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You'll Never Guess What's Sleeping in Your Bed

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Other risk factors for dust mites are living in single-family homes, high bedroom humidity, mildew odor in the bathroom, and living in a home built before 1978.

Your chances for sharing your house with cockroaches and their accompanying allergen go up if you live in a low-income environment where food debris is present.

From their study, the researchers conclude that high dust mite allergen levels are a problem in a significant number of U.S. homes. "This information can be used to identify homes and individuals that are at greatest risk of exposure so that researchers can better target their prevention and intervention efforts," says Zeldin.

So what can you do about dust mites? Some of the fixes are relatively inexpensive.

Zeldin says the most effective fix is to wrap bedding, including the box springs, mattresses, and pillows, in zippered, allergen-proof casings. These casings can be bought at any linen store and cost less than $50.

Here are some additional tips to keep the mites from getting mightier:

  • Clean your bedding frequently and thoroughly in water temperatures of at least 130°.
  • Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners to remove airborne allergens and to control indoor moisture.
  • Because dust mites prefer living in upholstered furniture and in carpeting, consider leather furniture and hardwood floors as an alternative. If not, regularly vacuum and steam clean upholstered furniture and carpet.
  • A less expensive option is to clean upholstered furniture and carpet regularly with a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters, which pick up particles as small as a dust mite.
  • As for man's best friend, keep in mind that dogs and cats are mite magnets. Consider keeping pets out of the bedroom and washing their bedding thoroughly.

The researchers also stress that mites aren't the only household respiratory risk factors. Other bacterial substances known as endotoxins also can have an irritating effect on the lungs. More research is needed on their role.

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