Dust mites are microscopic bugs that can live in comforters and pillows in even the cleanest houses. These tiny bugs are too small to be seen by the naked eye and are invisible except with a microscope. Dust mites are members of the same family as spiders and can find a home wherever humans live. Apart from dead skin cells from people and pets, these little bugs need only humidity above 65 percent and a temperature above 65 degrees to thrive.

They cling with their barbed legs on the fibrous materials, which make up upholstered furniture, clothing, soft toys and carpets. The dust mites eats the skin cells and excretes pellets of feces that are about the size of pollen grains. Their fecal pellets enter the general household dust to become the main source of allergens. Unfortunately, these tiny bugs can trigger asthma attacks and eczema, as well as allergy symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and congestion.

The control of dust mites is possible, but not necessarily with the normal approach to dusting. The normal efficient vacuum cleaners stirs up clouds of fine dust that can hang about in the air for up to 8 hours. So if you are vacuuming you might want to wait until your child is out of the house or invest in a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA).

Other methods of keeping the dust levels down is the following:

1. Clean all non-carpeted floors at least once a week with a damp mop.

2. Use a damp cloth to wipe flat surfaces, blinds, window ledges and picture frames.

3. Air-conditioning and keeping doors and windows closed are effective ways to keep your home free of allergens and irritants from outside.

4. Families may find their allergic members have fewer symptoms when a room air is filtered with a HEPA air cleaner. Air filtration assist, but do not replace controlling mites.

5. Keep humidity low with a dehumidifier and carefully empty the water pan daily and scoured clean to prevent growth of mold.

6. Washing your bedding weekly in hot water and drying in a hot dryer can get rid of most mites.

7. Encasing pillows can help new mites from moving in.

8. For best protection, look for an allergen-impermeable bed cover made with “woven fabric” that has a maximum pore size of 6 micrometers or micron.

It is hard to believe that these invisible bugs can cause such problems, but people who have used such measures to control mites have found their symptoms reduced.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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