While not everyone has a dust mite allergy, many are irritated by dust. Dust consists of many things and includes not only dust mites, but skin scale, pollen, mold spores and fibers. Dust mites are tiny, microscopic creatures that belong to the arachnid (spider) family. For the individuals who have dust mite allergies, these creatures can cause nasal, chest, skin and eye allergy problems and lead to congestion, sneezing, wheezing and eye itching.
As the hot and humid summer months progress, dust mite numbers increase. Dust mites thrive in humidity. The life cycle of the dust mite is about a 40 day cycle. Dust mites feed on skin scale. So areas where you place your head are particularly high in dust mites, like your pillow, your mattress, the soft cushion of your favorite chair and in your child’s favorite stuffed animal! You don’t actually inhale the dust mite, but you do inhale dust mite body parts. It is the dust mite’s digestive enzymes that give allergic individuals the most problem… yes dust mite poop!
Dust mites are found almost everywhere, but the highest concentrations of dust mites are in our beds, our furniture and in the carpeting. Since we shed most of skin between the sheets, high concentrations of dust mites can be found in our beds.
Now that you are thoroughly disgusted about dust mites, you are thinking… since I am such a good house keeper, surely these dust mites are NOT in my house! WRONG… everyone has them. Of course, messier houses may have more of them. Unfortunately you cannot get rid of them. There are chemicals that will kill dust mites, but they will be back soon after you use them.
For individuals who have dust mite allergies, there are three things we can do to help them:
- Avoidance Measures
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Avoidance measures for dust mites include:
If it is a HARD SURFACE – wipe it down.
If it is a WASHABLE FABRIC- use HOT water to wash it.
If you cannot wash it or wipe it (like your pillow or mattress) – ENCASE IT with material that is impermeable to dust mites.
If you cannot wash it, wipe it or encase it – then REMOVE it.
If the indoor air is humid – DEHUMIDIFY it.
As you can see, there are many things you can do to avoid dust mites. All of these measures help, but they need to be done regularly in order to gain the best control. Encasing your pillow and mattress with impermeable material to dust mites, is the MOST cost effective thing. Vinyl mattress and pillow encasements are very inexpensive and work well. As children grow older, they become like adults and are usually displeased with the noise and discomfort of this material. More desirable fabric encasements can be found (hypoallergenic pillow and mattress covers) at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond or ordered from the internet from reputable sites like Mission Allergy (www.missionallergy.com). These fabrics have complex weaves and high thread counts that trap dust mites in. If they cannot get out to get food, then they eventually die and quit multiplying. For the child whose favorite stuffed animal cannot be washed, consider placing the stuffed animal in a plastic bag and freezing it overnight. Repeat this monthly.
Your allergist, pediatrician or family doctor can provide suggestions for medications to use to control dust mite allergies. These may include drugs from a number of classes such as antihistamines, nasal steroids, asthma controllers and leukotriene inhibitors. Many of the over-the-counter antihistamines do good jobs these days, especially the 24 hour ones like loratidine (Claritin, Alavert) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
IMMUNOTHERPY (ALLERGY SHOTS)
For individuals who have asthma or cannot control their allergy symptoms with avoidance measures and medications, allergy shots may provide additional help to control and treat the problem. Allergy shots work by gradually desensitizing (building tolerance) to an allergen. In this case the allergen is dust mite. What happens is the body begins making less of the allergy antibodies, IgE antibodies specific for dust mite, and begins making good antibodies, IgG4 specific for dust mite. This process is similar to when a tetanus immunization. Your body responds by making specific antibodies to tetanus. The difference in allergy is that a large amount of the vaccine contacting the particular antigen cannot be given. If it is, it could result in a severe allergic reaction. This is why allergy shots require frequent dosing of small amounts with gradual building up to allow the body to build tolerance. In most individuals, allergy shots can provide not only relief of symptoms, but a permanent modification (not necessarily a cure).