Dust mites are found in nearly all homes to some degree. Although these microscopic creatures do not bite, infest skin, or live in hair follicles they can be the cause of allergic reactions in some people. Allergic reactions are not caused by the actual dust mites but by their feces and body fragments deposited in dust. When infested dust is stirred up, these allergens become airborne and are inhaled.
What do dust mite looks like?
Dust mites are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. But if you could see them, this is what you might see: Miniscule dust mite eggs are cream colored and are usually "cemented" to surfaces that the female comes in contact with. Adult dust mites are less than 0.5mm in length, egg shaped with an inflated appearance and are a light creamy color. Identifying characteristics include long legs (long for a mite), short somewhat snubbed mouth parts and several very long hairs originating at the rear of the abdomen.
What kind of environment do dust mites prefer?
Dust mites can found in highest concentrations in places where humans or pets spend the majority of their time such as mattresses, couches, recliners and pet bedding.
To survive dust mites need very warm temperatures, ideally between 75-80 degrees F and high humidity levels, 70-80 percent relative humidity. These mites feed on shed human skin cells, animal dander, pollen, bacteria and fungi. Dust mites do not "drink" water but absorb it through their bodies from humidity in the air and environment.
What are the effects of dust mites?
Strictly speaking dust mites do not cause any "direct" damage. This type of mite does not cause damage to wood, fabrics or food stores nor does it bite or infest humans or pets. The concern with dust mites has to do with their frass (debris from feces and body fragments) which can and in many cases does cause an allergic reaction in sensitive people. Symptoms associated with dust mite allergies may include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, stuffy ears, respiratory problems, eczema and (in severe cases) asthma.
How to Control Dust Mites
It is probably not possible to get rid of dust mites completely, since there will always be dust. However, making an undesirable environment for dust mites is the key to control. By carrying out the following control measures, you will drastically reduce the number of dust mites in your home, thereby lessening the allergic reactions of those who are sensitive.
- Encase you mattress, box spring and pillows. Purchase encasements that are "dust mite and allergy proof". Sealing the main infestation points in an encasement can eliminate much of an allergy sufferers symptoms.
- Properly sanitizing all bedding every week can eliminate much of a mite infestation. Wash stuffed animals, comforters, blankets and sheets in warm water (at least 77 F). By taking time to do this step you can remove all dust mites as well as their allergens from your bedding.
- Spray items that cannot be washed like curtains, carpets, couches and recliners with a product labeled for dust mites like Steri-fab or Bedlam. Both of these products must make direct contact with dust mites to kill them, so taking time to treat suspected areas is important.
- Vacuum carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture and other suspected areas to remove infested dust and allergens from the home. Be sure to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and promptly discard bag and contents outside of the home.
- Dust mites need high humidity levels to survive. By using a dehumidifier or running a central air conditioner, lower humidity levels (less than 50%) than can be tolerated by dust mites can be achieved.