The house dust mite (not to be confused with the bed bug), whilst common in many homes, is not widely acknowledged as causing allergic symptoms. However, up to 2% of the world’s population may be affected by dust mite allergy and as more people become familiar with the symptoms this figure could rise.
House dust mites are invisible to the naked eye, measuring around 0.25mm long and are therefore easy to ignore as a possible cause of health issues.
Those who suffer with respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and skin conditions such as eczema should be aware that dust mite allergens can aggravate or exacerbate these conditions.
What makes a happy home for a dust mite?
Our homes can provide the perfect environment to enable them to thrive. Humidity is vital because they need to draw moisture from the air in order to survive, together with a rich source of food.
Their main food source is keratin (human skin scales), supplemented with cellulose fibres (mainly from textiles) and chitin (tiny parts of fungi and the outer covering of insects).
Other factors, such as damp weather, the need to dry clothes indoors, central heating and poor ventilation all contribute to their proliferation. Unfortunately dust mites breed very quickly, so a thorough and comprehensive approach to eradicating and controlling the allergens are required.
Dust mites are not an indication of an unclean home – rather, they are quite commonplace in modern life and many people coexist without any impact on their health.
It may surprise you to know that a dusty home may have fewer dust mites than a spotless one, if the environment is not warm or moist enough.
Where could they be living?
They could be lurking in bedding, carpets, soft furnishings, mattresses, curtains and soft toys which we all have in abundance. The damp, dark and often food rich crevices and creases which these things provide are perfect.
If you have ever noticed how heavy your older pillow has become, this is due to the weight of the dust mite faeces contained within!
Soft toys in particular, where children have left sticky food trails, allow the dust mites to stick.
Why do I feel unwell?
Dust mites do not actually bite; it is the main dust mite allergen that is contained within their faecal pellets, known as the protein Der p1 that causes a hypersensitive reaction.
Approximately 20 droppings are produced each day which often crumble into tiny fragments when dry and can be inhaled.
What are the symptoms?
Dust mite allergy symptoms often manifest themselves as affecting the respiratory system or aggravating the skin and can develop at any age.
One of the key reasons for under diagnosis is that these symptoms are often lived with indefinitely and people just accept that it is normal for them.
Usually symptoms are worse in the morning upon waking because of the concentration of dust mite friendly habitats in the bedorom and their fondness for the mattress. However, they can also be present in any living area, particularly other upholstered furniture, furnishings and carpets.
If any of these sound familiar and are particularly troublesome, a dust mite allergy is a worthwhile consideration. ~ Rhinitis (inflammation of the nose) - causing congestion, sneezing and a runny nose. You might notice that this increases when you turn the mattress or change the bed linen because the allergens are released into the atmosphere.
~ Wheezing and tightness of breath – for an asthmatic person this may trigger mild symptoms or a severe asthma attack
~ A dry and irritating cough which can be persistent at night
~ Sinusitis – causing blocked ears and headaches
~ Skin problems – such as eczema and dermatitis
Children can be the most vulnerable when it comes to this allergy – last year we outlined a case study of a young child who struggled to settle and stay asleep at night. The persistence and duration of his symptoms were becoming a real concern, with prescribed inhalers having little impact. We listened to his story and made a series of improvements that made a marked difference. Read more in our dedicated blog post here.
What can I do?
There are a number of steps that you can take to minimise the population of dust mites at home. Even if you do not have symptoms, perhaps you would like to know that you are reducing dust mites to protect against the possibility of developing an allergy in the future.
Clean and tidy
~ De-clutter the bedroom and living spaces, dust mites like to live amongst mess!
~ Thoroughly clean living areas and bedrooms (where soft furnishings are present) including regularly washing any removable covers such as cushion covers and curtains.
~ Use the allergy sprays (FabriCleanse, AirCleanse and HomeCleanse) to denature dust mites in the air, on furnishings, carpets and on the mattress.
~ If you experience dust mite allergen symptoms whilst doing the cleaning, consider wearing a mask to protect yourself from the airborne dust mite allergens.
In the bedroom
~ Wash all bedding at 60°C (in order to kill the dust mite) or use FabriCleanse (which kills the dust mite allergen at lower washing temperatures).
~ Vacuum the mattress regularly (ideally using a vacuum that is fitted with a HEPA filter)
~ Pull back the duvet every morning and fluff the pillows (dust mites do not like fresh air or sunlight).
~ In terms of specific dust mite bedding; encase the mattress, together with respective barrier cases for pillow and duvet or encase the mattress and choose a dust mite proof duvet and pillows (dust mite proof bedding). Our barrier cases contain no chemicals, only the denseness of the weave prevents dust mites and their faeces from coming through.
~ We recommend washing your dust mite proof barrier cases and bedding 2-3 times per year
~ Soft toys – these can harbour dust mites as they are often held close and kept warm, can be damp, attract dust and may have sticky food trails which enable the transportation of the mite. Either wash (if the toy can tolerate a hot wash) or freeze to kill the dust mite and then wash to remove dead dust mites and faeces. Alternatively FabriCleanse is effective at lower washing temperatures – make sure to check the label on your soft toy prior to washing.
~ Do not allow pets in the bedroom, they can transport dust mites and boost their population or encourage them to set up home in another location.
~ Dust mites need moisture to live – if your humidity is kept below 51% they cannot survive and will dry out. A weather station/hygrometer will indicate the level of relative humidity and allow you to decide on a course of action and continue to monitor the environment.
~ If you detect humidity above 51%, determine if there is a reason for this. Could there be an incidence of rising damp, damp or a water leak? Identifying the source and addressing this ensures that it will not be an ongoing issue.
~ We suggest using a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture level in the air if the relative humidity levels are above 51%. However, we would not normally recommend that you allow relative humidity to get below 40% as very dry air can make respiratory symptoms worse. If you need to dry clothing inside, look out for a model with laundry mode.
~ Ventilating the room and opening the windows where possible (particularly after a shower or bath) and avoiding drying washing on radiators should help to reduce the relative humidity.
Flooring & Curtains
~ If possible, consider switching from curtains to flat blinds. They harbour less dirt and trap less moisture. Damp dusting can be carried out once a week.
~ Switching from carpeting to a smooth floor, ideally wood or ceramic, allows you to damp dust once a week
Controlling the air
The light and brittle dust mite faeces are easily fragmented and airborne. An air purifier is an effective tool in reducing any that may have become airborne or to combat any dust mites that may have become airborne during cleaning or movement in bed.
~ An efficient air purifier can remove a range of allergens and contaminants in the air including dust and dust mite faeces and the bacteria and fungi that dust mites need to break down their food.
~ An Airfree Air Steriliser is a perfect choice for the bedroom because it has been independently proven to reduce the main protein of the dust mite allergen and is silent. There are no filters to replace so it is economical and maintenance free.
There appears to be less awareness of dust mite allergy compared to other allergies. This is partly due to the fact that the symptoms can indicate other conditions, but also because people are not aware that how they feel on a regular basis is as a result of an allergy.
It is especially important to consider what part a dust mite allergy might have in triggering other conditions such as eczema and asthma, which require careful management in order to prevent flare ups and attacks.
Remember that dust mites are common in homes but they do not have to prosper.
Follow the 3 step plan:
~ Assess the environment and determine if there are any underlying conditions which are favourable to dust mites
~ Commit to a thorough tidy up and initial clean – followed by a regular regime (see above for advice)
~ Follow the steps/and decide upon products needed to maintain an environment to minimise dust mites
We have noted over the years, from testimonials and feedback that the right products can make a real difference.
Click here to sign up to our email newsletter to keep up to date with information, new products and special offers.
Disclaimer: Information included in this blog post is intended for information purposes only and is not to be used as a substitute for consultation with a medical practitioner. Images not necessarily to scale.
Dust mite allergy
Read more about symptoms, causes and discover products that can help