For creatures you can’t even see, dust mites can stir up a lot of trouble. About 20 million Americans are allergic to these little bugs. When you’re one of these people, you may feel as if you have an endless cold or even asthma.
Medication can help, and you can also take simple steps to keep thedust mites away.
What is dust mite allergy?
Household dust is a mixture of many materials. Dust may contain tiny fibers shed from different fabrics as well as tiny particles of food, plant and insect parts, mold and fungus spores, dander from pet dogs or cats, or feathers from birds. Dust also contains many microscopic mites and their waste products.
The waste products of dust mites — not the mites themselves — are what cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Throughout its short life span, a single dust mite may produce as much as 200 times its body weight in waste products. Dust mite waste contains a protein that is an allergen. An allergen is a substance that provokes an allergic reaction.
Where are dust mites found?
Dust mites thrive in temperatures of 68-77°F and relative humidity levels of 70-80%. There are at least 13 species of dust mites, all of which are well adapted to the environment inside the average home.
Symptoms to Watch For
Dust allergy symptoms are similar to those of pollen allergies:
- Red, itchy, wateryeyes
- Runny, itchy, stuffy nose
How Can we Prevent Symptoms?
The best strategy is to limit your exposure to dust.
Start in the bedroom, where you probably spend the most time. Large numbers of dust mites can gather in mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furniture.
Wear a mask while cleaning, too.
Bedroom Dust-Busting Tips
Put airtight, plastic dust-mite covers on pillows, mattresses, and box springs.
Use pillows filled with polyester fibers instead of kapok or feathers.
Wash bedding in very hot water (over 130 F) once a week. The water needs to be this hot to kill dust mites. Dry the bedding in a hot dryer.
Around the House
Clean bare floors often with a damp mop or cloth.
Vacuum carpets once or twice a week. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. If your dust allergy is severe, ask your doctor if replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood or vinyl floors would help.
Wash throw rugs in hot water.
Vacuum upholstered furniture such as sofas. Wood, leather, plaster, or metal furniture is better for dust allergies.
Replace drapes with roll-up window shades. If you must have curtains, wash them in hot water each season.
Get rid of stuffed animals, soft toys, and other dust collectors.
Keep Air Clean and Dry
Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to lower humidity.
Put a HEPA filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in your heating and air-conditioning unit. You can find the rating listed on the packaging. Change the filter every 3 months.
Keep humidity in your home below 55%. Use a hygrometer to measure it. You can get one at hardware and building supply stores.
Eliminate dust mite havens. Wherever possible, try to rid the bedroom of all types of materials that mites love. Choose washable bedding and toys. Try to limit the number of stuffed toys and upholstered furniture. Avoid use of wall-to-wall carpeting if possible. Keep pets out of this room as well. Roll up shades are easier to clean than fabric curtains, but if you do have curtains, be sure to wash them often.
- Ideally, someone without dust mite allergy should clean the bedroom. If this is not possible, then wear a filtering mask when dusting or vacuuming. Many drug stores carry these items. Because dusting and vacuuming stir up dust, try to do these chores at a time of day when you can stay out of the bedroom for a while afterward.
- Use a damp cloth for dusting.
- Special vacuum cleaner bags (microfiltration bags)
are available which help reduce the amount of dust, which gets stirred up during vacuuming. Special filters for vacuum cleaners can also help keep mites and mite waste from circulating back into the air. You can buy these bags and filters in large department stores and from an allergy supply company or in some specialty vacuum stores.
- Wash rugs in hot water whenever possible. Cold water leaves up to 10% of mites behind. Dry cleaning kills all mites and is also good for removing dust from fabrics.
Decorate appropriately. Other rooms in your house can be treated similarly to the bedroom. Avoid having wall-to-wall carpeting, if possible. If you do use carpeting, the type with a short, tight pile is less hospitable to mites than the loose pile or shag type. Better still are washable throw rugs over regularly damp-mopped wood, linoleum, or tiled floors.
Reduce household humidity. Use a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner to keep humidity in your home at less than 50%. Reducing humidity is one of the easiest ways to control dust mites.