Dust mites are everywhere, munching their way through our left-over’s. And I don’t mean the food we drop. It’s the bits that we shed each day – we provide about 1g of delicious gourmet skin scales for them each day.
So what are they, and how do we get rid of them?
What are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are tiny translucent insects, naked to the human eye, which live in dusty places. They have eight legs and are thus related to the scorpion and spider, but not as pretty. Look at one under a microscope and you’d be handing it an invitation to the ugly bug ball.
Where Do Dust Mites Live?
A dust mite will live anywhere which is moist, warm and with a good food supply. They are mainly to be found in soft furnishings, easy chairs, sofas, carpets, and soft toys. However their favourite place is in bed, where they have a constant supply of fresh food each as they gorge on the dead skin and a pint of sweat that we lose each night.
It is estimated that in a mattress older than two years, there will be an average of 2-3 million mites. And if you pick up one of your pillows, as much as 10 per cent can be due to the weight of dust mites.
Allergic Reactions To Dust Mites
The real issue with house dust mites is that allergic reactions to them affect 30% of the population and 80-85% of asthma sufferers react to them. Allergic symptoms take the form of sneezing, wheezing, itchy, weepy eyes, and rhinitis. However, it’s not the dust or the dust mites that we’re reacting to; it’s actually an allergen in their faeces.
Keeping Dust Mites At Bay
Getting rid of dust mites completely is a tall order and not for the faint-hearted. But for those who find the allergic symptoms irritating or for asthma sufferers, there is a lot you can do to keep them at bay and radically reduce their effect.
Control The Atmosphere
Dust mites thrive in warm, humid conditions multiplying rapidly when the moisture in the air is at 70% -80%; their optimum conditions. Double glazing, good insulation, and central heating don’t help our battle against the dust mite – as they love the warm atmosphere such a sealed environment creates but there are simple things you can do to help:
- Put an extractor fan in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Wipe condensation from windowsills in the mornings.
- Keep the kitchen door closed when cooking.
- Don’t dry clothes over radiators and put away only when completely dry.
- Keep windows open and central heating to a minimum.
Wash Your Bedding
If your mattress is over ten years old, consider buying a new one and then fit it with an anti-mite cover. If you don’t wish to replace pillows, freeze them for 24 hours to kill the mites, and then dry them in a tumble dryer. Wash your bedding regularly – each week if possible – in a hot wash. Dust mites will survive temperatures of up to 60 degrees, so if you don’t wish to use a hot wash all the time, then freeze and then put through a cold wash, which will also do the trick. Do the same for any soft toys or cushions.
Dry-clean your duvets regularly if they don’t fit in your washing machine.
Vacuum your house regularly and pay particular attention to your soft furnishings and bedding. Invest in a good-quality vacuum cleaner which doesn’t just re-puff dust around the house and preferably attach a HEPA filter. You also need to remember to vacuum for longer than you think necessary – the mites have strong suckers and hooks on their legs which they use to hang on, so it takes a little effort to dislodge them.
When dusting, use electrostatic dusters (which trap dust), instead regular ones which effectively just move the dust around.
If you are very asthmatic, chuck out your carpets. It may seem drastic, but rugs and carpets can be infested with mites, whereas they can’t live happily on a hard floor. If you can’t live without wall-to-wall carpeting, make sure you clean them regularly.
Finally, if you have done all of the above and are really suffering, then try taking an antihistamine. It is only a temporary measure but very effective in the short term. Also, talk to your doctor about having an anti-allergen vaccine. Swiss doctors have been experimenting with a vaccine which has shown very positive results.