We have already talked about what makes dust so terrible, but one thing we really wanted to focus on for the sake of your air quality and health is the dust mite.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are small and translucent (light passes through their body) arachnids that are generally visible under a lens of at least 10x magnification. They feed on proteins found in the dead skin cells that make up 80% of household dust by releasing an enzyme that breaks down proteins.
These enzymes are present in the 2,000 fecal particles they leave behind during their 10-week lifespan, as well as undigested material found in dust. Further contributing to the problem, before dying the females will have laid up to 100 eggs.
In dusty homes, dust mites thrive. In 1 gram of dust, you might find 500 dust mites. Research completed by the American Lung Association found that hundreds of thousands of dust mites can live in bedding, mattresses, furniture, carpets, curtains and other fabrics. Because humans shed around a million skin cells a day, households with small or even large families will provide a buffet of proteins for dust mites to feast.
Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms
Dust mite allergy symptoms mimic those caused by other allergens, but dust mites are unique in that they can actively contribute to respiratory damage.
Dust mites are small and light enough to be carried through the air on dust particles. If inhaled, dust mites can live for a short time inside the lungs and bronchial tubes. Once inside the lungs, their digestive enzymes break down the cells in tissue and makes it easier for them to eat.
Dust mites are known to contribute to asthma, and in some research, reducing exposure to dust mites is enough to alleviate or reduce the symptoms associated with a dust mite allergy. Dust mite allergy symptoms include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest tightness
- Discomfort when breathing
- Audible sounds wheezing when exhaling
- Trouble sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing or wheezing
- Worsening respiratory problems when sick with cold or flu.
Unlike more common allergens, continuous exposure dust mites is more likely to result in more serious inflammation of respiratory tissue, cellular damage and new or worsening asthma.
How to Avoid or Kill Dust Mites
Research has found that humidity, temperature, the age of furniture and carpeting, vacuuming frequency, ventilation, and temperature all factor into dust mite populations.
To control dust mites around the home, follow these steps.
- Avoid Foam Mattresses – In a 2002 study, researchers found that foam mattresses harbored more dust mite fecal material than spring mattresses.
- Control Humidity – In long-term research conducted by the Department of Biological Sciences at Wright State University, homes that maintained relative humidity levels below 51% over a 17 month period were shown to have 10 time fewer dust mites than homes with high relative humidity.
- Limit Hiding Places – Dust mites love fabric and foam material because it provides a safe place to hide and constant supply of skin. To limit where dust mites can hide, switch to furniture with smooth surfaces, such as leather, and cover pillows and mattresses with allergen-proof fabrics.
- Wash Sheets Weekly – Many people are guilty of laying down in bed with wet hair, or sometimes we sweat during the night. This adds excess moisture into the area and creates a hospitable living situation for the dust mite, allowing them to thrive and spread through the bedroom. To kill dust mites, wash sheets in hot water, dry them at the hottest setting, then iron them if it won’t ruin the fabric.
- Avoid Using Carpet – We like carpets in our homes, but the tightly woven fibers trap dust and debris that dust mites need to survive. As we move over carpet, we either force dust deeper into the carpet, or kick up dust and dust mites into the air. Hard flooring is easier to clean and provides fewer places for dust mites to hid.
- Run a HEPA Air Purifier – High-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters trap 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns in size. For reference, dust mites are around 300 microns and their fecal material starts at around 10 microns before breaking down. If you have carpets or you don’t want to wash sheets with high heat, a HEPA purifier can help control airborne particles, such as dust mites and their fecal material.
- Steam Clean – Use a steam cleaner wherever possible, including floors, drapes, furniture, pillows and other areas of the home to effectively reduce dust mites, according to research conducted by the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health at Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice.
Because dust mite allergies mimic symptoms of exposure to particles such as pollen, it might not be apparent that dust mites are the cause of your respiratory discomfort. As a result of how dust mites release enzymes to break down tissue, and the effect this can have on the respiratory, minimizing dust mite populations inside the home is a crucial step in keeping a healthy home.