Ever have an uncomfortable night’s rest, woken up feeling congested, achy or itchy? At first, you might try to recall what you did the day before or start scanning your room looking for probable sources. All this, without realizing that the bed you’re lying in may just be the culprit.
Mattresses, pillows, beddings, upholstery and carpet, by virtue of their design are made up of layers capable of trapping dust, mold spores, bacteria, dust mites, perspiration, skin cells and moisture. Inadequate cleaning practices can put you and your loved ones at risk.
A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands of dust mites and about 100,000 dust mites can live in one square yard of carpet. Let’s focus on dust mites and the potential health effects associated with exposure.
What are Dust Mites?
Dust mites (also called bed mites) are close relatives of ticks and spiders. They are too small to be seen with the naked eye and this contributes to why they often go unnoticed until there is an infestation. Not be confused with bed bugs that are blood sucking, dust mites are not parasites, they do not bite, sting or penetrate our skin.
Where are Dust Mites found and under what conditions?
Dust mites live and multiply easily in warm (21oC or higher) and humid (75% to 80%) places. In the U.S.A, it has been reported that dust mite allergies peak in July and August, when dust mite populations are high because of warm weather. Since Trinidad and Tobago has predominantly warm and humid weather conditions, our local environment provides an excellent breeding ground for dust mites.
Food is rarely a problem for dust mites. They feed mainly on the tiny flakes of human skin that people shed each day. The average adult person may shed up to 1.5 grams of skin in a day, which is sufficient to feed up to one million dust mites. Cats and dogs shed dander at a much higher rate. Rather than drinking water, they absorb water from humidity in the atmosphere (e.g. sources include perspiration and moist breath from a sleeping person).
What are the symptoms of dust mite allergies?
Dust mites themselves are not harmful. The allergenic proteins responsible for causing symptoms are contained within their bodies (alive or dead), the skin they shed, and especially in their feces.
The protein substances in the dust mite feces trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals when they are inhaled or when there is skin contact. These allergens cause the release of histamines in the body, which causes nasal congestion, swelling and irritation of the upper respiratory passages.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, common dust mite allergy symptoms include:
Susceptible individuals with asthma may also experience:
How you can prevent dust mite infestations
Recommendations generally focus on dust control and humidity control. They include:
- Covering mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers – This has been said to be the most effective since most exposure occurs when individuals are in bed. These allergen-impermeable covers are made of a material with pores too small to let dust mites and their waste product through.
- Using special vacuum cleaners with High Efficiency particulate Air (HEPA) filters – When vacuuming carpets and other upholstery, depending on the type of filter, most dust and particulates can escape and become re-distributed in the air. HEPA filters are designed to capture 99.97% of particles, thus reducing the amount of airborne allergens.
- Reducing and controlling humidity – Dust mites do not survive well when relative humidity is below 50%. Improving ventilation, installing air conditioning and dehumidifiers can help to reduce populations indoors.
- Frequent laundering at high temperatures – Cold water leaves up to 10% of mites behind. Washing with water that is at least 55oC or more can kill dust mites. Dry cleaning also kills all mites and is also good for removing dust from fabrics.
- Dust control measures – Other simple dust suppressing methods include mopping as opposed to sweeping, dusting surfaces with a damp cloth and removing or modifying furnishings that accumulate dust and provide habitat for dust mites.
What you can do if you suspect a dust mite issue
Whether you are resting your head at home, a beach house for a long weekend or at a hotel for a business trip you should be mindful of cleaning standards and what may be lurking in your bed.
Don’t allow these tiny creatures to create big problems for you, contact CARIRI’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory for more information on Dust Mite Allergen Evaluations at email@example.com or 285-5050 ext 3504/3509/3512.