What are dust mites?
They are little bugs that live in your bedding and carpets. They live on the dead skin cells you shed every night in your sleep. This is why your bedding is the ideal habitat for them. People are usually allergic to their protein or excrement, which are microscopic particles and make up part of the dust which we find in our homes.
More specifically, they are spider like bugs. Upto 20,000 dust mites may be present in a single gram of dust .
They don’t bite, don’t spread disease, and don’t live on people. They are not the bed bugs we talk about.
What is contained in dust?
A speck of dust may contain fabric fibers, pet dander, bacteria, cockroach parts, mold spores, food particles, human skin, dust mites amongst other debris. A lot of these are potential irritants, but dust mites tops the list.
Why is the dust mite so important?
It is the most common inhaled allergen in the Gauteng area and probably one of the most common allergens all round.
What are different about symptoms when related to dust mites?
The symptoms are the usual, blocked stuffy nose, Post nasal drip, sneezing itching, chest or asthma symptoms such as wheezing. You can also get skin eruptions such as urticaria. However that things that point to dust mite are:
1. The symptoms are throughout the year and not seasonal.
2. They are worse in the night or early mornings and indoors instead of during the day and outdoors.
3. They are worse when doing the housework or changing bedding.
How can I know for sure?
Blood test or skin prick test can be diagnostic.
DUST MITE PROOFING
How can I reduce the dust mite symptoms?
1. Cover all your beds and bedding with dust mite proof coverings.
You can purchase both dust mite proof mattress covers and pillow covers. They have a shower curtain like feel and are not too plastic like. This is probably the most important single thing you can do as you or your child spends at least 8 hours a day sleeping in bed. Also dont forget to cover the duvets if you have them. Newer types of covers have plastic on the inside, and cloth around the outside for a more comfortable feel.
3. Wash all of your bedding weekly. Make sure to use hot water that reaches at least 130 degrees. The mites cannot survive this temperature. You can keep their population numbers under control this way. Remember that once you have killed them, you still have to vacuum them away, as you are still allergic to the carcases.
3. Another way to kill them is to place you mattresses in direct sunlight for at least 2 hours. Again, this controls the overall population, but needs to be vacuumed. Killing them first does make vacuuming them out easier as they cannot “hold on” anymore.
2. Utilize dust mite killing sprays on upholstered furniture. Minimize in the bedding as these are alsou can also o chemicals that may cause airway irritation.
3. Vacuum regularly. It is not okay to use ordinary vacuum cleaners. Use high-filtration vacuum cleaners on any carpets in the house to control dust. No amount of vacuuming or dusting will remove them completely, so control is important.
4. If possible, install high efficiency dehumidifiers in bedrooms. Airconditioners are a type of dehumidifier. Some commercial brands eg. Silver nano aircon go some way to helping for bacteria, but not dustmite. Remember that what is required are high effeciency filters here and for the vacuum. Check the lable on the vacuum. Many do mention if they have the HEPA filter system.
5. Get rid or limit any exposure to stuffed animals as they are a breeding ground for dust mites. You must at least wash regularly in high temperature. You can also place them in a plastic bed and put in a freezer. It has a short term effect or protection.
The above are pretty inexpensive. More expensive alternatives are:
1. Replace all upholstered furniture with leather furniture.
2. Replace carpets throughout the house with tiles, wooden or laminate flooring. As dust settles on the floor eventually, the carpets can become saturated and be a great breeding ground for dust mites.
3. Change the curtains, made up of fabric into blinds made from wood or plastice or metal. The are easy to keep free of dust to minimize breeding.
What about allergy injections or drops?
Allergy injections or subcutaneous immunotherapy or sublingual immunotherapy are probably the only true “cure” for allergy.
It is a way of building up a different type of immunity to the dust mite. If you are allergic to the dust mite, and are exposed to it, your body creates an IgE reaction (dont worry about the details, but this is an allergic reaction). Continuous regular immunotherapy aims to change this to a IgG response (or a non allergic response).
What if I like carpets and curtains?
BE practical. Before you do anything drastic, please do the blood test for dust mite. This is called a RAST test and you can be referred by you allergy specialist. It is pointless to do all the above if you are not allergic to the dust mite.
If you are are allergic and still like your carpets, be sure to do the barrier protection and clean regularly. However, if your or, more importantly, your childs symptoms are not under control, decide for yourself what is more relavent to your situation. In the case of uncontrolled asthma, the choice is easy.