Dust mites (Dermatophagoides farinaeare) are microscopic eight legged arachnid insect that feed off of the dead skin cells (dust). These dead skin cells, also referred to as dander, are highly concentrated in any dwelling where one or more live animal or human resides. Each human sheds about 10 grams of skin per week, and domestic animals shed far more. The dander or dust that the mites rely on are found in heavily concentrated amounts on beds, carpets, furniture and even in the air we breathe. In fact, a single mattress can house over one hundred thousand of these tiny creatures, and even more can be found in your carpet.
How Do Dust Mites Cause Asthma Attacks?
In the past it was believed that these allergens only exacerbated pre-existing asthmatic conditions, triggering asthma attacks. However new studies have shown that children who are exposed to these allergens in high amounts have an increased risk of developing asthma and allergies later in life. In fact, even adults can develop an allergy to dust mites, and it is even likely that such an event will occur if one is exposed to dust mites in high amounts daily. Those of us that are fortunate enough to be spared from having asthma attacks may be plagued with other annoying symptoms such as rash, itchiness, eczema, red/itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, lung congestion and runny nose.
Decreasing Dust Mite Exposure
There is no particular season in which dust mites thrive, so unlike other allergens they continue to cause discomfort, long after allergy season has passed. Therefore, waiting on the dust mites to leave is simply not beneficial, and the only way you’re going to get rid of dust mites is with a proactive and aggressive approach. Since it is nearly impossible to completely rid an inhabited house of dust, instead one must find a way to minimize the dust in their house to the best of their ability.
The average individual spends about 6-8 hours of every 24-hour period in their bed. Most asthma attacks happen at night right before falling asleep or during physical activity. When the asthma attacks occur during bedtime, it can most definitely be attributed to the high concentration of dust mites in the bed. Therefore, most of the efforts to control dust mites and other allergens should be centered on the cleanliness of the bedroom. There are many techniques that one can use to make their bedroom more inhospitable to dust mites.
First, since so many dust mites colonize within the bed itself, allergen-impermeable bed covers and pillows are recommended. Wash all bed linens for at least 15 minutes on high heat to completely kill all dust mites. If one has extreme sensitivity to dust mites then this may need to be done once every two days. Any stuffed accessories should be removed from the bed before bedtime, and they should also be washed on high heat. To decrease the number of times the bed linens need to be washed each week, plastic furniture encasements can be used. If the plastic encasements are not comfortable enough the high-thread-count cotton encasements are also beneficial as they are less permeable then regular cotton.
Another way to make your home inhospitable to dust mites is to lower the humidity levels. Like other small insects, dust mites thrive in moist environments. In fact, many experts believe that decreasing the relative humidity levels to 30%-50% is the single most important preventative measure one can take against dust mites. In the wintertime you’ll need to use a dehumidifier to lower the humidity levels, however during summer this can be done with an air conditioner. All leaks should also be repaired to prevent excess humidity. Remember to never sit/lay on your bed or furniture with any moisture on the body, especially damp hair.
Replacing carpets with harder, impermeable surfaces has also been proven to be highly beneficial. If replacing the carpet is simply not an option financially, then using a steam cleaner to kill the dust mites is also a viable solution. Once the carpet has been cleaned, a plastic mat can be placed along the entire floor to keep dust mites from colonizing. When vacuuming the carpet, only High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters should be used. If a HEPA filter is not an option then a double bag will also be beneficial. The best solution is to have a central vacuum system that is vented to the exterior of your home.
Individuals that are extremely allergic may need to hire a cleaning service or have a cleaning service assist them in cleaning their house. If this is not an option then damp clothes should be used when wiping down hard surfaces such as windowsills, as using dry clothes will fluff the dust mites into the air.
Once the entire house has been thoroughly cleaned and all of the above precautions have been taken, the next step is to keep the air in the house as dust-free as possible. One way this can be done is to increase the circulation in the home. Stagnant air is the perfect environment for dust, mould and other allergens. A good way to keep the air moving is to use fans in every room of the house, especially the bedroom. Opening all of the windows at least twice a week is a good way to bring fresh air into the house. The best way to purify the air is to use an air purifier. Although these devices may be costly, they do an excellent job of ridding the home of virtually any kind of airborne pollutant or allergen.
Dust Mites and People
Dust mite proteins, the number one indoor allergens, are the most frequent cause of perennial allergic rhinitis. At least ten per cent of the world’s population suffer from dust mite related allergies. Some symptoms include sneezing, nasal stuffiness, stuffy ears, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, respiratory problems, atopic dermatitis and even asthma.
People who have problems with house dust realize that even one breath of dusty air can set off allergy symptoms and asthma. But dust alone isn’t always the cause of their problems. Dust mites — microscopic organisms that live in dust — are the usual culprits.
Dust mites can live and prosper in clean homes. The matter dust mites leave behind (droppings and carcasses) become airborne when it mixes with dust.
While you can’t totally exterminate dust mites from your home, you can limit their population and lessen the amount of matter that gets into the air. This may actually help people breathe better.
The actual dust mites are not allergenic in themselves, but the protein they produce is. DER p1 is the protein found in the dust mite droppings and decayed carcasses that cause the biggest problems.
Reducing Exposure to Dust Mites
No matter how often and thoroughly you vacuum and dust your home, you will not see a decrease in the number of living dust mites that are living deep within carpets and bedding. However, there are some steps that can be taken to make their existence much more difficult which will help reduce the exposure to their allergy causing properties.
Dust mite loves warm climates and humid conditions, so the first step is to decrease the warm temperatures and humidity in your house. Utilize an air conditioning unit and dehumidifiers if possible. Special filters can be bought for your air conditioning units which will help contain airborne allergens. These filters should be switched or cleaned often. The dehumidifiers should also be cleaned on a regular basis as well.
Bedrooms are the best dwelling place for dust mites. They live in pillows, bedding materials, bed springs, blankets, and duvets. Over two million dust mites live in the average person’s bed. Human body heat, plus the dead skin particles are perfect for dust mite maturation and existence. It is recommended you encase the box spring, mattress, and pillows in dust-proof housings. All linens and bedding materials should also be washed bi-weekly in hot sudsy water.
The ideal, dust mite-free house should have no carpeting. But for those houses with carpeting, they should be cleaned by professionals with HOT water to kill dust mites. Mites cannot live in extremely hot conditions.
The best apparatus for dealing with dust mites faeces and carcasses is the a HEPA filtration vacuum cleaning machine. Vacuuming carpeting, bedding, upholstery and drapes once a week will decrease the number dust mite allergens in your house.
Clothes can also be a source of dust mites. Clothes should also be laundered in extremely hot water and thoroughly dried to eradicate the dust mites.
Further measures to decrease dust mite allergens are to utilize wood or vinyl flooring and leather furniture. Use blinds or washable drapes rather than heavy drapery. Avoid objects that collect dust such as tapestries, old books, cluttered-objects, and collectibles.
Anti- Dust Mite Pesticides
There are products on that market that claim to eradicate dust mites or reduce the overall allergenic properties of their faeces, but usually the toxic chemicals in these products are even more harmful than the dust mites. Be sure to read the product labels prior to buying to see which chemical agents are being utilized.
Dust Mite Allergy Treatments
If limiting your exposure to dust mites is not successful, medicines or allergy injections may be required to help alleviate the symptoms. Contact your doctor or allergy specialist for assistance.
The best method for treating medical problems related to dust mites allergies is reducing the amount of dust mites within living areas. Such things as adjusting environmental controls and reducing the amount of dust and dust collecting material around the home can make a huge impact on the frequency and severity of dust mite allergies.
Along with environmental treatment, it may also be necessary for those that suffer from this problem to use the aid of medicinal products. A wide variety of prescription and non-prescription products are available today. They range from antihistamines and decongestants to corticosteroids and beta-2 agonists. These medications have greatly reduced the severity of symptoms that people suffer, and have made life much easier for those allergic to dust mites.
Here are some ways to help reduce the number of dust mites in the home, and in turn, reduce the possibility for allergic reactions to the dust mite’s waste products.
How do we kill them?
Dust mites need water to live, and are more scarce in high altitude (and therefore dry) climates. They also require a warm environment, making winter hard on their populations. They also cannot stand very hot temperatures, so launder whatever bedding and clothing you can in hot water to kill existing dust mites. Their life span is usually four months, so it is wise to kill them where you can.
In addition to alteration of their habitat, there are extermination processes developed to help rid your home environment of dust mites and decrease the allergens that they expel. The active ingredients of the chemicals used to treat dust mites in the home, are benzyl benzoate and tannic acid, both of which are relatively safe for use around humans. The chemicals are known as Acarosan and Allergy Control Solution. The best way to avoid dust mites, however, still seems to be prevention.