Understanding your triggers is a key component of allergy management, and dust is one of the most prevalent of triggers. So getting a handle on dust and how it may be affecting your allergies is essential.
It's a sad fact that even the most motivated of housekeepers will not be able to keep dust from coating every surface in the home. And, if like me, you're too busy to focus your life on a perfectly clean house... well, then your home is going to have even more dust. But it's important to recognize that dust is not a sign of dirt or poor housecleaning per se.
Actually, dust is a normal by-product of fibers and other substances found throughout an indoor environment. Though you can reduce the amount of dust in your home, you're never going to eliminate it. So, if dust is one of your triggers, then indoor allergies may always plague you to some extent.
Household dust may actually contain a few different kinds of allergens:
- Dust mites
- Animal dander
- Insect fragments & waste
- Fibers that are allergenic, from carpet, upholstery and clothing
- Wood & paper particles
- Human dander & hair
- Ash from cigarettes & cigars
- Mold spores
Now, are you starting to see why dust can cause so many allergy problems?
By far, though, the worst in the list above is the dust mite. Dust mites are 8-legged relatives of the house spider, only they are tiny, too tiny to see without a microscope. Their main diet is human skin flakes and animal dander shed by us and our pets. Luckily, they don't feed on our live skin!
8 out of every 10 allergy patients is allergic to dust mites, or more correctly, to their waste. These nasty mites live in warm, dark, humid spaces, such as upholstered furniture, carpeting, bedding, towels, drapes & stuffed toys.
Mattresses & box springs are some of their favorite places, which makes your bedroom an especially vulnerable place for you to spend time. In fact, the average mattress may contain up to 2 million dust mites. Yikes! Ever wonder why you wake up with a head full of cotton, red eyes and a dripping nose?
The allergens from dust mites tend to retain their potency for many months (or even years) too. So, they're hard to get rid of.
So, how do you know if you are allergic to house dust mites?
The most reliable way is to be tested. But there may be clues that can tell you a lot. Do you ever notice that you have nasal allergy symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, itchy nose or eyes, or coughing when you:
- Dust the furniture
- Make your bed
- Change bed linens
- Are indoors as opposed to outdoors
- Wake up in the morning?
Or, if your symptoms tend to occur year-round, this is another indication that indoor allergens like dust mites are at work.
As with any allergens, avoidance is key, but that can be a challenge with dust, since it is everywhere and so hard to get rid of. Still, any efforts you make will be well worth it. Encasing mattresses and pillows in allergen-free covers can help. So can getting rid of carpets and upholstered furniture as much as possible. Use a HEPA-filter in your vacuum cleaner. Wash your bedding every week or two in hot water (not warm). Reduce your indoor humidity by using a de-humidifier in the cool weather and/or an air conditioner during the warmer months.
Dusting your house frequently will also help, though you may want to wear a face mask, if you are the one who has to do the cleaning. Change the air filters in your heater and air conditioner every 4 weeks or so.
Despite all your best efforts, you will probably also need to take antihistamine medication to help control your allergy symptoms. The good news is that there are very effective medicines available these days. Some are available over the counter, while others require a doctor's prescription.
Either way, it's wise to consult with your doctor before you choose a medicine. With the right combination of effort and medication, you can keep dust mites from putting you into a constant state of nasal allergy symptom intensity!
Photo Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology