• 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
    posture
    , how
    to improve it
    , and modern
    bedding
    . Today we’ll take a closer look at your mattress,
    investigating what may be lurking inside and what you can do about
    it.

    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
    allergies
    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.

    Dealing
    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
    arachnids.

    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
    reductions.

    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
    bedding
    post
    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.

    Read
    the rest of the article

    July
    15, 2010

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