Dust Mite Allergy


imageDust mite allergy is one of the most common allergies. It can be responsible for daily and year round allergy symptoms in both children and adults. Characteristically, those with a dust mite allergy are most symptomatic upon awakening in the morning, after being exposed to dust mites through the night. 

Dust allergy is not caused by dust; rather it is the dust mites in house dust that we breathe that causes symptoms of dust allergy. Dust mites are microscopic organisms, closely related to spiders and ticks. The two house dust mite species found in North America that are responsible for dust mite allergies are Dermatophagoides farinae and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus. Quite appropriately named, dermatophagoides means “skin eater”. House dust mites are scavengers that feed primarily on the dead skin that falls off the bodies of humans and animals. Humans shed two to three pounds of skin cells a year, so it is no wonder that mites are found around the places where we spend most of our time, for instance, in our beds.

Dust mites live in warm, humid, and dark conditions, making our bedding, particularly the mattress and pillow, their ideal living environment. They also live and multiply inside of upholstered furniture, carpets, stuffed toys and old clothing. Depending on the age of a mattress, experts have estimated that it may contain between one million and ten million house dust mites!

Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms

If you or your child awakens each morning with nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or itchy eyes, then dust mite allergy is the most likely cause. But, it is not actually the living dust mites that cause the dust allergy symptoms that plague 20 million Americans. It is their dried out body parts and even smaller waste particles. During its 80 day lifespan, one dust mite can produce an estimated 1,000 allergenic fecal waste particles. Everyday activities like walking across the room, turning over in bed, and especially household chores like vacuuming will stir up remnants of dust mites and their waste particles causing these highly allergenic particles to become temporarily airborne for us to breathe.

Allergy to dust mites characteristically causes daily and year-round symptoms. Dust mite allergy symptoms might include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, as well as itchy eyes, nose, and throat. Inhalation of dust mite allergens can also be the cause of airway inflammation which can lead to asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. It is now recognized that exposure to mites can also exacerbate the skin irritation and inflammation of eczema, especially in young children.

Dust Mite Allergy Treatment

The thrust of dust mite allergy treatment is environmental control. So, if it has been determined that you or your child have an allergy to dust mites, then it is imperative that you do everything possible to minimize exposure to dust mites. Recognize, however, that it is impossible to totally avoid exposure to dust mites, and it is unreasonable to expect one to “dust proof” an entire house. However, there are some very important things which can and should be done in one’s bedroom to significantly reduce exposure to dust mites and their allergenic waste products. Put all of your efforts into eliminating dust mites in the bedroom of the allergic individual, since this is the one room that we spend most of our hours at home. We all deserve to sleep in a healthy and allergy-free environment.

The following recommendations are a common sense approach to dust mite allergy treatment. Even if dust mite allergies have not yet been confirmed by allergy testing, it is prudent to initiate the following:

Preparation

  • Empty the bedroom as much as possible.
  • Empty and clean all closets and, if possible, store unused contents elsewhere.
  • Keep clothing in zippered plastic bags and shoes in boxes off the floor.
  • Remove all rugs.
  • Remove carpeting, if possible.
  • Clean and scrub the woodwork and floors thoroughly to remove all traces of dust.
  • Wipe wood, tile, or linoleum floors with water, wax, or oil.
  • Keep the doors and windows closed until the dust-sensitive person is ready to use the room.

Maintenance

  • Wear a filter mask when cleaning.
  • Clean the room thoroughly and completely once a week.
  • Clean floors, furniture, tops of doors, window frames and sills, etc., with a damp cloth or mop.
  • Carefully vacuum carpet and upholstery regularly.
  • Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner for all vacuuming.  Only a HEPA vacuum cleaner is recommended..
  • Wash curtains often at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Air the room thoroughly.

Carpeting and Flooring

  • Carpeting makes dust control almost impossible. Although shag carpets are the worst type to have, if you are dust sensitive, all carpets trap dust mites and are potentially problematic. Therefore, your allergist will likely recommend hardwood, tile, linoleum, or any other hard surface floor.
  • Treating carpets with a commercially available tannic acid solution can be helpful in eliminating some dust mite allergen. Tannic acid, however, is not as effective as removing the carpet, is irritating to some people, and must be applied repeatedly.

Allergy Bedding and Dust Mite Covers

  • Encase mattresses and all pillows in zippered, dust-proof or allergen-proof encasements! This will create a natural barrier between the dust mites and the allergic individual.
  • Use only washable materials on the bed. Sheets, blankets, and other bedclothes should be washed frequently in water that is at least 130 degrees. Lower temperatures will not kill dust mites.If you set your hot water temperature lower (commonly done to prevent children from scalding themselves), wash items at a laundromat which uses high wash temperatures.
  • Use only synthetic pillows and mattress pads.
  • Avoid fuzzy wool blankets or feather or wool-stuffed comforters and mattress pads. Hypo-allergenic blankets and comforters are recommended.

Furniture and Furnishings

  • Keep furniture and furnishings to a minimum.
  • Avoid upholstered furniture and blinds. Use leather furniture, when possible.
  • Use only a wooden or metal chair that you can wipe with a wet cloth.
  • Use only plain, lightweight, washable curtains on the windows.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum.

Air Control

  • Although air filters are not directly helpful for dust mites (since they are not airborne), they can reduce the levels of allergens in the bedroom.  Electrostatic and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorption) filters can effectively remove many other allergens from the air.
  • A dehumidifier may helpful as house mites require high humidity to live and grow. It is recommended that the relative humidity be below 50%.

Children’s Rooms

  • Keep toys that will accumulate dust out of the child’s bedroom.
  • Minimize the number of washable stuffed animals in the rooms.


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