Allergies are as persistent as they are painful. Studies show that each year more than 50 million adults suffer from a multitude of allergy symptoms. Some allergy-sufferers have only to contend with seasonal symptoms, but for many people, allergies are an unpleasant addition to each day.
So what, if anything, can be done to alleviate relentless allergy symptoms? First, like any good problem-solver, we must go to the source. Knowing the causes of allergies is the first step in treatment. Allergies are caused by a number of agents. The following are the most common culprits behind common symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, headaches, and runny noses: pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and smoke.
Out of all the allergen triggers present today, the one that literally can make your skin crawl is the American house dust mite, technically called "Dermatophagoides farinae." Dust mites rank as the second largest source of allergy symptoms. Only pollen causes more allergic reactions.
What Are Dust Mites?
Nearly everyone has heard of dust mites, but probably not everyone knows what they are or where they are most commonly found. Dust mites are tiny cream-colored organisms that live off of organic material, such as dead skin flakes, or simply on dust. Our homes are the perfect environment for dust mites to live and breed. Because of their tiny size and multiple legs, dust mites can easily move through the air on the slightest of air currents, such as when you change the sheets or sweep the floor.
Where Do Dust Mites Live?
The most common places in which dust mites live are pillows, bedding, mattresses, carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture. These are optimal places for a dust mite to call home because they provide a source of food, moisture, and protection for these tiny pests. Here, dust mites munch on the dead skin cells we leave behind, use the moisture from our perspiration, saliva, and breathing, and burrow down into the fabric to avoid the sun. Now comfortably at home in your home, dust mites eat, digest, and — you guessed it — leave fecal matter in their wake. The incompletely digested food (Dust mites digest food from the outsides of their bodies in, digesting and then redigesting the same bits of food.) and waste matter combine to cause many types of allergies, from asthma to dermatitis.
How Do I Get Rid of Dust Mites?
Although these little creatures sound scary, they have their weaknesses. The Achilles heel of a dust mite comes in its need for the right environment. And even though it is nearly impossible to get rid of dust mites entirely, their numbers can be greatly reduced through a few simple steps. For instance, at high altitudes or in less-than-optimal humidity, dust mites begin to slow their lifecycle and become dormant or die. Therefore, reducing the humidity in your home, particularly in bedrooms and basements, with a quality dehumidifier or basement dehumidifier will also reduce the number of dust mites.
Also, vacuuming with a vacuum that has a high-quality filter will suck many dust mites from the surfaces being cleaned and ensure that they stay contained within the vacuum.
Additionally, hypoallergenic bedding, such as protective covers for mattresses, box springs, and pillows (that include zipper closures), will also prevent dust mites from getting into the thick fibers where they like to live and breed. It is the tight weave of these fabrics that prevents mites from penetrating it. Washing these protective covers in high-heat temperatures (at least 130 °F) will also ensure that the mites are kept out of our beds.
Can I Do More to Prevent Dust Mites?
If dust mites are a serious problem in your home, some additional changes can help as well. One strategy is to replace carpet with wood or tile flooring, as dust mites are notorious for burrowing deep into carpet and rug fibers. Another strategy is to opt for leather or wood furniture instead of upholstered furniture. Finally, remove curtains, drapes, and blinds on windows, and opt for plastic dust-resistant shades instead.
Knowing the facts and how to deal with dust mites is the key to having a home where everyone can breathe easier. To see what steps you can take to make your home healthier, first, try a simple allergen testing kit. These tests can alert you to how much work lies ahead in the battle against allergens. Also, testing kits are an excellent method for continually evaluating the status of your indoor environment.
For more information on dust mites and allergies read Dust Mites 101 where dust mites are further discussed.
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