Without magnification you can’t see them.
But they are there in your home, possibly in the millions. They’re in your cushy furniture, in your beds and in your pillows. You share your life with dust mites. Fortunately, 95 percent of us aren’t bothered by them. If I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t even know they’re there. For those who are allergic to them, their reactions range from sneezing to runny noses watery eyes, generalized allergic reactions. People with asthma are particularly more vulnerable and can have more severe reactions.
Dust mites can be found throughout the average house. They’re half the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The creatures are everywhere: your carpets, upholstered furniture and especially bedding. If you haven’t laundered your pillow, the feathers make up only 90 percent of its weight. The remaining 10 percent consists of dead skin (yours), mold, dung (theirs) and dead mites. Mattresses also play host to huge populations of dust mites.
The mites live off you, but not on you. They feed on you or your pets’ shedding skin. That’s why they love to hang around your bed. Your sloughed off skin cells are meat and potatoes to these guys. Coupled with the warmth you give off as well as the 200 or so liters of moisture you lose each year during sleep and you have a bunch of happy little mites. It’s all this eating that causes the problem. Dust mites have such a voracious appetite, they defecate a whole lot. The average dust mite defecates 20 times a day. It’s their fecal droppings, once dried out, that cause the problems. The droppings contain bacteria, enzymes and protein molecules, causing allergic reactions.
It is almost impossible to completely eliminate dust mites from your home. But, there are things you can do to significantly reduce their numbers. The first step is cleanliness. Regular vacuuming at least twice a week of carpets, draperies, furniture and mattresses will help to reduce the number of mites hanging around. However, vacuuming can actually exacerbate the problem if it just puts the dust back into the air.
Make certain you change the bags often. Make certain you turn your mattresses every couple of months and vacuum thoroughly or use a plastic covering. Wash your sheets and pillow cases and your pillows if they’re washable in hot water. If your pillows aren’t washable, replace them periodically. Don’t make your bed. Or at least, don’t make it until after lunch. When you make your bed, you’re sealing the mites in with the residual moisture you left behind when you get up. This allows them to remain in a relatively comfortable environment until you climb back in to bed.
An unmade bed lets the dry air circulate and mites don’t like it if the humidity falls below 50 percent. Sleep tight and try not to think about all those little critters in bed with you quietly munching away at your dead skin. If you have a question about pests, you can contact me through the Sun Herald.
Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.