Although you've probably never seen one, you've been surrounded by dust mites your entire life. Small enough to live on dust particles, these tiny arachnids can survive in a wide variety of climates and live everywhere that people do. Dust mites and people generally coexist quite peacefully, with neither giving the other much thought. That's not the case, however, for the 20 million Americans who suffer from a dust mite allergy.
Dust Mite Bites?
The good news is that dust mites don't bite. They eat the dead skin cells you and your pets drop throughout the day, but they have no interest in feeding on you directly. If you're allergic to dust mites, you can develop an itchy rash or small bumps that very closely resemble bites. They can also cause other symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
Dust mites create the same reactions in your body as other allergens. You may experience a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and sinus pressure. Some people swell under their eyes and develop patches of blue-tinted skin just beneath them. More severe reactions include tightness in the chest, chest pain and trouble breathing.
Skin and blood tests with your doctor will determine if you're allergic to dust mites or are struggling with something else. If dust mites are the issue, your doctor may prescribe allergy medication and will likely suggest making some changes at home for dust mite treatment. You can never be rid of dust mites completely, but you can greatly reduce their numbers.
Lower the Humidity
Dust mites love humid spaces, so make sure your home isn't one. To reduce the number of dust mites in your home, use your air conditioner or a dehumidifier to lower the humidity in your home to less than 50 percent. If you're not sure how humid your home is, you can purchase a hygrometer at your local hardware store. Electronic hygrometers are readily available and easy to use.
Reconsider Your Carpet
Carpet feels great on your bare feet, but it also harbors dust mites. No matter how well or how often you vacuum, dust mites will continue to be quite literally snug as a bug in a rug. If you're plagued by a dust mite allergy, getting rid of your carpets is one of the best ways to help yourself. Opt for hard flooring surfaces such as hardwood or tile instead.
Of course, getting rid of the carpet may not be an option if you rent or stay with someone else. If you can't avoid carpet, clean it regularly with a steam cleaner. It's imperative that you use a steam cleaner rather than a carpet shampooer. Shampooers can leave carpet damp, creating a pocket of humidity that will attract more dust mites.
Barricade Your Bedding
Like carpet, bedding, mattresses and pillows provide a haven for dust mites. If you would rather sleep alone, protect yourself by putting impermeable covers on your pillows and mattress. These covers serve two purposes. They prevent more dust mites from getting into your bedding and trap existing ones inside your mattress so they can't get to you.
To further minimize your dust mite exposure, wash your sheets, pillowcases, blankets and comforters once a week in hot water. Killing dust mites requires a wash water temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It also helps to choose bedding with a tight weave that naturally resists dust. Silk duvet covers, for instance, are naturally hypoallergenic and hold less dust.
Clear the Clutter
Clutter happens, and it's hard to tame. Unfortunately, everything that sits around in your home collects dust, and more dust means more mites. Do what you can to minimize the clutter in your home without making yourself crazy.
Remember your tchotchkes when cleaning your clutter. Although certain trinkets may bring you joy, lots of knick-knacks collect lots of dust. Special items deserve a special place in your home, but be choosy about what you display.
Clean More Effectively
An effective cleaning regimen is one that rids your home of as many dust mites as possible. Dry dusting makes the surfaces in your home look better, but it does so largely by spreading dust particles around and redistributing them. Many simply drop to the floor.
Fortunately, improving your cleaning routine is as simple as adding water. A damp rag captures and traps dust rather than throwing it around. You can dampen your rag with plain warm water or use some type of furniture polish, if appropriate. When you're done cleaning the house, clean your dust rag by throwing it in the washing machine and running it through a hot water cycle.
To catch any dust that fell to the floor when cleaning, always follow your dusting with a good vacuuming. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air filter to trap dust and dust mites. Remember to vacuum your upholstered furniture and drapes as well since both harbor dust mites.
Clear the Air
It's easy to overlook, but dust particles get blown around every time your air conditioner or forced-air heat kicks on. To trap dust mites rather than blow them around, use a HEPA filter or high-efficiency media filter on your furnace and air conditioner. When shopping for a high-efficiency media filter, choose one with a minimum efficiency reporting value rating of 11 or 12. Change the filter every three months and have your ducts cleaned every three to five years.
Choose Toys Carefully
Unfortunately, dust mite allergies don't affect only grownups. Children too can suffer from dust mite allergies. Dust mites can also cause asthma in children even if they live in a very clean house. Although popular with young children, stuffed toys often harbor dust mites.
To combat the problem, choose machine-washable stuffed toys and ask others to do the same when giving them to your child as a gift. If you can't wash your child's favorite stuffed friend in hot water, place it in the freezer for 24 hours and then wash it in cool water. It's also best to keep stuffed toys out of your child's bed.
Consider Allergy Treatment
For mild dust mite allergies, a few household changes may alleviate symptoms and solve the problem. People with severe dust mite allergies, however, may find that reducing the amount of dust in their home simply isn't enough. If your allergy is severe, your doctor may prescribe one of several allergy medications.
Antihistamines are drugs that reduce the amount of certain chemicals your body makes to minimize your allergic reaction. Other medicines called leukotriene modifiers allow your body to make these chemicals but prevent your body from absorbing them, thereby stopping your allergic reaction. Your doctor may also offer decongestants and corticosteroids, both of which reduce inflammation in your nose to reduce stuffiness and let you breathe easier.
Your doctor may also recommend immunotherapy. In immunotherapy, your doctor will periodically give you a shot that contains a small amount of dust mite proteins. Over a three- to six-month period, the doctor will continue giving you shots, each time adding more mite protein. Eventually, this exposure will get your body used to dust mites and reduce your sensitivity to them.