As a medical transcriptionist, I often have doctors dictating about allergies, asthma, and allergic rhinitis. They will often prescribe a fix for a very common cause of allergy trigger: dust mites.
Dust mites aren't quite insects. They belong to a group of animals that includes daddy longleg spiders, horseshoe crabs, and scorpions. Because of this fact and their differing physiology, many pesticides and chemicals used to control insects actually will not work for dust mites. But fret not! Various species of dust mites can be found hanging around inside your common household dust. Dust mites are very prevalent, especially in humid areas, and a large percentage of the human population is allergic to common species of dust mite. The mite bodies and mite feces can cause reactions, as well as mite saliva left on a feeding location and the enzymes associated with the mites' molting process. In short, they're not really good for us.
Symptoms of dust mite exposure
Some syptoms of dust mite triggered allergies include itchiness, eczema, runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, sneezing and even problems breathing.
Luckily, the mites are pretty fragile. House dust mites actually consist of 70% to 75% water and they obtain the water balance in their bodies by absorbing water from the vapor in the air. I'd imagine you can predict what will come next: humidity in the house. This is a pretty common theme for household pests across the board, as I'm sure you've noticed. So how do you deal with them?
How to get rid of dust mites
Use protective coverings for pillows and mattresses. These are commonly recommended for patients who are allergic to the mites. The coverings will generally be permeable to vapor but will block dust mites and their allergens. To get really technical, pore sizes of 20 micrometers or less will prevent their access.
Heat it up. Washing and drying your bedding will help reduce dust mites. To kill the mites, you need the water or air temperature to be at least 55 degrees C for longer than 10 minutes. This will kill all the mites and remove their other allergens such as the moltings, as these are water soluble. Eucalyptus oil can be added to a wash, and will kill everything as well-- just be warned that your clothes will smell like Vicks for a little while. ;) The key is to make sure that they are exposed to the 55'C or higher zone for longer than 10 minutes to kill them. You can do the same with all toys, clothing, or luggage in the house by treating it with a tumble dry. Also, an up-and-coming product might make treating against dust mites easier; the GoodKnight self-sterilizing bed uses heat to destroy dust mites in the mattress and bedding.
Replacing carpets and drapery and regularly cleaning and vacuuming is also a great way to cut down on mites. All of these things can easily hold moisture if left untouched for a long period of time, so paying a bit to get them cleaned and dried is definitely worth your while. Replacement is a good plan if you have lots of dust mites. If you can't afford cleaning or replacing your old carpets, a good vacuum with an air filter or thick bag will get rid of some shed skins and surface material but will not kill the majority of live mites. A steam cleaner is also not great because it can leave moisture behind and end up doing the reverse of what you planned. The bottom line is that if you have dust mites and are allergic, you'll end up saving more money by shelling out for a new carpet then you will paying for inhalers and corticosteroids monthly.
Decreasing humidity in the house can actually just solve your problem off the bat, especially if you live in a temperate area. Maintaining a relative humidity of less than 50% with a dehumidifer and air conditioning can permanently destroy a dust mite population! In a higher-humidity location, completely preventing mites requires a bit more effort - maintaining a relative humidity of less than 35% for at least 22 hours daily, according to various studies. There is a strong correlation between humidity issues in a house, mold issues, dust mite issues, and allergies. There's a very good chance that simply reducing humidity help eliminate the mites and the mold, as we saw, which would lead to cleaner air and fewer issues, even possibly eliminating asthma symptoms altogether for some people. Occam's razor states that "other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one." and in this case I believe that is heavily true.
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