For millions of Americans, the world is a sneezy, wheezy place, filled with normally harmless substances that their bodies recognize as enemies. Of all the enemies, there's one almost no one can escape: house dust.
Between 40 million and 50 million Americans have some type of allergy; house dust usually fits the bill.
What makes lowly house dust such a plague to allergy sufferers? For starters, just one speck contains a host of cringe-worthy things: dust mites, human skin particles, animal dander, parts of cockroaches, mold spores, food particles and other debris. Frequent exposure to dust is not only unpleasant, but it also triggers asthmatic reactions.
The Mighty Mite
Those dust bunnies around your house are home to dust mites. These tiny critters are about 1/100th of an inch long – that’s smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Up to 18,875 dust mites can live in 1 gram of dust. The usual population is about 100 to 500 mites per gram.
About 10 percent of the population and 90 percent of people with allergic asthma have positive skin tests for allergy to dust mites. Almost half of young people with asthma are allergic to dust mites.
There’s no avoiding house dust and the mites who live in it. Dust mites are in our pillows, mattresses, carpeting, upholstered furniture and even books.
How does a mite make you sneeze?
False alarm! Normally, the immune system defends the body against invading agents like bacteria and viruses; however, in an allergic reaction the immune system is responding to a false alarm.
The immune system treats the allergen, dust mites, as an invader. It attacks by making large amounts of immunoglobin E, a disease-fighting antibody. Each IgE antibody is specific for one unique allergen.
People react to proteins in the bodies and digestive waste of dust mites. When you put your nose right next to the mattress or pillow, you inhale the antigen.
Dust Busting Tips
A dirty house can make a house-dust allergy problem worse, but even normal housekeeping may not be enough to relieve house-dust allergy symptoms. Allergists say there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to it and to the pesky mite
- Deep clean your home on a regular basis. Break out the vacuum frequently and dust with a damp or oiled cloth. Ideally, someone other than the dust-sensitive person should clean. If that's not possible, wear a dust mask.
- Get rid of carpeting, especially in the bedroom. Carpeting is a breeding ground for dust mites. If you must have carpet choose one with low pile. Scatter rugs that can be washed each week are a better option. Wood floors, seamless vinyl or linoleum floor coverings are best because they can be cleaned easily and mites don't favor setting up camp on bare floors.
- Put a barrier between your nose and dust mites by covering pillows and mattresses with zip-lock vinyl covering.
- Wash bedding in the hot-water cycle - temperatures of 130° F to 140° F - to kill off dust mites.
- Use washable curtains and shades, not blinds, which collect too much dust.
- Use closed bookcases and curio cabinets instead of open shelves. Books and knickknacks — and, of course, stuffed animals — are major dust collectors.
- Change or clean air conditioner and furnace filters often.
- Use air conditioning to keep inside humidity at 50 percent or lower. This slows mite growth during warm-weather months. Check with your allergist about room/home HEPA filters. A HEPA filter, which stands for high-energy particulate air filter, works well for airborne allergens like pollen. It can be useful for someone with a cat or dog allergy, It's not really useful for dust mites.
- Use an air sanitizer. They clean the air and are able to remove particles including allergens.
In general, Overholt says, "the more severe the dust mite allergy, the more rigid your dust avoidance ritual should be."