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Dust mites and their impact on your health

Dust mites may be miniscule, but they can have a large impact on your health. A house dust mite is almost invisible to the naked eye, measuring just 0.25-0.3 mm. It has eight legs and can live anything from a week and a half up to 10 weeks. Contrary to common belief, house dust mites do not bite, but their faeces and the remains of their food – organic waste matter found in dust, like flakes of dead human skin – can cause allergies and asthma.

With recent research showing that Australians go to bed earlier than people from other countries (25% of Australians say they go to bed before 10pm and just over a third claim to average more than nine hours sleep a night), perhaps Australians should be more concerned than most about the health impact of dust mite infestation in one of the mites’ favourite residences – mattresses and bedding. Perhaps you have a lot more occupants in your bed than you thought you did!

Even in dry climates, house dust mites can survive well, with anything up to 100-500 mites per gram of dust, with some studies showing a much higher number in mattresses – more than 2500 mites per gram of dust. If you think that, in its short lifecycle, a dust mite may produce around 2,000 fecal particles (read: poo) and an even greater number of partially digested particles covered with the same allergy causing substances, then you’ll understand how dust mites can be a strong trigger for asthma and other allergies. In fact some studies indicate that up to 18% of asthma sufferers had their condition triggered by a reaction to dust mites.

So what can you do to reduce the impact of dust mite allergens? Firstly it’s important to wash bedding frequently – vacuum cleaning alone will not remove dust mites and related allergens. Bear in mind also that, even though vacuuming the seams of mattresses can reduce the number of dust mites present, the allergens can become airborne for up to 20mins during the process, making the situation temporarily worse. If you suffer allergies, you may need to wear a face mask, or maybe get someone else to do the cleaning for you!

Secondly, washing bedding at 55C or above, or drying at temperatures near 105C for 10 minutes in a household dryer will kill the mites themselves and dissolve 97% of the allergenic material. Simply drying in the sun (for at least three hours) will kill the mites themselces, but sometimes the particles causing the allergic reaction can remain, so you are better off washing bedding frequently than just putting it out in the sun.

Other recommended preventative measures include improving the ventilation in your home to avoid moist air build-up, choosing furniture and flooring that is easy to keep clean and using damp or electrostatic cleaning methods to remove or kill dust mites.

The one thing that’s pretty difficult to do yourself is clean your mattress(es). This is where getting mattresses professionally cleaned is worth doing. A professional clean involves an initial vacuum, followed by pre-treatment with cleaning solutions which release embedded soiling. The mattress is then cleaned with a hot water extraction process to remove the soiling and finally it’s deodorised and sanitised.

Although dust mites are the major allergy related issue, you might like to know that your mattress will also contain quite a bit of the 250ml amount of perspiration the average person sweats out every night (x2 if there are two of you) as well as a fair amount of your old skin cells that are shed as your body regrows and replaces skin cells on a roughly 27 day cycle.

Just a few good reasons to get your mattress regularly cleaned!

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