All About Dust Mite Allergies

If you suffer from allergies, chances are you may be allergic to dust mites. Even if you do not, and have never suffered from allergies, I think you may find this post interesting; especially the part about 10 million arachnids living inside of your mattress! So read on to find out what dust mites are and how we can rid our home of these pretty nasty creatures. 

We all know what dust is, it is normally always on the top of our curio cabinet after the maids clean and we most certainly try our best to not have it present in our homes. But what if dust was also hidden, so small we cannot see it, and completely engulfing your bed sheets and pillows at this very moment? That, my friends, is a harsh reality happening in a majority of our homes.

The true definition of dust (from el dictionary) is fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground, on surfaces, or carried in the air. Dust can be found outside made up of tiny particles of soil, masonry, volcanic eruptions, pollution, etc. The biggest offenders when it comes to allergies is the dust found in your home. This dust can contains tiny particles of sources such as human and animal hair and skin cells, textile fibers, pet dander, insect droppings, and many sources carried in from the outside like pollen fragments and minerals from soil.

So while the majority of interior dust is composed of dead skin cells of humans, whats left is made up of dust mites, which around 20 million Americans are allergic to. Dust mites, also known as bed mites but not to be confused with bed bugs, are microscopic arachnids that feed on dead human and animal skin cells. Invisible to the human eye, these arachnids are not parasites, they do not bite, sting, or burrow into our bodies. The allergen they create comes from their fecal pellets and skeletal body fragments. Dust mites dead bodies and fecal remains contain enzymes that can cause IgE reactions and can even lead to asthmatic symptoms. When dust is disturbed (like walking or cleaning) it can take somewhere between twenty minutes and two hours for the dust mites to settle back down from the air. So while you are in your home you can be walking through a fresh cloud of dust mite crap then land face first into your pillow of dust mite feces. Pleasant imagery there isn't it? 

Dust mites did not become a problem until humans began using textiles such as blankets and clothing. Dust mites live in our bedding, carpeting, and clothes.  A typical mattress can have anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million mites inside! They thrive in warmer temperatures (68-77F) and humidity levels of 70-80%. With that being said, the mid summer months are the worst time of year for allergy sufferers but in a warm, humid house, dust mites can easily survive all year round.

Think you may have a dust mite allergy? You can work with your physician to find out if you may have an allergy, common tests include a blood test or skin prick test (does not hurt at all!). Common symptoms include hay fever, watery eyes, runny nose (especially early morning runny nose and respiratory issues), sneezing, asthma and difficulty breathing, infantile eczema, itchy or red watery eyes, nasal congestion, itchy nose, itchy mouth, itchy throat, postnasal drip, cough, facial pressure and pain, frequent awakening, etc. Poor ventilation, high humidity, high temperatures, walking over a rug, sitting down on a sofa, or making the bed all have the effect of making your symptoms worse!

Here are some steps we can take to make our homes dust mite free. Vacuuming, while it may seem effective, leaves up to 95% of dust mites intact because the dust mites live so deep inside the stuffing of upholstered furniture and carpeting. 

Invest in covers and new bedding: The majority of research I found mentions dust mite covers being the best form of prevention for dust mite allergies. You can find dust mite covers for your mattress, pillows, and duvet cover. These work by trapping the mites inside, not allowing them or their fecal matter to reach your face and body, and starving them to death. If you are planning on purchasing a new mattress or bedding, look for materials such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and other natural, plant based fabrics. If you are not allergic to latex, this also may be a good route as latex is dust-mite resistant.

Wash your bedding with high heat: Washing your bedding is a crucial component of killing dust mites. Get in the habit of washing your dust mite covers and sheets frequently, a minimum of once a week. Try to use the hottest water possible on your washer settings. While drying, dry above 140F to kill all dust mites. I also read leaving items in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours kills dust mites. Another reason why it will be imperative to wash your bedding frequently is because when we sleep, we sweat and rejuvenate our cells, releasing metabolic waste, chemicals, and toxins through our skin and right into our bedding. Sounds like a five course meal for a dust mite to me! 

Wash your body and clothes: Along with washing your bedding more frequently, if you are suffering from chronic allergies it may be a good idea to wash your body every night, especially before you hop into your clean bed. This way you are not carrying in all the allergens you have picked up during your day into your bed and breathing them in all night. Along this line, leave your shoes off at the door to not drag contaminants in your home. You may also want to focus on washing your clothes more frequently and doing a cleaning overhaul of all the clothes that have been hanging in your closet or folded in drawer for months, can you say dust mite hotel?

De-clutter your bedroom: Think about all the spots in your bedroom right now that probably have dust on or around them. Do you have a pile of magazines in the corner you are never going to read? Trinkets and decorations you have not moved in months? Heavy drapes or curtains? All these places can accumulate dust and release mites into the environment. If you de-clutter your space it will make cleaning easier, which will in turn make you clean more frequently and with more ease. I know this may be hard to hear, but you may also want to keep all pets out of your bedroom area while you are completing a dust mite makeover. Pets will add additional skin cells onto your bed and furniture, continuing the growth of dust mites. Give your bedroom a break and keep out the pets. The cleaner our space is along with our clothes and bedding the less chances of dust mite survival.

Get a HEPA air purifier: While all the tactics listed above will kill dust mites at the source, you also want to may attention to the particulates in the air. One way to do this is to invest in a HEPA air purifier with a carbon filtration. HEPA stands for high-energy particulate air filtration and can eliminate a wide range of allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and bacteria. While also looking for a carbon filtration feature, you will be capturing VOC’s and chemicals that are difficult to detect like formaldehyde, radon, natural gas, perfumes, etc. Make sure you purchase a HEPA filter that is optimal for the square footage of your room size, if it is too weak it may not capture all of the pollutants. 

Change your HVAC filters and clean your ducts: Replacing your furnace and air conditioner filters at home is very easy. Standard HVAC filters are not designed with your allergies in mind, their main job is to keep particles out of the actual system itself to prevent damage. Look for filters designed for allergies. You will want to look for the MERV rating (minimum efficiency reporting system). Filters range from MERV 1 - MERV 12. The higher the number indicates the filter is capable of removing the smallest particles. Look for models with a minimum of a MERV 10.

Here is model you can purchase at a local hardware store with an MRV 12.

Here is the type we use in our home. Make sure to find out first what dimensions you need for your homes HVAC systems. 

https://www.jenreviews.com/best-air-purifier/ is a great resource for a comparison breakdown of sizes and prices of air filtration systems. You will typically hear to change your filters once a year but if you have bad allergies I would suggest changing your filters once a season. 

Regulate your homes temperature and humidity: Especially in the warm summer months, take advantage of air conditioning and keep your home below 70F. 

Use dehumidifiers to lower the humidity in your home, to at least below 50%.

I hope this post has given you some insight on why you may currently be suffering from allergies or if you already know you have a dust mite allergy I hope you feel inspired to do some tidying up! Let me know in the comment section what other indoor allergies you are suffering from. I want to hear from you! Until next time, stay healthy! AF