LIVING

Is Your Home Making You Itch?

Do you wake up with a runny nose, watery eyes, itchy skin and sneezing fits? You could be living with dust mites. And loads of it!

No matter how clean your home is, there are always plenty of dust mites everywhere. Dust mites, close relative of ticks and spiders, are creatures too small to see with the naked eye. These tiny eight-legged critters live and multiply easily in warm, humid places; feeding on flakes of skin shed by humans and pets. Our mattresses, bedsheets, pillows, upholstery, carpets, floor mats and blankets are the ideal breeding grounds for dust mite infestation.

While dust mites are completely harmless because they do not bite, sting or burrow into our bodies; it is their skin fragments and fecal waste matter that causes concern to human health. Protein substances excreted by these microscopic bugs in their waste and skin coating can produce antibodies in humans who come into contact. These antibodies trigger the human body to release anti-histamines that causes nasal congestion, swelling and irritation of the upper respiratory passages. While some people have developed a certain tolerance to dust mites due to early age exposure (but can still potentially get worse with age), others are born with great susceptibility and sensitivity toward this allergen.

According to The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, a person with dust mite allergy can experience some of the following:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing, wheezing
  • itchy, red watery eyes
  • itchy skin
  • itchy nose, ears, roof of mouth and throat
  • asthma, difficulty in breathing
  • hay fever
  • cough
  • facial pressure or pain, especially around the nose and eye area

It might sound weird but there are plenty of ways your house could be making you itch.

Bedding & Bedsheets

A typical mattress can contain ten of thousands of dust mites. Do not forget that dust mites love infesting in pillows, bolsters and blankets as well. Gross right? A common misconception by most people is they can kill dust mites by putting their bedding out in the “sun” for an afternoon. Unfortunately, this only drives the critters deeper into the layers. They will resurface once the bedding in taken indoors. Vacuuming mattresses is another way people try to rid dust mites but it is not effective. Most mattress are at least 8-inches thick; even a good vacuum can suck up dust mites 2-inches deep. This leaves the rest of the mites still in the mattress. Frequent washing can help reduce dust mite population but will not eliminate them entirely.

What you can do:

  • Buy an anti-dust mite mattress and bedding covers
  • Encase pillows, bolsters and comforters in zippered, allergen resistant covers
  • Use bedding that can be easily removed, and wash often.
  • Wash bedsheets and cases in hot water at more than 60 degrees Celsius once a week
  • If you have a hot clothes dryer, do a post-wash spin for at least 20 mins

Carpet, Floor Mats & Curtains

One square meter of household fabric such as carpets, floor mats and curtains can contain up to 100,000 dust mites! Fabric can trap dust and harbor dust mites. Large-sized household items, such as curtains and sofa couches, make getting rid of dust mites fairly difficult because they cannot be easily removed and washed.

What  you can do:

  • Use removable and washable rugs and floor mats
  • Avoid carpet; replace with laminated flooring
  • Vacuum carpets regularly
  • Use a high-suction vacuum to avoid dust mites from flying up and migrating to a different spot
  • Avoid fabric upholstery. If possible, choose wooden, plastic or vinyl binds and leather furniture.

Clothing

Dust mites are easily trapped within fabric fibers and live in the clothing we wear. Given that they feed on dead skin cells, our clothing is their ideal habitat. Regular washing can only control and reduce dust mite population, not eliminate. For clothes that have not been worn for a while accumulating in our closets, dust mites can migrate from one piece of clothing to other and populate very quickly.

What you can do:

  • Wash in hot water, preferably at more than 60 degrees Celsius
  • Put clothes in hot tumbler dryer for 20 minutes
  • For clothes that require a cold wash, add an anti-mite solution
  • Spring clean your closet space
  • Give or store away unused clothing in zippered, vacuum-sealed bags
  • Separate clean clothes from dirty, worn clothes
  • Keep closets, wardrobes and cupboards closed at all times possible

Floors & Surface Areas

While dust mites cannot survive on floors, they can definitely fall from somewhere and land there! Most people dust or sweep their floors, but that is just stirring up the dust mites and displacing them from one location to another. Surface areas of cushion covers, soft toys, teddy bears, and even our air-conditioning units, are ideal breeding grounds for migrant dust mites.

What you can do:

  • Mop floors, clean walls and surface areas with a wet cloth
  • Sleep in an air-conditioned room to lower humidity and reduce dust mite growth
  • Maintain regular servicing of air-con units
  • Keep all stuffed toys and teddy bears in a closed lid container
  • For children’s soft cloth toys, place them in the freezer for 24 hours before washing

Family Pets

It can be hard to admit that your beloved family pet dog, cat or hamster can be a dust mite carrier. But like us, they also shed dead skin cells. If you find your pet itching and scratching a lot and has some recurrent ear infection or skin issues that do not seem to go away, it could be allergic to dust mites too!

What you can do:

  • Bath your dog at least once a week
  • Regularly wipe down of your pet’s living space with a damp cloth
  • Cover your pet’s bedding with washable sheets
  • Soak bedding in hot water for 20 minutes before wash
  • Keep to regular grooming. It keeps the pet’s coat clean and removes knots that trap dust and dirt. Personally, I love to give my dog a full body close shave every so often.
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