Patient Education

CONTROLLING HOUSE DUST MITES AND
OTHER ALLERGENS IN YOUR HOME

Copyright 2000, Regional Allergy & Asthma Consultants, PA

INTRODUCTION

The foundation of allergy treatment is reducing exposure to those items to which you are allergic.  The more exposure you can avoid, the more you can reduce your symptoms and your medication requirements.

The recommendations discussed below may involve a fair amount of effort to accomplish.  Therefore, we usually perform allergy testing to provide a more precise diagnosis, enabling us to focus our environmental efforts most effectively and efficiently. 

SECONDHAND SMOKE

All of our patients, regardless of what allergies they may have, will have significantly more trouble with respiratory symptoms if exposed to cigarette smoke.  Therefore, cigarette smoking must be moved completely outdoors and out of the car.  It is not adequate for other family members to smoke only in a designated room, or to smoke only when the patient is away from home.  The fine cigarette particles harmful to our respiratory tracts stay airborne for up to 24 hours, and rapidly spread throughout the home.  Even the most sophisticated and powerful air cleaning devices are quickly outpaced by smoke, and are not a substitute for always keeping smoking outdoors.

HOUSE DUST MITES

The most important part of house dust that causes allergies is the dust mite.  This is a microscopic insect that lives indoors, feeds on shed human skin scales, and thrives under warm and humid conditions.  Large numbers are found in pillows, mattresses, box springs, carpets, and upholstered furniture.

Procedures to reduce dust mites should focus first on the bedroom, as more time is spent there than in any other room, and it is generally easiest to change.  In the long run, however, it is best to modify as much of the home as is possible, and this should be considered when moving or remodeling.

PRIORITY OBJECTIVES:

1. Completely enclose pillows, mattresses, and box springs in zippered, allergen-proof encasements.  Less expensive vinyl covers from department stores are effective, but many of our patients prefer the soft and breathable covers, particularly for pillows and mattresses.  Reputable companies selling these include: Allergy Control Products (1-800-422-3878 or www.allergycontrol.com), and National Allergy Supply (1-800-522-1448 or www.nationalallergysupply.com). 

2. Dust mites are killed at very hot temperatures.  Therefore, any bedding on top of the encasement should be washed in hot water weekly.  This includes mattress pads, sheets and pillow cases.  Blankets, bedspreads and comforters should be washable or tumble dried for 30-45 minutes on a hot setting once weekly.  Another option would be to encase your comforter in a dust-proof cover. 

3. Carpet should be vacuumed weekly.  If possible, use a vacuum cleaner designed to limit dust in exhaust or fitted with a special bag and filter to limit dust, available through the allergy supply companies noted above. 

4. "Dust collectors" such as knickknacks, books, and stuffed animals should be kept to a minimum in the bedroom.  A favorite stuffed animal or two could be periodically laundered and/or tumble dried weekly to reduce mite levels.  Clothing should be stored in an enclosed closet. 

5. Maintain the relative humidity in the house under 50%.  This is best achieved with central air-conditioning in the summer, along with a dehumidifier in the basement if needed.  During the drier winter months, a humidifier may be used for comfort, but be careful not to humidify above 50%.  Humidity gauges are available at many discount department or hardware stores, or through the allergy supply companies listed above. 

OTHER OBJECTIVES:

1. Removing carpets and upholstered furniture from bedrooms makes it much easier to control dust mites.  Chemical treatments to control mites in carpet and furniture have only limited effectiveness and are not routinely recommended. 

2. Replace drapes with washable curtains, shades, or blinds. 

3. Because of its relatively large size, dust mite allergen remains airborne for only short periods of time after a disturbance (vacuuming, walking on carpet, etc.).  Air filtration devices are therefore unlikely to make much of an impact on dust mite allergen levels. 

MOLD

 

Patients may develop allergies to both indoor and outdoor molds.  Outdoor mold spores are especially prevalent in the air on windy days in the summer, fall, and early winter.  As with pollens, outdoor mold spores may be partly avoided by staying indoors.  Even with air conditioning, though, outdoor mold spores become part of the house dust inside our homes.  To lessen indoor mold growth, reduce moisture problems in and around the home by:  1) assuring adequate kitchen and bathroom ventilation; 2) making sure that gutters, down spouts, and landscaping direct rain water away from the home and foundation; 3) trimming back shrubs and trees to maintain adequate ventilation to the exterior of the home; 4) using a dehumidifier in the basement during the summer months; and 5) using central air-conditioning, if available.

POLLENS

Airborne pollen is produced by trees in the early to mid spring, grasses in the mid spring through summer, and weeds in the summer and fall.  Pollen grains travel miles in breezes, so do not attempt to manage your pollen allergy by eliminating certain plants from your yard or neighborhood.  The only effective avoidance strategy is to be indoors in an air-conditioned environment during times of heavy pollen.  Because this is often impractical, we usually recommend medications and/or immunotherapy injections for individuals with pollen allergies. 

ANIMAL DANDER

Cat dander is usually the most bothersome animal allergen as it is the most potent of all the danders.  Finding another home for the animal or keeping it exclusively outdoors is the best way to limit exposure to dander, although this decision is not always the most practical.  Cat allergen is very "sticky" and adheres easily to carpeting, furniture, and clothing.  Therefore, even if the cat leaves the house, you will need up to five months of regular cleaning to effectively reduce the cat allergen.

If the animal cannot be relocated, some measures which may help include:

1. Confining the pet to a limited area of the home, and most definitely from the bedroom.

2. Keeping the bedroom door closed at all times and running a HEPA filter in the bedroom.  In contrast to dust mite allergen, which is relatively large and airborne for only short periods of time, pet allergens are small and remain airborne for hours.  Consequently, HEPA filtration devices will reduce pet allergen levels in the air, which may in turn improve symptoms.

3. Vacuuming with a vacuum cleaner containing a HEPA filter or special bags designed to limit dander in the exhaust, available through the allergy supply companies noted above.

4. Bathing the pet once a week may help to reduce the level of dander in the home.

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