Dust mite control
Dust mites are a common household pest that many people may not even realise are in their homes. The mites are relatively harmless; they do not bite or cause itching or disease, but for those people sensitive to their allergens, mites are a source of daily problems.
They are one of the most common causes of allergies and asthma around the world. Around one billion people are sensitive to dust mite allergens and will exhibit symptoms if the pests make their home their own. Reactions are triggered by the inhalation of a digestive enzyme in the mite stool.
Dust mites are tiny members of the arachnid family that have 8 legs and can’t be seen by the naked eye. They like to live in areas that are warm and humid and feed off dead skin cells. Although they don’t cause any harm, it has been found that they can raise the risk of an asthma attack in asthma patients. They absorb water rather than drinking it which means they thrive in warm, humid conditions. Their ideal habitat is the human home, especially during warmer weather, particularly the bedroom with its mattress, pillows, curtains, blankets and carpet. They feed on the skin detritus that humans leave behind them wherever they go. Combine that with the moisture transferred from your body to your bedding and you have an ideal environment for dust mites.
The life cycle of dust mites is short, around 15 days for males and up to 70 days for females, but those females can lay up to 100 eggs each during their lifespan. The density of dust mites in a mattress is an average of 2500 per gram of dust. That means a lot of allergens lurking around.
Symptoms including itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, asthma, eczema, sinus problems, blackish blue eye circles and headaches may be confused with common hay fever, though the symptoms of dust mite allergies will last year-round. While the allergies can be treated with antihistamines, corticosteroids and asthma inhalers, it is better to try and ease the problem by eradicating the mites as thoroughly as possible.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to eliminate dust mites completely, however if you do suffer with asthma it is important to minimize dust mites in your house as much as possible.
This can be done by:
- Protecting your mattress and pillow with an anti-mite dust cover. These will protect the mattress and pillow from being infested by dust mites but will also protect you from any dust mites that are already there. Feather pillows will attract fewer mites than polyester ones.
- Washing bed linen once a week. The water will need to be 55°or hotter for the dust mites to be killed.
- Having no carpeting in the house. However, if you do, vacuuming with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner will help to eliminate dust mites from carpets. You could also wear a mask when you are vacuuming to help prevent an asthma attack.
- Dusting regularly with a damp cloth rather than a duster or feather duster which will just spread the dust further.
- Hanging clothes in wardrobes (in dust covers if possible) or putting them away in drawers so they don’t collect dust from the room.
Pay close attention to humidity levels in your home, levels about 50% are ideal for mites. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to control your household climate. Extreme temperature exposure will kill mites, temperatures above 60 Celsius or below 0 Celsius. A tumble dryer that runs at 105 Celsius is perfect or leave items in the freezer for a day. Dry cleaning can also kill mites in fabrics.
If dust mites are a major cause of an asthma attack, you should find that by controlling them, symptoms should be eased.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request
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Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 18 March 2018
Next review: 18 March 2021