Dust mites are tiny microscopic bugs that thrive in the warm, humid conditions found in modern houses. They’re found in virtually all modern homes (even the cleanest ones!) and cause no symptoms for most people. But if you’re in the estimated 2% of the world’s population thought to be allergic to their droppings, they could wreak havoc by causing symptoms like itchy, dry eyes, a running nose, wheezing and worsened asthma.
Their main food source is keratin (human skin scales) and they thrive in humid environments, as they need to draw moisture from the air in order to survive. This, combined with a rich source of food, makes bedding, carpets, soft furnishings and clothing perfect breeding sites for them.
Dust mites multiply very quickly. They can colonise a new home within a year. Each mite can lay up to 80 eggs within 6 weeks.
What causes dust mite allergy?
Dust mites don’t bite. It’s not the mite itself that causes problems but their droppings, which contain an allergen known as Der P1. These droppings can continue to cause allergy symptoms even after the mite has died. They crumble into tiny pieces, which can be inhaled or come into contact with the skin.
In allergic people, antibodies trigger the release of histamine – a chemical that creates those characteristic allergy symptoms such as irritation of the throat and lungs and watery eyes.
What are the symptoms of dust mite allergy?
The most usual symptoms include:
• Rhinitis (inflammation of the nose). This can cause congestion, sneezing and a running nose. This may be worse in the morning, after inhaling large numbers of dust mite droppings overnight. Similarly, your symptoms may worsen when making beds, cleaning or turning the mattress as these activities tend to distribute the dust mite allergens into the air.
• Wheezing and tightness of breath.
• A dry and irritating cough.
• Sinusitis which can lead to blocked ears and headaches.
• Less commonly, skin problems such as eczema and dermatitis.
Symptoms may be worse in the bedroom but can also be caused by dust mites in sofas, armchairs and carpets in your living areas.
How can you reduce levels of dust mites in your home?
Reducing exposure to dust mites needs a wholistic approach, though how much you do depends on how severe your allergy is. For a mild allergy, sometimes just using dust mite proof bedding could be enough to feel an improvement. With more severe reactions, measures should be taken throughout the whole house.
Dust mite proofing your living space requires commitment and patience in order to achieve a noticeable reduction in your symptoms.
Top tips on reducing your exposure to the house dust mite
· Strip your bed and clean and turn your mattress
The bed is a logical starting point for tackling dust mite allergy, for two reasons.
Firstly, we spend a lot of time in bed. Secondly, beds provide perfect conditions for dust mites – food (skin cells), humidity and darkness help them to thrive.
Dust mites are almost 3 times as likely to be found in beds as they are in carpets. Give your mattress a thorough clean with a bed vacuum such as the Raycop Bed Vac to kill dust mites and bacteria (rent from www.healthy-house.co.uk for one week for £40 + P&P)
· Wash your bed linen at 60
Washing your bedlinen at 60 at least once per week, and keeping duvets and pillows clean also, is key to keeping the dust mite population in your bed to a minimum.
· Clean furnishings, carpets and upholstered furniture
Don’t forget to tackle furnishings, soft toys and carpets in your cleaning regime – dust mites tend to lurk in their fibres. Keeping them clean and spraying an insecticide-free allergen spray like HomeCleanse will keep mite levels at a minimum AND fight mould, pet and pollen allergens at the same time.
· Clean hard flooring
If you’re severely allergic, hard flooring is preferable to carpets, but still needs to be kept clean as they can also trap moisture. Vacuum regularly with a high-filtration vacuum cleaner to keep mite levels under control.
· Declutter, concentrating on the bedroom
Dust mites love clutter as it accumulates dust! Keep spaces clean and tidy and damp dust regularly, focusing particularly on the bedroom.
· Encase your mattress
Dust mite proof barrier cases can be used to encase your mattress, duvet and pillow and create a physical barrier between the mite and its droppings and you in your bed. These can help to reduce the associated allergy symptoms and are easy to use.
· Use a dehumidifier, especially if you have an ensuite bathroom
Dust mites need moisture to survive, which is why they are particularly prevalent during winter when the central heating is on or during the warmer months when it is humid. A dehumidifier can therefore be a wise investment, particularly if you have an ensuite bathroom and moisture flows through to your bedroom.
· Ventilate your bed and bedroom
Keeping a window open and maintaining a good level of air flow can help to reduce humidity and in turn, reduce levels of dust mites.
· Use an air steriliser
There are a variety of high quality air sterilisers on the market which can actually kill the dust mite droppings. An air purifier by contrast works by trapping particles in a filter, which can also deal with dust mite allergens depending on its efficiency.
- Respiratory allergy caused by house dust mites: What do we really know? (Calderón, Moisés A. et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2014)
- House Dust Mite, Allergy UK
- House Dust Mite Allergy, Dr Roger Henderson