For creatures you can't even see, dust mites can stir up a lot of trouble. About 20 million Americans are allergic to these little bugs. When you're one of these people, you may feel as if you have an endless cold or even asthma.
Medication can help, and you can also take simple steps to keep the dust mites away.
Ah, fall. The perfect time to get outside for long walks in the neighborhood, hikes in the hills, and autumn gardening.
But that "ah" can quickly become "ah-choo" if you're one of the 36 million Americans with seasonal allergy problems. The runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion -- all typical fall allergy symptoms -- can slow you down and make you miserable.
While there have been no dramatic advances recently in allergy treatment, experts say if you are allergy-prone, you can take a number of...
Dust allergy symptoms are similar to those of pollen allergies:
Red, itchy, watery eyes
Runny, itchy, stuffy nose
'The Dirt' on Dust Mites
To get rid of these tiny creatures in your home, keep in mind their living habits. They prefer temperatures of 70 F or higher and humidity of 75% to 80%. They can't survive in colder, drier places.
In the U.S., dust mite allergies peak in July and August, when dust mite populations are high because of warm weather.
Dust mites like to eat dead skin from pets and humans. You probably shed enough skin a day to feed a million dust mites. Flakes of dead skin in carpeting, beds, and furniture are like tasty snacks for them.
What Causes Dust Allergies?
It sounds nasty, but it's true: One piece of dust can contain pet dander, pieces of dead cockroaches, and mold spores, along with dead skin and dust mites.
Both cockroaches and pet dander are common allergy triggers, too. Cockroach waste, saliva, and body parts are a problem in some homes, particularly in the southern U.S.
How Can I Prevent Symptoms?
The best strategy is to limit your exposure to dust.
Start in the bedroom, where you probably spend the most time. Large numbers of dust mites can gather in mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furniture.
Wear a mask while cleaning, too.
Bedroom Dust-Busting Tips
Put airtight, plastic dust-mite covers on pillows, mattresses, and box springs.
Use pillows filled with polyester fibers instead of kapok or feathers.
Wash bedding in very hot water (over 130 F) once a week. The water needs to be this hot to kill dust mites. Dry the bedding in a hot dryer.
If your bedroom is in a basement with a concrete floor, move upstairs if you can. Concrete stays damp and creates the moist, humid environment dust mites love.
Around the House
Clean bare floors often with a damp mop or cloth.
Vacuum carpets once or twice a week. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. If your dust allergy is severe, ask your doctor if replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood or vinyl floors would help.
Wash throw rugs in hot water.
Vacuum upholstered furniture such as sofas. Wood, leather, plaster, or metal furniture is better for dust allergies.
Replace drapes with roll-up window shades. If you must have curtains, wash them in hot water each season.
Get rid of stuffed animals, soft toys, and other dust collectors.
Keep Air Clean and Dry
Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to lower humidity.
Put a HEPA filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in your heating and air-conditioning unit. You can find the rating listed on the packaging. Change the filter every 3 months.
Keep humidity in your home below 55%. Use a hygrometer to measure it. You can get one at hardware and building supply stores.