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Q & A On Dust Mites

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This issue of News For A Healthier You talks about dust mites, what they mean to you, and what to do if you are allergic to dust mite allergen.
  1. Why Is So Much Said About Dust Mites?
  2. Are There Dust Mites In Your Home?
  3. Could You Have A Dust Mite Allergy?
  4. How Can You Get Rid Of Dust Mites & Their Allergen?
  5. October's Special - Only For Newsletter Subscribers
  6. Newsletter Subscriber Sweepstakes Winner
Q & A On Dust Mites

Why Is So Much Said About Dust Mites?
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), dust mites may be the most common cause of year-round allergy and asthma. This could be due - at least in part - to the fact that dust mites live almost everywhere in the world, and it is impossible to completely get rid of them.

This little pest is so small you can't see it without a microscope, but the dust mite can be a big problem to the 20 million Americans who react to dust mite allergen. The life cycle of a dust mite is 2-4 months and a single female can lay up to 100 eggs. If you have dust mite allergies, you can see that it is important to control the mite population in your home. Click here to watch a short QuickTime video of dust mites.

Dust mites pose no danger to people who do not have dust mite allergies. They will stay burrowed in your soft bed or sofa away from the light. They will not crawl on you or bite you. But if you have dust mite allergies, they will make you miserable. Actually, the dust mite itself is not what causes the allergic reaction; the problem is what the dust mite leaves behind. That would be the dried excrement and body parts from dead dust mites. While killing dust mites is important to decrease the amount of allergen, avoiding the allergen is what really counts.

Are There Dust Mites In Your Home?
Almost without a doubt, you have dust mites in your home. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Their requirements for life are very low, so it doesn't take much to turn any place into a home for them. For water, all they need is a relative humidity in your home of over 50%. When the humidity in your home is kept below 40%, mites will die, but they still leave their allergen behind. Even if we get humidity levels low in our homes, our bodies give off enough moisture to keep them quite happy in places where we spend a good amount of time. Their primary food source is the skin cells we shed, and just one person can produce enough dead skin cells to feed a million dust mites daily. These tiny flakes of dead skin work their way down into mattresses, box springs, pillows, carpet, and upholstered furniture. And that is where you find dust mites. If your house is warm and humid, dust mites will have no problem living year round.

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Could You Have A Dust Mite Allergy?
Allergic reactions to various allergens such as mold spores, pollen, and pet dander can be very similar, so to be sure you need to see an allergist or another doctor who can do a skin test. Often dust mite allergies are the worst when you first get up in the morning since your bed and pillow are full of dust mite allergen. The Mayo Clinic gives this list of symptoms you may have with dust mite allergies:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Cough
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Frequent awakening
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under your eyes
  • In a child, frequent upward rubbing of the nose

Dust mite allergen is a recognized trigger of asthma attacks. If you are both allergic to dust mites and have asthma, you need to be especially vigilant in controling your environment to reduce dust mite allergen as much as possible. The Mayo Clinic gives these symptoms of asthma that can be brought on by an allergic reaction to dust mite allergen:
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
How Can You Get Rid Of Dust Mites & Their Allergen?
Since the bedroom is the place in your home where most dust mites live and the room where you spend about 7-8 hours a day, that is the best place to start dust mite allergen control. Experts including the AAFA say that the single most important step to take when you have dust mite allergies is to cover your mattress, box springs, and pillows with zippered dust mite covers. These encasings cut off the mites' source of food, and equally importantly, the covers keep dust mite allergen (remember, that is dust mite excrement and dried body parts) from being released from your bed into the air you breathe.

Another important step is to wash all bedding that is outside the encasings every 1 to 2 weeks in hot water (130 degrees) or use a laundry additive in cold water that will kill dust mites. Or use a laundry detergent that denatures allergens so they no longer bond with the body's antibodies, thus avoiding the histamine response or "the allergic reaction".

Since another favorite spot of dust mites is your carpet, it is recommended that you replace carpet with hard surface floors or treat your carpet to kill dust mites and neutralize dust mite allergen. Likewise, wash curtains weekly in hot water or with an anti-allergen cold water method and replace drapes that cannot be washed. Even upholstered furniture can be a haven for dust mites, so it is important to replace it with wood or leather pieces or treat the upholstered furniture regularly. Spraying the upholstery to prevent dust from becoming airborne is also effective.

Keeping humidity at 45-50% or lower is an important preventative measure. A humidity gauge can help you keep tabs. If humidity in your home stays above 50%, a dehumidifier could help lower the humidity to an acceptable level.

Having dust mites is the norm; it is no reflection on your housecleaning skills. However, dust mite allergen is a component of house dust, so it is important to vacuum and dust often and to be careful when doing these chores to avoid inhaling the allergen. This is a great reason to get someone else who does not have dust mite allergy to do the vacuuming and dusting. If you have a dust mite allergy and you are the designated vacuumer/duster, wear a mask. When vacuuming, especially in the bedroom, try to stay out of that room for a while since some dust mite allergen will be stirred up into the air. However, using a HEPA vacuum cleaner will trap dust mite allergen collected from your carpet and floor. When dusting use an electrostatic dust cloth that attracts dust instead of pushing it around or use a dusting aid spray, a damp cloth, or polish. Dusting tools designed for the task can also help get dust under control.

Margie Bullock, Newsletter Editor
Closing Thoughts
Its hard to imagine a family that is not touched by dust mite allergy, but if yours is not, keep in mind that repeated exposure to an allergen over time leads to allergic reaction, so prevention is as important as treatment. Let us know if you have some good tips to share about eliminating dust mites or neutralizing their allergen by posting on our Facebook Wall.

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