Dust Mites Can Cause Asthma

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

If you suffer from asthma or allergies, you know the misery that is associated with that.  Asthma is a lung disease which causes people to wheeze, cough, be short of breath and is sometimes fatal.  People with asthma can suffer from periods of difficulty breathing called asthma attacks.  Each person is different, but many things called asthma triggers can cause asthma attacks.  These can be found both indoors and outdoors and include:  dust and dust mites, cockroaches, mold, pet dander, rodents, tobacco smoke, air fresheners, cold weather, pollen, exercise and stress.

Research has shown that dust mites can cause asthma!  Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that generate some of the most common indoor substances – or allergens – that can trigger allergic reactions and asthma in many people.  Hundreds of thousands of dust mites live in the bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains of your home.  They feed on the dead human skin cells found in dust.

They are not parasites; they don’t bite, sting or burrow in our bodies.  The harmful allergen they create comes from their fecal pellets and body fragments.  Dust mites are nearly everywhere, roughly 4 out of 5 homes in the United States have detectable levels of dust mite allergens in at least one bed.

Mites are one of the major indoor triggers for people with allergies and asthma.  Chronic, ongoing exposure to dust mites at home can dramatically impact the health of people with asthma and those who are allergic or particularly sensitive to mites.   Allergies can range from mild to severe.

Since dust mites occur naturally and can appear in nearly all homes.  Humidity is the most important factor in determining whether a house has high concentrations of dust mites.  They do not drink water like we do, but instead they absorb moisture from the air.  There are actions you can take to reduce or eliminate dust mites in your home.  Keep your home below 50 percent humidity thus minimizing the growth of dust mites.  Air conditioning and dehumidifiers can help achieve this goal.  Target the places where they can grow.  Reduce or use furniture with smooth surfaces, eliminate draperies and curtains, cover mattresses and pillows to reduce dust mites.  Wash bedding in hot water once a week.  Replace or remove carpets if occupants are allergic to dust mites. If you must retain the carpet, use a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency filter or a central vacuum system.