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Dust mites: something to sneeze at.

If you think your modern, insulated house is a safe haven from all allergenic alarms, think again. That average, six-room, well-insulated house in a city or the suburbs accumulates on the average 40 pounds of dust a year. And that dust is home to millions of unseen but troublesome critters called dust mites.

"People aren't allergic to dust mites themselves," explains Rose Cardinal, director of program services at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in Washington, D.C. "The problem is from inhaling the protein from the fecal pellets of the mites."

The waste particles (each mite produces about 20 a day) which Cardinal refers to not only are the main substance to which allergic people react, but in a high concentration during childhood can even be responsible for the onset of asthma. And those waste particles continue to cause allergic symptoms even after the mite that produced them has expired.

Although dust mites die by the millions each day, they are by no means an endangered species. Female mites make sure of this by laying 25 to 50 eggs before passing on, which insures that there will be many generations to come.

If these bothersome arthropods would only manifest themselves like the mosquito or the horse fly, you could swat them and be done with it. But these sightless, eight-legged cousins to the spider and the tick are less than one-half millimeter long-not quite visible to the naked eye. However, even if the homeowner could see them, mites play it safe by sneaking around in the warm, humid environments of bedding, carpeting, and stuffed furniture.

And what do these dust mites find to dine on in bedding, carpeting, and stuffed furniture? Cracker crumbs? Pizza crust? In fact, their only entree consists of flakes of skin that humans constantly shed.

You might also ask how anything so small can cause big trouble. But don't ask the 50 million people in the United States who suffer from allergies and asthma, because many of them have the dust mite to blame. How many is hard to determine. As Cardinal explains, "dust-mite allergies aren't always diagnosed because their symptoms are as minor as a sniffle."

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates, however, that dust mites are nothing to sneeze at. Scientists at two British hospitals and at the University of Virginia studied 67 British children at age one and then at 11. These researchers found that one-year-old children whose homes had high levels of dust-mite allergens were almost five times more likely to develop asthma in early adolescence. The study also reinforced the belief that modern homes with wall-to-wall carpeting and better insulation are excellent environments for these invisible culprits.

Your final question may be: Short of keeping your skin from shedding

Danger Levels for Dust Mites

Two to ten micrograms of mite allergen per gram of dust may be enough to cause sensitization, according to allergy experts, and ten or more micrograms may be a risk factor for experiencing asthma symptoms.

To test for dust-mite levels, ALK Laboratories of Milford, Connecticut (1-800-325-7354) offers a mite-sampling kit with a specially designed dust-collection device that attaches to your vacuum cleaner. The sample obtained is returned by mail to be analyzed for major mite and cat allergens. The analysis identifies specific mite species, information that may be helpful in treating the problem.

For more information, call the MITE line at Fison Pharmaceuticals in Rochester, N.Y. at 1-800-999MITE, or contact the Asthma and Allergy Foundation at 1-800-7-ASTHMA.

Information about Rainbow cleaning systems that trap dust in water can be obtained at Rexair, Inc., 3221 W. Big Beaver, Troy, MI 48084. (1-800-944-2223) and remembering not to breathe, how does an allergic or asthmatic person protect against these dust mite adversaries? The bad news is, getting rid of dust-mite infestations may require a tad of effort.

* When you clean, move all furniture to the center of the room so you can reach the corners, and with a damp cloth wipe moldings, light fixtures, shelves, and door and window tops.

The bedroom in particular, where people spend at least one-third or more of each 24 hours, should be kept scrupulously clean with frequent washing of floors, walls, ceilings, and bedsprings. If the sufferer is a child, send him out to play before throwing open the window and sending the dust you raise on its merry way.

* Encase pillows, mattresses, and box springs (which don't need washing) in zippered vinyl covers that are machine washable in hot water.

* Install room air filters, which can circulate and clean up to 300 cubic feet of air per minute and effectively remove airborne dust particles. Inexpensive tabletop models generally prove ineffective.

* Clean wood or linoleum floors daily with a specially treated dust cloth and mop cover.

* Spray an allergy-control solution on carpets and upholstered furniture to deactivate the allergy-causing substance produced by dust mites, changing it to a form that no longer causes allergy.

* Use a disposable 3M Dust Mask for preventing the inhalation of these dust particles while removing them from the home.

* Cover hot-air vents with filters, or close the vents and heat with electric radiators.

* Try leaving an electric blanket turned on high during the day to dry the humidity and kill the dust mites in the mattress.

* With a humidity gauge, monitor your home environment for the low humidity necessary to inhibit dust-mite growth.

* Keep all clothing in closets with doors that shut.

* Use window shades and venetian blinds in place of heavy curtains. If curtains are used, launder them frequently.

* Use plain wood or leather instead of upholstered furniture.

* Wash blankets in hot water every two weeks. Avoid blankets made of wool or down.

* Don't use dusters, mops, or brooms-these utensils merely rearrange the dust. And most conventional air bag-equipped vacuum cleaners work against you. They vent dust out the exhaust hatch and into the air again. A thimbleful of vacuum dirt was demonstrated to contain as many as 5,000,000 germs. (Which is not only a lot of germs but also a lot of counting.)

* Use the water trap vacuum. It collects the dust in water-where it stays. After trapping 99.997 percent of the house dust, clear air is circulated back into the atmosphere through the exhaust vent. As for the dust mites, they die by drowning, but you should feel little compassion for these wee creatures ... as any allergy or asthma sufferer will tell you.

Allergists and dermatologists do skin tests to see if one is allergic to house dust mites. If changes in the home environment don't alleviate the problem, injections of dust mite extract preparations can help desensitize the patient.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Allen, Michael
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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