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Are dust mites a problem in your home?

May 01, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Does your home have a problem with dust mites? It might be surprising to learn that dust mites are part of everyday life and can be found in virtually every household.

The main sources of food for dust mites are human skin cells that slough off a person. Therefore, dust mites exist everywhere we do, because we leave a constant food supply wherever we go.

High humidity increases the prevalence of dust mites, so their numbers increase during the summer. However they can be problematic any time of the year.

Although dust mites live in many homes, only people who are allergic to them will know they are there. Dust mites are the second-most common allergen after pollen. When dust mites grow, they shed their skin and feces causing allergic reactions. Allergic reactions range from sneezing, itchy noses and watery eyes to severe asthma attacks.

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The pinhead-sized mites live in carpets, bedding, and upholstery. They can be found in textured upholstered furniture and long pile carpet and area rugs. Since most of us spend a quarter to a third of our lives asleep, dust mites are found in largest amounts in our beds. This includes our sheets, blankets, mattresses, pillows and pillowcases. Dust mites also thrive in children's toys and stuffed animals.

Dust mites can be reduced by cleaning your home regularly and thoroughly and by reducing the number of places that they can hide and thrive. Keep clutter down. Clutter collects dust and makes it harder to keep a clean home.

To control dust mites, enclose mattresses, box springs, and pillows in zippered allergen- and dust-proof covers. These covers prevent dust mites from hiding inside the batting and soft padding of your bed.

Change your bed sheets, blankets and pillowcases once a week and wash everything in hot water as dust mites can't survive temperatures above 130 degrees. Wash drapes, curtains and upholstery as often as possible.

Keep the relative humidity in your home low, between 35 percent and 55 percent. Run a dehumidifier in your home, especially in the basement.

Sweep and vacuum your entire home at least once or twice a week. Dust your house or apartment regularly and don't allow dust to collect on floors, furniture, cabinets, appliances or high shelves. Change air filters from heating systems and air conditioners frequently. Change the catch bags from your vacuum cleaner as often as you can afford. Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency, purifying, air (HEPA) filtration system, especially if you have family members with allergies and asthma.

Choose washable toys and stuffed animals for your children and wash them in hot water regularly, allowing them to dry thoroughly. If you suspect that your children have allergies or breathing problems, do not let them take stuffed animals or other plush toys to bed. Keep stuffed toys in a separate play area, not in their bedrooms.

For more information on dust mites, asthma and allergies check out the following resources:

o The Environmental Protection Agency - www.epa.gov/asthma/dustmites.html

o American Lung Association - go to www.lungusa.org and type "dust mites" in the search box.

o The Allergy & Asthma Network: Mothers of Asthmatics - www.aanma.org

o The Soap and Detergent Association - www.cleaning101.com/house

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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