Sleeping With The Enemy – An Army Of Dust Mites!
Cuddling up in a nice warm bed may seem like a good start to a restful night but do you really know what’s sleeping in the bed with you?
Studies have discovered what lurks within our mattresses and pillows and the results are not pretty!
Our beds could potentially be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, fungi, molds and dust mites.
If you are struggling with hay fever, asthma, sinusitis, or skin complaints such as eczema or other rashes, there might be a piece in the puzzle you haven’t yet considered.
There’s a chance you could be sharing your bed with nasties and creepy crawlies that are putting your health in danger.
Research in Australia and around the world shows that up to 85% of people with asthma are allergic to the house dust mite.
House dust mites, are too small to be visible to the naked eye but they are the source of one of the most powerful indoor biological allergens!
They are scavengers that eat organic debris but have a preference for shed skin scales covered in bacteria, fungi and yeasts. These almost invisible animals, about a third of a millimetre long (up to 6 mites could fit on the head of a pin) are found everywhere in our cluttered homes, bedding, carpets, furnishings and even clothing.
They don’t bite or sting but harbor strong allergens in their bodies as well as in their secretions, feces and shed skins.
One of the major allergens of dust mites is an enzyme similar to a product used in the food industry to tenderize meat. The health threat posed by dust mites comes from a protein found in their faeces (droppings), called De p1.
The faecal matter is lighter than air and becomes airborne when disturbed by activity like fluffing pillows and tossing and turning at night.
The airborne particles are inhaled, the protein Der p1 breaks down the protective mucous lining of the eye, nose, lungs and skin. The allergens enter the body and cause an overreaction of the human immune system.
The average adult human sheds about 1.2 kg of skin per year. Every person sheds and re-grows skin every 27 days and loses 100 hairs a day. We sweat as much as a half to a pint per night.
You do the math: on average we spend eight hours a day (one third of our lives) in bed, that’s quite a build up – and the perfect environment for those dust mites to live and breed. An average bed can contain anywhere from 100,000 to 2,000,000 dust mites, even up to 10,000,000 in an old bed.
Over its course of life a dust mite can produce up to 200 times of its own body weight in waste produced and it is estimated that brand-new pillow doubles its weight in three years, thanks to remains of dust mites that build up inside it.
This is bad news for us, humans as dust mites can produce a range of health complaints and allergic reactions, such a breathing difficulties, itchy skin, hey fever, nasal congestion, wheezing, itchy, watery or red eyes, sneezing, postnasal drip, cough, etc. They can also have a detrimental effect on your sleep causing you to wake up several times during the night.
Although completely getting rid of dust mites is virtually impossible, there are several precautions that you can take to drastically reduce their numbers and neutralise.
- Wash bedding regularly.
- Fortunately dust mites don’t do well at very high temperatures, washing your bed sheets through 60C is usually enough to remove their faecal matter and skin particles. If you have a tumble dryer, put the sheets through a spin until they are fully dry. The heat from the dryer should take care of any dust mites that are left. Do this on a weekly basis.
- Tumble dry – Put the sheets through a spin until they are fully dry. The heat from the dryer should take care of any dust mites that are left. Do this on a weekly basis.
- Consider investing in a good quality hypoallergenic, waterproof mattress and pillow protestors that will act as a barrier preventing body fluids, shed dead skin, mould, bacteria, fungi and dust mites and other allergens form infiltrating your sleeping environment!
- Replace wool or feathered bedding with synthetic materials. Use hypoallergenic memory foam or natural latex pillows.
- Opt for wood flooring over wall-to-wall carpets when possible, especially in bedrooms.
- Keep your house dry and well ventilated and if possible, lower humidity to less than 50% inside your home, especially in the bedroom.
- Vacuum weekly. You may air the house for an hour or so after vacuum cleaning to help clear the air.
- Replace carpets with hard flooring if possible, especially in the bedroom. Hard flooring eliminates the most fertile breeding ground for dust mites.
- Stripping the bed in the morning rather than making it is another good idea.
You may have considered steam cleaning your mattress. Be very careful with this method as you are adding moisture to the huge sponge-like mattress.
Steam creates high humidity which offers a perfect breeding ground for dust mites, bacteria and mould spore growth. The very problem you are trying to avoid!
Fresh and Clean Mattress Recipe
• Put approximately 1 and a half cup of baking soda into a small jar and add 4- 5 drops of Eucalyptus oil and give it a good shake.
• Pour enough baking soda through a sifter or strainer to lightly dust your mattress with it. Leave on for an hour or more, allowing it time to draw out dirt, moisture, and odour.
• Thoroughly vacuum the mattress. Vacuum slowly so that you’re using the vacuum suction efficiently to pull out as much debris from within the mattress as possible.
The baking soda will draw out moisture and dirt, and the Eucalyptus oil will deodorizes and leave your mattress smelling fresh and clean.
‘Allergens and Allergen Immunotherapy’, Fourth Edition, 2008, Chapter 10, Mite Allergens, E Fernandez-Caldas, L Puerta, L Caraballo, R F Lockey; p 161-182; Publisher, Taylor and Francis. Clin. Allergy Immuol, 2008; 21: 161-182
‘The biology of dust mites and the remediation of mite allergens in allergic disease’, Professor Larry G. Arlian and Professor Thomas A.E. Platts-Mills, 2001 ‘Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’, Volume 107, Number 3, Pages S406 to S413