Category: Article:

Problems with Dust Mites?
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Dust mites live in our homes, share the dark recesses of our bedding, carpeting, and upholstery, and feed on the dead skin scales and dander we shed. These tiny eight legged cousins to ticks and spiders take about one month to grow from egg to adult and then live an additional one to three months prorogating more dust mites. A double-size mattress can hold five million mites, and a six-year old pillow can get one-tenth of its weight from mites, dead mites, and mite droppings. Dust mites are also fond of stuffed animals, preferring the dark reaches of material at least one-eighth inch under the fabric surface. In fact, mites cannot live in light, for instance on top sheets or surface carpeting, according to Jim Rosenthal, co-owner of Allergy, Air & More by Air Relief Technologies, Inc. at 3034 Mockingbird Lane.

Many people co-exist comfortably with these microscopic critters?but not allergy sufferers especially during allergy season, which begins in January. For dust mites? fecal pellets factor into 50 to 80 % of asthmatic conditions as well as eczema, hay fever, and other allergic ailments. Nurses say that between 80-90% of tested people are allergic to dust mites (primarily their excrements), according to Rosenthal. One such person is Rosenthal?s daughter, whose diagnosis led Rosenthal into allergy retail.

?The allergist gave me a catalogue and said you need to buy encasements for Emily,? said Rosenthal. Finding that the merchandise could not be found locally, Rosenthal decided to sell it himself, establishing his first store in Fort Worth in 1997. Six months after opening his second store at Coit and Campbell, Steven Brown joined as partner, and the two have since opened branches in Austin, Bedford, and University Park in April 2000, as well as a facility that manufacturers air conditioning filters in Arlington. Knowing nothing about allergy control when he started, Rosenthal has since become an authority.

Allergies show up at any age, but usually begin in childhood with food allergies and eczema. The propensity to develop allergies is inherited?and the development of any allergic condition involves the gradual build-up of blood proteins (IgE antibodies) to antigens such as animal dander, ragweed, cedar, dust mite feces, or whatever antigen is in the environment. Repeated exposure to the antigens increases the antibodies, which eventually reach a threshold titer triggering symptoms such as the runny nose, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis, or sometimes death.

?Allergies happen to be additive,? Rosenthal said. If you?re exposed to allergens, such as dust mites all night in your sleep, you can wake up with a high titer of antibodies in the morning. Then, when you go outside and are exposed to ragweed or mountain cedar, you develop symptoms. Other people can wake up with allergy symptoms already full-blown, and even more sensitive people exhibit allergic reactions as soon as their heads touch the pillows.

?Avoidance is the first step in allergy control,? Rosenthal said. All you have to do is encase your pillows and your bed in dust mite proof bedding to bring about a dramatic decrease in exposure to allergens. For most people, there?s a dramatic improvement in style of life?no nasal sprays, and for people with asthma?reduced inflammation, which drives most asthmatic episodes. ?It?s a proven, important way to control asthma and allergies.?

To be dust mite proof, the bedding must be impenetrable to the mites, to human skin scale particles, and to mite fecal material. Encasements must wrap completely around the mattresses, the pillows, and the box springs sealing them off with zippers covered by tape. Over the encasements, you still can sleep on your favorite sheets and pillowcases. But you need to encase comforters in dust mite proof duvet covers and use washable blankets and quilts. Allergy, Air & More highly recommends washing all bedding in very hot water (130 degrees or above) every week.

?Eventually the dust mites pass away inside because they can?t get anything to eat, according to L.J. Jet McCauley, store manager of Allergy, Air & More at Mockingbird Lane.

?We have a lot of customers, once they learn what is going on, will buy a new bed and new springs and encase them right away,? Rosenthal said. Might as well start off right by eliminating the dust mites. But to keep the dust mites away, the key is encasing the bedding and washing weekly with hot water.

Box spring encasements are made of vinyl hospital grade fabric costing from $13.95 for twin size to $20.95 for the king size. They are optional on beds that are three years old or less, according to Rosenthal, although it?s a good idea to cover older box springs to prevent indirect exposure to allergens when tucking sheets and blankets under the mattress.

The encasements for pillows and mattresses come in four different fabrics?from the basic waterproof durable tricot knit bonded to soft vinyl ($29.95 for twin mattress encasement) to the cotton-polyester blends with urethane backing ($43.95 for twin mattress encasement) and the tightly woven pristine cotton fabric ($59.95 for twin mattress encasement). The pristine cotton is luxurious, cool, and can withstand prolonged use and washings; it is very comfortable without that ?plastic? noise. Plus, the cotton allows the fabric to breathe; so the sheets feel cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Another effective way to control dust mites is to kill them with Dust Mite Control, a boron-based product that is very safe to humans but destroys the digestive systems of dust mites killing them almost instantly. After two weeks of spraying upholstery and carpeting with Dust Mite Control (a powder mixed in water), over 90% of the mites are dead and the carpeting or upholstered furniture remain dust mite free for about six months before the need to reapply.

Because dust mites live deep under surfaces, pulling them out of carpet by vacuuming is very slim, according to Rosenthal. Even mite feces, which can become airborne, are out in the air for only a short time. So, better than vacuuming is to spray the carpeting with Dust Mite Control or keep floors bare or covered with washable throw rugs.

Dust mites don?t like smooth surfaces, so Allergy, Air & More also recommends replacing upholstered furniture with plastic, wooden, metal or leather furniture and avoid dust ?catching clutter around the house. For instance, use enclosures for toys, books, and clothing, and keep closet doors closed. And use shades and/or washable curtains instead of drapes. Finally, keep the humidity below 50% (preferably less than 40%), which may mean simply avoiding humidifiers in the winter or drying wet clothing indoors. Exhaust fans in the bathroom and over the stove also remove excess moisture.

Reducing the allergens in the home, especially in bed, just might be your ticket to a good night sleep.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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