How to reduce a common allergen: dust mites

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 28, 2017

Illustration by Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock

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METRO DETROIT — For some, the concept of dust mites alone is enough to send a disgusted shudder down their spine.

But understanding what they are, the symptoms of dust mite allergies and how to reduce them in your home may be key for many allergy sufferers.

Sanaz Eftekhari, a spokeswoman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, responded to a series of emailed questions from C & G Newspapers.

A dust mite, she said, measures approximately one-quarter to one-third of a millimeter and cannot be detected by the human eye alone. Under a microscope, she said, they look like white bugs with eight legs, so they are not insects, but arthropods.

“Dust mites may be the most common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma, and are believed to live in many homes throughout the world. They are on every continent except Antarctica,” Eftekhari said. “Having dust mites doesn’t mean your house isn’t clean.”

She said there are at least 13 species of dust mites, which thrive in temperatures of 68 to 77 degrees, prefer humidity levels of 70 to 80 percent, and feed mainly on the tiny flakes of skin that people shed every day.  

“These flakes work their way deep into the inner layers of furniture, carpets, bedding and even stuffed toys. These are the places where mites thrive,” she said. “An average adult person may shed up to 1.5 grams of skin in a day; this is enough to feed 1 million dust mites!”

Many people are allergic to the body parts and waste of dust mites, she said, and even when dust mites die, their bodies can continue to trigger symptoms.

Symptoms include sneezing; runny nose; itchy, red or watery eyes; stuffy nose; itchy nose, mouth or throat; postnasal drip; and coughing, she said.

“Most dust mites die in low humidity levels or extreme temperatures,” Eftekhari said. “In a warm, humid house, dust mites can survive all year.”

She said studies show that more dust mites live in bedrooms than anywhere else in the home.

To reduce dust mites, she recommended that people cover mattresses and pillows in zippered, dust-proof covers; wash sheets and blankets weekly in water that is 130 degrees or more to kill dust mites; remove fabric in the home that they cannot regularly wash in hot water; use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters on vacuum cleaners, furnaces and air conditioning units; and keep humidity below 50 percent using a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner.

Danielle Schindler, co-owner of Scandia Home in Birmingham, offered tips on how to reduce allergens in linens and maintain them.

“Allergens coming into the home are carried by you and the things you bring into the home,” she said. “If you go to bed without showering, all the allergens in your hair go into the pillow at night. I suggest rinsing off at night.”

She recommended washing linens every seven to 10 days.

“Washing cleans them, but is also hard on linens, but so are the oils and natural things that are on the linens from your body,” she said. “Natural fibers in linens don’t need a lot of harsh chemicals to get them clean.”

When washing pillows and comforters at home, Schindler said, people should allow them to fully dry; otherwise, they run the risk of mold and mildew. She said that when drying anything, avoid super high heat because it scorches the fibers.

“Throwing pillows in the dryer on low heat mode once or twice a month also helps fluff them up and helps with any kind of dust mite issues or any oil,” she said. “Put them in there for 15 to 20 minutes.”

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