The symptoms of dust allergy are familiar and annoying to anyone who suffers from them: sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; runny or stuffy nose. Dust allergies can even be dangerous if they trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
What causes dust allergy? Most commonly, the dust mite, a tiny, eight-legged creature belonging to the arachnid family that also includes spiders, chiggers and ticks. Dust mites are hardy critters that thrive on warmth and humidity, so they are not usually found in dry climates. They do not bite and are harmless to anyone who doesn’t suffer from a dust mite allergy.
A dust mite allergy is actually a reaction to proteins within the bodies and feces of the mites. These particles are frequently found in pillows, mattresses, carpeting and upholstered furniture. Typically, a gram of dust, which weighs about the same as a paper clip, contains between 100-500 dust mites. Each mite produces 10 to 20 waste particles per day and lives for 30 days.
What’s the best way to deal with a diagnosis of dust allergy? Sometimes medications are necessary. But according to the web site of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (www.acaai.org), “research has confirmed that targeted avoidance (environmental control aimed at relevant triggers) can be as effective as medications in reducing symptoms.” The Mayo Clinic agrees, stating that “avoiding exposure to dust mites is the best strategy for controlling dust mite allergy. While you can’t completely eliminate dust mites from your home, you can significantly reduce their number.”
Follow these ten strategies for maximum relief from dust mite allergies:
1. Frequent vacuuming can remove the dust mites’ food supply, but using a traditional vacuum cleaner actually aggravates dust mite allergies because it makes dust mites air-borne. If you suffer from allergies, let someone else do the vacuuming and leave the house while they are doing it. Wait two hours after they are finished before returning to the home. If you must vacuum with a traditional vacuum cleaner or do any dusting, wear a N95 filter mask. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter, or better yet, installing a central vacuum system, which does not allow dirt and dust particles to re-circulate through the air.
2. Keep humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent in your home. Air conditioners and de-humidifiers are helpful, and a hygrometer, used to measure humidity levels, can be purchased at a hardware store.
3. Cut clutter. Remove knickknacks, magazines and newspapers from your bedroom. They are notorious dust collectors.
4. Remove carpeting wherever possible, especially in the bedroom, and replace it with wood, vinyl or tile flooring. Consider removing upholstered furniture, nonwashable curtains or draperies, and horizontal blinds, since they also collect dust.
5. Avoid wool or down bedcovers, which trap dust and are difficult to clean frequently.
6. Cover your mattress and pillows in dust-proof or allergen-blocking covers, which prevent dust mites from colonizing. Encase box springs in vinyl or plastic covers.
7. Wash all bedding weekly in hot water (at least 130 degrees F). Alternatively, place bedding in the drier on hot for at least twenty minutes to kill the mites. Freezing non-washable items for 24 hours will kill dust mites but will not remove the allergens.
8. Buy washable stuffed toys and keep them off the beds.
9. Keep pets out of the bedrooms at all times.
10. Install a high-efficiency media filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in the furnace and air-conditioning unit. Leave the fan “on” to create a whole-house air filter that removes particulates. Change the filter every three months, and have heating and a/c units inspected and serviced every six months.