Dust mites are microscopic bugs that live in our bed linens and eat our dead skin and hair. You think that sounds bad? It gets worse: Dust mites excrete waste approximately twenty times in a day...... and a protein in these excretions is what most people are allergic to. On the bright side, take a look here and be glad that dust mites are microscopic!
Small as they are, dust mites do create problems for the many people who are allergic to them. Since humans slough off skin scales on a daily basis, there is no shortage of food for the dust mite population. If you suspect that you suffer from a dust mite allergy, you should consult an allergist, a doctor especially trained to diagnose and treat allergies. Meanwhile, you can control your exposure to dust mites and their excrement through the following measures:
- Where do dust mites live? Beds are a favorite dwelling place for dust mites. They prefer moist warm surroundings like a mattress when someone is sleeping on it. Couches are also good, as are chairs, carpets and anything else soft and occasionally warm.
- Mattress cover. Enclose your mattress and pillows with a material such as plastic or polyurethane that will not allow dust mites to penetrate it. Vacuum your mattress cover once weekly and also vacuum around the base of your bed.
- Wash sheets and blankets in hot water. Wash your sheets and blankets once every other week with water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit. For materials that cannot be washed in hot water, put the object into the freezer (in a sealed bag) for 24-48 hours. You get the idea--create an environment that is either very hot or very cold.
- Bring your own pillow (BYOP). When traveling, bring your own mattress cover and pillow covers, and your own pillow, too. (Come to think of it, try "BYOP" instead of "RSVP" on your next party invitation and see if it improves the response rate.)
- Bedding materials. Use synthetic fibers instead of natural materials to repel dust mites. Buy pillows and comforters with synthetic fillings instead of down.
- Stuffed animals. Children's stuffed animals are some of the worst offenders when it comes to dust mite infestation. Throw your child's stuffed animals into the washer regularly on the hot water setting (cold and warm water washes alone do not kill dust mites). If you're nervous about using hot water on your child's favorite animal, put it in a bag in the freezer for 24-48 hours to kill the dust mites first, and then wash at a lower temperature.
- Temperature and humidity. Remember that dust mites like it warm and moist so you're going for cold and dry. Keep your house below 70 degrees if you can and allow your sheets to dry out. A good way to do this is by, yes, you heard it here, not making your bed right away in the morning!
- Carpet vs. wood. If you have a choice, always choose wood, tile, vinyl or linoleum over carpet for your floors. When cleaning, damp mop your floors instead of using a broom because sweeping will only stir dust mites up. If you do have carpet, vacuum it daily, preferably with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. For those with severe allergies, consider throwing out the vacuum bag often as dust mites can crawl back out of the vacuum bag.
- Furniture. Leather trumps upholstery when it comes to dust mites. That big 'ol easy chair in the living room is teeming with dust mites. Buy allergen control covers for any fabric-based furniture in your home if you cannot eliminate it entirely. Never take furniture hand-me-downs as you will be inheriting not only the furniture but a dust mite collection as well.
- Drapes and blinds. Again, choose a hard material for your blinds and stay away from drapes if at all possible. Tapestries, wall hangings or any other form of fabric on the walls should be avoided as well.
If lifestyle changes like these sound challenging, remind yourself of how much better you'll feel minus the itchy red bumps and difficulty breathing. Although the changes may seem extreme, the improvement in your health and comfort will be well worth the effort.