Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dust mites a fact of life, but can be reduced

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What do you sleep on? Of course, the normal reply is the mattress. But few people realize they're also resting on millions of Dermatophagoides pteronyssinuscan (dust mites).

So how can you decrease the risk of these crawly creatures in your bed? And why should you also think twice before quickly making up the bed?

Dust mites are related to spiders and will never win a beauty contest. They're ugly, menacing, microscopic in size, have eight legs and you can put either 1,000 mites or 250,000 of their fecal pellets in half a teaspoon. Hardly exciting bedmates!

Dust mites accumulate in rugs, fabrics and furniture. But they prefer warm beds, pillows and blankets where they live along with vast amounts of their fecal droppings. Since their diet consists of our dead skin cells, they're eager for us to go to bed. And how many people know dead skin cells account for 80 per cent of house dust?

At this point you may be saying, "Luckily, this isn't a problem for our home." But dust mites are found in all homes, no matter how clean. And, if you think you can escape this nasty creature by moving to Antarctica, don't bother, as it's been found in that location.

So are dust mites hazardous to our health? For a start, it doesn't help the psyche to know you're sleeping along with millions of these creatures every night! But dust mites have been linked to allergy problems, watery, itchy eyes, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, eczema and asthma. It's the fecal pellet containing guanine that triggers allergic reactions.

A report by North America's environmental watchdog agency says asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions in our children and also a serious problem for adults. Authorities say 80 per cent of asthmatic children test positive to dust mites.

So what can you do to limit the number of these spider-like mites, particularly if a family member suffers from asthma or other allergies?

Don't sleep with your pet. Pet dander is not your friend. Have Fido or Felix the cat sleep in an area far removed from your bedroom. If this causes psychological problems for you, I doubt it will affect Fido or Felix.

Think twice before making up the bed. This can be a tough sell if you're a neatnik. A friend with a compulsive wife once complained to me, "If I get up at night to go to the bathroom, by the time I get back, my wife has made the bed!"

But dust mites cannot live by dust alone. They also need liquid, the water vapour we provide during the night by breathing and perspiring, which amounts to one pint per person per night. This is why we always weigh less in the morning. So at least toss covers well off the bed when you get up, which helps to dry out the bed before it's made up.

In fact, even making up beds is dangerous, as chambermaids are known to suffer from "bed-maker's lung," an allergic condition.

I must admit this column is not inclined to promote a good night's sleep. In fact, since I started to itch while writing it, I decided to do further research. I discovered it's possible to purchase zippered protective mattress covers that are soft as silk and no mite can penetrate.

Another company has developed a high-tech vacuum with dual action. It sucks up mites, but also uses ultraviolet light to penetrate mattresses, rugs and covered furniture to kill dust mites.

Maybe you're thinking "I'll have a service company get rid of mites." But Dr. Peyton Eggleston, professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, says there's no scientific evidence this works. The dust mites will return in a few weeks.

Remember the saying, "If you can't beat them, join them." This may be prudent in some situations. But I prefer the approach, "If you can't beat them, lock them up in a sure-fire protective covering." This will allow me to sleep better and stop itching.

 

See the website www.docgiff.com . For comments, info@docgiff.com .

Twitter @GiffordJonesMD

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2012 A25

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