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Tips For Avoiding Dust Mites
Dust mite allergy is one of the most common diagnoses I make in my
practice as an allergist. Dust mites are extremely small members of the
Arachnid class and Acari subclass, similar to spiders and "cousins" to lice and
ticks. People with dust mite allergy are allergic to both the organism and its
feces. The symptoms include itchy and runny eyes, itchy nose, sneezing,
coughing, wheezing, and dry, itchy skin.
Do You Have Dust Mite Allergy?
If you have allergy symptoms around house dust, other possible sources of
allergy can include cockroaches, domestic animals, mouse and rat dropping, and
molds. One can even probably find significant levels of pollen in house dust
during allergy season. This is why it is important for you to have skin testing
done by an allergist to help pinpoint the source of your allergies. This way,
when you go to the inconvenience and expense of environmental avoidance, you
can avoid the specific things to which you have allergies. I have seen patients
who gave away the family cat and then found out it was a dust mite allergy that
was making their child sick, or others who have gone through rigorous dust mite
avoidance measures only to find out they weren't allergic to dust mites at all.
After undergoing skin testing, patients diagnosed with a dust mite allergy are
often defensive about their housekeeping habits. I often hear, " I'm a good
housekeeper and I dust every day." Although this may be true, dust mites can
live and thrive in places that dusting can't reach.
Dust Mites: Up Close and Personal
With a little effort, you can significantly decrease your exposure to dust
mites and as a result decrease the allergy symptoms resulting from dust mite
exposure. But to defeat the dust mite, we must first understand how it lives
- Dust mites like our skin:
- Believe it or not, the dust mite loves to eat our skin, especially the
skin cells which we naturally shed and which fall off our body.
- Dust mites tend not to be airborne:
- This is primarily because they are too heavy but also because there is no
food (i.e. dead skin) in the air (unless you have very bad dandruff or flaky
body skin. So, we find high concentrations of dust mites in bedding, in
clothes, in upholstered furniture, and, to a lesser extent, in carpeting.
Jumping up and down on the bed or extensive cleaning may for a short time
send the dust mite adrift in the house (giving those with a dust mite allergy
a good excuse to go to the beach while someone without dust mite allergy is
vacuuming and/or some other anti-dust mite activity).
- Dust mites like to live where there is abundant food, moisture,
- For dust mites, this often means our bed. Our bed is the ideal spot for
dust mites in some of the same ways as it is for us: we like to sleep there
because it's cozy and toasty! But also, we as humans tend to lose most of our
skin in the bed. And that's good news for our hungry dust mite bed
companions. But dust mites proliferate anywhere there is warmth and humidity,
not just your bed. That is why when you open up a house that has been closed
for a long time, you may experience some violent sneezing and wheezing. There
has been little or no circulation. As a result, any moisture present when the
house was closed up for the winter has been trapped, producing favorable
conditions for dust mites, as well for molds.
Keeping Dust Mites Out: The Bedroom Battleground
There are a number of things that can be done to decrease exposure to dust
mites in the bedroom. You could sleep in a hammock that is washed weekly in hot
water. Although this is highly effective, it is relatively impractical and a
remedy that I don't usually recommend. Fortunately, there are other, easy and
practical steps that can be taken:
- Place an impermeable dust mite encasing around the mattress, box
spring and pillow.
- This type of encasing has vinyl on the inside and cloth on the outside to
trap dust mites, but does not crinkle like plain vinyl. It also makes you
sweat less than with plastic covers. One note of warning: Some of my patients
have reported dramatic improvements in their allergy and asthma symptoms
after the placement of the dust mite covers on their beds, while others
haven't noticed a significant improvement even after a few months.
- Wash all bedding that is placed on top of these covered items in
water over 130 degrees.
- Achieving this temperature can be a problem in some apartment buildings
where the thermostats on the hot water heaters have been lowered to prevent
scalding in children and the elderly. I would recommend a pot of boiling
water to be added to the hot cycle to raise the water temperature. If it is
not practical to wash certain types of the bedding, like an expensive down
comforter, placing it in a bag and putting in the freezer overnight is a good
- Remove unnecessary objects from the walls and ceilings, where dust
mites might lurk.
- Keep stuffed animals to a minimum.
- If a stuffed animal can be washed weekly in hot water, then it's probably
okay for your child to sleep with it. All others should be kept in a closed
- Use window blinds that can be wiped rather than curtains.
- Remove carpeting, if possible.
- If your children are allergic to dust mites, they should be encouraged
not to play on carpets.
- Consider using products that kill dust mites, such as benzyl
benzoate or tannic acid.
- These products have been shown to have some benefits in homes where there
is wall-to-wall carpeting that can't be removed.
- Hepa filters are also used, but I don't recommend them.
- These "air cleaners" don't do much. Spend your money on dust mite covers;
you'll get more bang for your buck.
Although dust mites are everywhere, a few simple environmental measures can
dramatically improve your allergy and asthma symptoms as well as decrease the
amount of medication you may now require. Dust mite avoidance is the safest and
among the most effective ways to treat allergies.
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