Dust mites in your bed linens could make you sick; managing them is easy though

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Dust mites – microscopic, eight-legged creatures – can be dubbed as ‘inseparable’ from house linens and thus our lives if we do not follow some basic cleaning techniques. Though dust mites aren’t parasitic, they are known to be allergic and are known to cause sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, stuffy ears, respiratory problems, eczema and (in severe cases) asthma.

There are no obvious telltale signs of dust mite allergies because dust itself has other allergens and hence an allergist, a medical doctor specially trained to treat allergies, should be consulted for proper diagnosis.

Biology of dust mites

Dust mites are so small that they are virtually invisible without magnification. Female mites are known to lay cream-colored eggs coated with a sticky substance so eggs will cling to the substrate including threads of bed linens, pillows, mattress and other such objects.

For those of you who are unaware, we continually shed skin and lose about 1/5 ounce of dead skin each week. About one-third of our lives are spent sleeping and hence high-levels of dead skin can be found in bed and this is what dust mites feed on. Dust mites do not drink free water, but absorb water from the air and the environment.

To thrive, dust mites need very warm temperatures (75-80 degrees F) and high humidity levels — 70-80 per cent relative humidity. One study showed when humidity is 60 per cent or lower, the mite population stops growing and dies out.

Reducing dust mite infestation

Though there is not specific method that ensures a 100 per cent success – a two-pronged approach of reduce dust mite populations and reduced exposure to dust helps dust mite management efficiently.

Decrease humidity levels – Dust mites love high humidity and if you maintain humidity levels to less than 50 percent inside your home, especially in the bedroom, dust mites will have a hard time thriving. Studies have shown air-conditioned homes have ten times fewer dust mite allergens than non-air-conditioned homes, but in cold areas, this is something that’s hard to achieve. Electric blankets have been pegged as dust mite reducers as some studies have indicated reduction in dust mites by 50 percent in one month when such blankets were used.

Regular cleaning – It is recommended that you wash all bedding weekly. Research has shown that laundering with any detergent in warm water (77 degrees F) removes nearly all dust mite and cat allergen from bedding. If you cannot launder blankets, dry clean them once a year. Shampoo, steam clean or beat non-washable carpets once a year. If you send your bedding out for cleaning, consider using a disinfectant once they are back after cleaning.

Reduce air inflow – Though fresh air is considered good for human health, airing the house in certain seasons bring in pollen, which is another allergen as well as food for dust mites. In some climates, incoming air may be humid, which promotes dust mites.

Refrain from furry or feathered pets – Though this might not go down well with pet lovers, pets with fur or feathers contribute to the dander in the dust and increase food source for mites. If you are a pet lover, locate their sleeping quarters as far from yours as possible and furnish their sleeping area so it can be cleaned easily. Hardwood or vinyl floors with washable area rugs are ideal.

Appropriate furnishings – Comfortable furnishings are what everyone will be looking at, but they too are one of the factors that dust mites rely on to thrive. Avoid overstuffed furniture because it collects dust. It is recommended that you avoid wool fabrics/rugs because wool sheds particles and is eaten by other insects. As far as curtains go, use washable ones and if you do have the option of using rugs, go for them instead of wall-to-wall carpeting. If you cannot replace carpeting, have it steam cleaned at least once a year, springtime is best. This will prevent a build up of dust mites feeding on skin cells in the carpet during the summertime. Enclose mattresses and pillows in plastic to decrease mite populations in the bed. Replace feather pillows with synthetic ones.