need to replace it with a non-fabric version (sorry!).
- Pillows should be replaced every 18-24 months.
- Doonas/quilts made from silk are excellent as they are naturally hypo-allergic.
- Bed frames made from wood are preferred over fabric.
- Avoid the use of bunk beds.
- If necessary use an air purifier fitted with a HEPA, UV and carbon filter to clean the air.
- Take your shoes off before you enter the home – it’s the main source of contaminants in most homes and can reduce the amount of dust in your home by more than 50%.
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These are some general words of advice that will help you to relieve allergies to house dust mites. If you feel this could be a cause of your symptoms, start with buying some dust mite protection covers, regular damp dusting, vacuuming and weekly washing of bedding in hot water. Then see if you need to implement further strategies. Start with the bedrooms first and then move onto the living area. Of course, there are a number of triggers within our homes that can provoke allergies, like those discussed in my previous blog post ‘What Causes Allergies in the House?’.
If you have concerns that haven’t been answered here, or you’d like me to visit your home personally and conduct a Healthy Home Review for you (see the different types of reviews I offer here) feel free to get in touch!
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