Dust Mites, Off-Gassing and What to Do With Your Mattress

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Dust mites
are everywhere. They are true survivors, able to make it in virtually
all climates and at any altitude. They thrive, however, in our homes,
especially bedrooms, enjoying the humidity generated by all the
breathing, perspiring, and drooling we do at night and feeding on
all the skin flakes we produce. For these tiny creatures, we’re
living, breathing humidifier-refrigerator-landlords who charge extremely
competitive rates. Why wouldn’t they infest us?

In the last
couple weeks we’ve taken a look at sleep
, how
to improve it
, and modern
. Today we’ll take a closer look at your mattress,
investigating what may be lurking inside and what you can do about

In “Toward
a Comparable Developmental Ecology of Human Sleep,” Carol Worthman
presents a potential motivation for the relative “minimization
of bedding” among hunter-gatherers, apart from logistical,
technological, or climatic limitations: the avoidance of allergenic
dust mites and other parasitic bed-mates. All that cloying, billowing
fluffiness we like to ensconce ourselves in provides room (and even
board) to vast numbers of dimunitive, multi-legged squatters. Our
bedding, you might say, can play host to a host of parasites, especially
if you live as many traditional hunter-gatherers live (and lived)
– in close, often direct contact with the natural environment.
Worthman mentions an increase in asthma rates immediately following
the introduction of Western-style blankets to the highland tribes
of Papua New Guinea, presumably caused by the hordes of dust mites
finding new purchase in the blankets.

Dust mite detritus
is highly allergenic to humans. It can trigger asthma in people,
and common side effects
of exposure
to dust mite allergens include itchiness, red or
watering eyes, eczema flare-ups, runny nose, and clogging of the
lungs. These are your basic, garden-variety allergenic symptoms,
but they’re no less annoying or frustrating. They can drive
a person up a wall and really hamper quality of life; I for one
know that when it comes to itchy eyes, nose, or throat, I turn into
a huge complainer. Maybe it’s because colds, sniffles, and
are relatively rare since embarking on this Primal journey, and
maybe I’ve simply grown soft and unable to deal with what most
folks think are inevitable, “just deal with it” ailments,
but either way, they’re no fun. No one should have to deal
with this stuff. Many of us do, though, because we enjoy the creature
comforts of modern living. Now, before you toss out your mattresses,
burn your bedding and renounce your Tempurpedic, there are other
ways to deal with dust mites.

with Detritus

It’s not
the actual dust mite that bugs us (yes, pun intended); it’s
the allergenic refuse that it creates. Experts suggest around 18%
to 30% of Americans are sensitive to dust mite detritus, so habitual
cleaning/removal of the offensive material should help us avoid
the allergenic reactions. A few companies offer either intensive
ultraviolet-C light treatment or high-powered steam treatment to
kill the mites, followed by a vigorous vacuuming to remove the dead
mites and their waste material. Although corroborating
research is scant
, it seems plausbile that ultraviolet light
and high-powered steaming would kill a large amount of near-microscopic

And vacuums
certainly work. In fact, weekly, thorough vacuuming of your house
is pretty effective at removing dust mite droppings, and it can
even take care of the mites themselves. Do the carpet, the drapes,
the furniture, and textiles, all of which can house mites, making
sure to dust everything beforehand (consider using a damp cloth,
instead of a dry duster, which often just spreads the dust around).
One study
found that while deep vacuuming was effective at reducing allergens,
deep vacuuming coupled with steam cleaning resulted in longer-lasting

Some more do-it-yourself
options: install special zippered covers for all your bedding (sheets,
mattress, pillows, comforter, etc); regular hot water washings of
sheets (be sure to use hot water – 140 °F
or 60° C is most effective
– and maintain a strict
laundering schedule, as research shows that “compliance”
is often more important than laundry method), casings, and adjacent
stuffed animals; conversion to hardwood floors; and maintain a tidy
room free of excessive clutter.

Since dust
mites are attracted to humidity, lowering your humidity may help
keep the population at bay.

Furry pets
can also provide food for dust mites. While I think the benefits
of a good, loyal pet by your side outweigh any threat posed by dust
mites, it’s something to keep in mind. Consider extra vacuuming,
at least.

Beds that
Pass Gas

Last week’s
also garnered questions about off-gassing – also known
as out-gassing – which describes the slow, gradual release
of a gas that is contained, absorbed, or present in a material.
In our case, off-gassing refers to the presumably toxic/potentially
harmful release of chemical gases from bedding. Flame retardants,
especially, have been targeted as potential dangers.

the rest of the article

15, 2010

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