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What Are Dust Mites?

Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live in pillows, mattresses, blankets, carpets and other soft materials. They are often thought of as insects, but are actually tiny arachnids, relatives of spiders and ticks. They do not live on people, but live near them. Their food is the dead skin scales that we all shed every day. They are plentiful in soft materials, such as pillows, mattresses and blankets, where they can burrow into the fabric to get away from the light. Beds provide the warmth, darkness, high humidity and shed skin scales that mites crave, and they are the source of the biggest mite exposure for most of us. A mattress may contain over a million dust mites. Each mite lives for about 80 days, during which time it produces one thousand allergy-causing waste particles.

Live mites themselves are not inhaled. Rather, it is the waste particles that they have produced, and the body fragments of dead dust mites, that become airborne, are inhaled and cause allergy symptoms. This is because mites do not live in the air, but are burrowed in soft materials. Mite waste particles become briefly airborne when one walks on a carpet, sits on an upholstered chair, places one’s face on a pillow, makes a bed, or otherwise disturbs the soft materials where the dust mites are living.

What can be Done Decrease Exposure to House Dust Mites?

Efforts should focus on the bedroom, where there is the highest concentration of mites, and where most people spend at least a third of their lives. Steps should be prioritized, taking first those actions that are relatively easy to do but that produce relatively large decreases in exposure.

Start With The Bedroom:

IMPORTANT STEPS

  • 1Encase pillows, mattress and box spring in allergen impermeable covers.
  • 2Use washable blankets, and wash all bedding in hot water every two weeks.
  • 3If possible, remove the bedroom carpet.
  • 3Remove stuffed toys, throw pillows, pennants, and upholstered furniture.

Clean Your Home:

IMPORTANT STEPS

  • 1Have cleaning done when the allergic person is not present.
  • 2Use a good quality vacuum HEPA that entraps allergen.

Control Your Air:

IMPORTANT STEPS

  • 1Keep humidity below 50%. Use air conditioning in the summer, supplemented with an additional dehumidifier.
  • 2Avoid using a humidifier in the winter.
  • Air cleaners, although widely used, have not been shown to be of significant benefit for mite allergy. This is probably because mite allergens in the air settle to the floor within a half-hour after disturbance. Air cleaners are more useful for smaller allergens, such as animal dander’s, which stay airborne for long periods of time.
  • Studies have shown little or no allergen in hot air ducts. Hot air duct cleaning and the use of vent filters have not been shown to be generally helpful or needed.