Controlling Dust Mites and Other Dust Allergens in Your Home
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has declared May to be “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.” More than 65 million Americans overall have asthma and allergies. Some people may have one or both of these conditions, and allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S., according to AFFA.
Your home is supposed to be a safe haven and comforting oasis, but for many people with dust allergies, home can trigger uncomfortable symptoms. House dust is comprised of a mixture of diverse substances that can trigger allergies such as dried food particles, mold spores, pollen, fabric fibers, animal dander, and insect parts – especially those of dust mites and cockroaches.
Particles and debris from dust mites are the major source of allergens in house dust. As is the case with other allergens, these particles contain proteins that are small enough to become airborne and inhaled. The dust that builds up throughout a home can trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing or coughing, or another allergic reaction such as the rash of atopic dermatitis or stuffy nose of allergic rhinitis.
Chronic, ongoing exposure to indoor dust allergens can dramatically impact the health of individuals with asthma and those who are allergic or especially sensitive.
What exactly are dust mites?
Dust mites are eight-legged arachnids and are relatives to spiders and ticks. Unlike bed bugs, dust mites are microscopic, so they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Dust mites generate some of the most common indoor allergens that can trigger allergic reactions and asthma in many people. A female dust mite can lay 25-to-50 eggs every 3 weeks and hundreds of thousands of dust mites can live in the bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets, or curtains in your home.
Dust mites are not parasites; they don’t bite, sting, or burrow into our bodies. The harmful allergen they create comes from their fecal pellets and body fragments. According to Healthline, the reason dust mites are so prevalent is that they feed off of dead skin cells. On an average day, one person may shed 1.5 grams of dead skin cells, which can feed up to one million dust mites at a time.
The truth is that dust mites are nearly everywhere and roughly four out of five homes in the U.S. contain detectable levels of dust mite allergen in at least one bed.
Other common components of household dust and allergy triggers
- Cockroaches – live in all types of buildings and neighborhoods. Some people develop allergy symptoms when they are around cockroaches. Tiny particles from the cockroach are a common component of household dust.
- Mold – is a fungus that makes spores that float in the air. When people with a mold allergy inhale the spores, they get allergy symptoms. There are many different kinds of mold—some kinds you can see, others you can’t. Molds live in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens. Tiny mold particles and spores are a common component of household dust.
- Pollen – comes from trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds. People can be allergic to different types of pollen. For instance, some people are allergic to pollen from only beech trees; others are allergic to pollen from only certain kinds of grasses. Pollen is a common component of household dust.
- Animal hair, fur, and feathers – pets can cause problems for allergic individuals in several ways. Their dander (skin flakes), saliva, and urine can cause an allergic reaction, especially when combined with household dust. In households with birds, feathers and bird droppings can also become embedded in household dust and cause problems for people who are allergic to them.
How dust mite allergens can affect your health
As one of the major indoor triggers for people with allergies and asthma, dust mites can cause an immune system response known as allergic rhinitis. A dust mite allergy can range from mild to severe. A mild case may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing.
In severe cases, the condition is ongoing, or chronic, resulting in persistent sneezing, coughing, congestion, facial pressure, or severe asthma attack. People with asthma who are sensitive to dust mites face an increased risk of flare-ups or asthma attacks.
Who should be concerned about dust mites?
Homes in humid climates, older houses, infrequently cleaned homes, and homes where a musty or mildew odor is present are more likely to have higher concentrations of dust mites. Humidity is a major factor. Mites don’t drink water, rather they absorb moisture from the air. In dryer climates like the desert, dust mites can’t survive.
Unlike pet allergens, dust mite allergens don’t usually stay airborne as they cling to particles that are too heavy to remain in the air for long. Dust mite allergens settle within minutes into dust or fabrics, such as pillows, bedding, or upholstered furniture, which serve as nests.
Most exposure to dust mite allergens occurs while sleeping or when the dust is disturbed while making the bed or other movements. Since adults spend one-third of their time and children spend half of their time in their bedrooms, it’s important that steps are taken to control dust mites and allergens in this room.
Steps to reduce household dust mites and other dust allergens
In most parts of the world, it’s impossible to completely eliminate dust and dust mites from your home. However, you can take steps to minimize your exposure to dust mite allergens by keeping your home as dust-free as possible.
- Reduce humidity. To minimize the growth of dust mites, keep your home below 50% humidity. In humid areas, air conditioning and dehumidifiers can help. On dry days, open your windows for one hour per day to help remove humidity from the house.
- Do not use window or attic fans, which bring air-containing pollen, mold spores, and other allergens into your home.
- Use air conditioning so you do not have to open windows. This will help reduce the amount of pollen and mold spores that enter your home.
- Use an air cleaner with a special high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. This can help remove some allergens (such as pollen or animal dander) and tobacco smoke from the air in your home.
Furniture, carpets, drapes, and bedding
- Avoid carpet, upholstered furniture, and heavy drapes that collect dust. Avoid furniture covered with fabrics. Use pillow and mattress covers made from a tight-weave fabric that will keep out dust and mites.
- Use furniture made of wood, plastic, leather, or vinyl (including vinyl mattress covers) that you can wipe clean.
- Remove rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting. If you cannot or do not want to remove carpeting throughout the home, consider removing it only in the bedroom.
- Use smaller rugs (throw rugs, area rugs) that can be washed in hot water to kill dust mites.
- Replace drapes and blinds with roll-down shades or washable curtains.
- Remove “dust collectors” from bedrooms, such as stuffed toys, wall hangings, books, knickknacks, and artificial flowers.
- Avoid wool blankets and down quilts.
- Damp-mop hard floors (tile or hardwood, for example) once a day.
- Dust regularly. Incorporating dusting into your regular cleaning routine can reduce the amount of dust and improve overall indoor air quality in your home. Use a damp mop, damp cloth or a duster that can trap and remove dust to reduce the amount of it that is stirred up when cleaning. You’ll want to think beyond traditional cleaning methods like dry brooms or feather dusters and use a tool that removes dust and mites.
- Vacuum the carpets and cloth-covered furniture once or twice a week to get rid of as much dust as you can. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or a special double-thickness bag, which collects dust-mite particles and pollen.
- Dusting and vacuuming stir up dust, making the air worse until the dust settles. Wear a mask if you do the cleaning yourself. If possible, try to have someone without allergies do the cleaning.
- Consider wet-vacuum cleaning when possible. This can help remove allergens from carpeting because it actually washes the carpet. Also, consider steam cleaning carpets when possible as the heat of the steam will kill dust mites.
Regular weekly cleaning of your home is an important part of managing allergen triggers. Even the act of cleaning, especially if it hasn’t been done in a while, can trigger allergy symptoms as dust and allergens are stirred up. If cleaning has been neglected for several weeks, wearing a protective mask is recommended.
Allergy action plan
Don’t let allergies interfere with your day-to-day activities at home. You can live a normal life despite having allergies by being proactive. A thorough home cleaning is still your best bet to reduce indoor allergens and air pollutants. If you’re extra sensitive, maintain that level of clean by vacuuming carpets and dusting surfaces daily. If you’re looking for help or need healthy cleaning services, Cleanstart cleaning pros can help you implement an allergy action plan that starts with regular professional cleanings.
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http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307922/ – Indoor Environmental Exposures of Asthma: An Update to the 2000 Review by the Institute of Medicine
https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/dust-mites – Indoor Air Pollutants: Dust Mites
https://www.medicinenet.com/indoor_allergens/article.htm – Why are my allergies Worse Indoors?
https://acaai.org/allergies/types/dust-allergy – Dust Allergy – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
https://www.aafa.org/asthma-and-allergy-awareness-month/ – Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month