Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dust and Allergies

by Dr. Fred Little
Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

House Dust and Asthma
In this entry, I would like to discuss how house dust and dust mites contribute to asthma in adults and children. There are also strategies you can use to control your and your child’s exposure to dust and dust mites, an important indoor asthma trigger for many individuals.

What is dust allergy?
While we often can see dust floating indoors and gathering on surfaces, it is not typically the dust to which people are allergic, but rather substances that are carried on the dust that cause hayfever symptoms and/or wheeze.
Dust is a combination of many substances, including pet dander, fabric particles, and small dust mite particles, to name a few. While high levels of dust can lead to irritation of the nose and lungs without allergy, the most common allergens on dust are pet dander, cockroach particles, and house dust mites. Allergy to these specific triggers can be assessed by skin testing or blood testing. Allergy to these triggers that may make up part of dust in your home (every home is different) does not mean that you have a dirty home or need to brush up on your housekeeping.
When a doctor speaks of being allergic to dust, he or she typically is referring to specific allergy to dust mite. Dust mite allergic individuals react to body proteins as well as proteins released by these critters. Dust mites are very small insects that live in places that are warm, humid, and near where people spend lots of time. In our homes, dust mite levels are highest in mattresses, boxsprings, rugs, and upholstered furniture. Since they are very small, they can be easily released into the air from beds and furniture. Over 50% of asthmatics are allergic to dust mites.

Controlling dust and dust mite exposure
Simple strategies to minimize dust in the home include dusting with a damp cloth, vacuuming, and limiting the number of carpeted rooms. For rooms that need covering, area rugs are better than wall-to-wall carpeting. However, no amount of diligent housekeeping can remove dust mites. To control exposure to dust mites, the strategy is to isolate and starve the mites. This includes placing dust mite covers on mattresses, boxsprings, and pillows, as well as washing bedding every week in hot water. Dust mite covers are airtight, so the mites can’t escape and their food source (normal skin shedding from our bodies) is eliminated. Dust mite covers are relatively inexpensive and come in a range of prices, sizes, and comfort. Upholstered furniture is trickier. Some couches can be covered beneath the upholstery but typically this is not very easy – better to replace the furniture with leather or vinyl-covered furniture. At the minimum, pets should not be allowed to get on upholstered furniture.

Interesting fact
Dust mites not only like, but need, humidity to survive. Since the air in higher altitudes is drier (and cooler), dust mites do not survive much above 4,000 feet. So if you want to be sure you’re living in a mite-free home, you can consider moving to Denver!

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