In some people, allergies or sensitivity to dust contribute to health problems, especially asthma. Dust isnít just an accumulation of fine dirt. It can contain molds, fibers, animal dander, and dead dust mites.
Dust mites are microscopic bugs that make their home in fabrics such as bedding, upholstery, and carpets. While they live happily in the warm days of summer they die in the winter.
When you see dust particles suspended in that ray of sunshine entering the window, what you are really seeing is dead mites and their waste products. In fact, people who have a dust allergy are actually allergic to dust mite waste.
It is nearly impossible to avoid dust altogether, especially in the workplace or during daylight activities. It is much easier to eliminate dust from the bedroom, which goes a long way to reducing exposure. The main goal is to decrease the number of surfaces on which dust can collect.
Here are some guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (The cleaning necessary for a dust-free bedroom can also help eliminate the potential for cockroach infestation, which is another potential contributor to asthma.)
If possible, get rid of all carpeting and replace it with hardwood, tile or ceramic flooring. Carpets with a long pile are the worst for a dust-sensitive individual but all carpets trap dust. It is possible to eliminate some dust by treating carpets regularly with tannic acid, but this is nowhere near as effective as removing the carpet altogether and can itself be irritating to some people.
Keep stuffed toys out of the bedroom because they, too, accumulate dust. Dust-sensitive children should use only washable toys of wood, rubber, metal, or plastic, and their toys should be stored in a box or chest with a tight-fitting lid.
Do not let furry or feathered pets into the bedroom. People with allergies to dust mites are often also allergic to cats, dogs, or other animals.
To make the bed more dustproof, zip both the box spring and mattress into separate dust- or allergen-proof plastic covers. If the bed has springs, wash them outside the room. If there must be more than one bed in the room, treat both or all in the same way.
All bedding should be washable, and should be laundered frequently in hot water (temperature at least 130ļF). Cold and even warm water will not kill dust mites. So if you have set your hot water thermostat to a lower temperature for safety reasons, take the bedding to a commercial laundry that can wash it in hot water.
Use a mattress pad and pillow made from Dacron or a similar synthetic material. Stay away from wool blankets and pillows, duvets or comforters stuffed with feathers, down or wool.
Keep clutter and furniture to a minimum. Try not to have upholstered furniture and horizontal blinds in the room. If you need a chair in the bedroom, use a plain wood or metal model you can wash. If you must have curtains, make sure they are plain and made of a lightweight fabric. Wash them once a week in hot water (130ļF).
The room must be cleaned thoroughly once a week. This involves washing floors and wiping furniture, woodwork (including the tops of doors and doorframes, windows and window-frames, sills, etc.) with a damp cloth. The room should be allowed to air; then the doors and windows should remain closed until the dust-sensitive person is ready to occupy the room.
If you will be visited by a dust-sensitive person, hereís how to prepare a bedroom: Take everything out of the room before cleaning it. Then empty and clean all closets. If possible, seal the closets and store the contents elsewhere. If this is impossible, store clothing in zippered plastic garment bags. Put all shoes in boxes and store them off the floor. Clean the floor and any woodwork thoroughly.
Electric air filters can help reduce the number of allergy-promoting particles in the air. There are two types: self-contained room units or filters that can be attached to a furnace. Electrostatic and high-energy particulate absorption (HEPA) filters are especially effective. But remember that an electrostatic filter requires regular maintenance. If it isnít functioning well, it can emit ozone, a chemical that can irritate the lungs.
Dust mites like humid conditions, so a dehumidifier may be useful. But again, these devices must be cleaned frequently or they can develop mold. And also remember that for some individuals, dry air is irritating to the nose and lungs.
Maintaining a dust-free zone may seem like a lot of trouble, but making these cleaning steps part of your housekeeping routine can make it easier. The results less labored breathing, fewer medications, and greater freedom from allergy and asthma attacks are worth the extra effort.