A dust allergy is a common reaction that many people suffer with across the globe. Most of the time we think that a dust allergy is simply due to the small particles of sand and textile fibers that settles on floors and furniture or that floats in the air. But there is much more to a dust allergy. In fact, it is not usually sand and textile fibers that are the trigger of the allergy.
What is in dust that causes an allergy?
Dust allergies are mainly due to house dust mite, pollen, mold, cockroach and animal particles (hair/fur/feathers, saliva, urine and feces) that is usually too small to see with the naked eye. It is these components in dust that trigger an allergic reaction. When it comes to house dust mite, it is the bug’s feces that is the trigger rather than the mite itself. These components of dust are a major problem for people with asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema. However, it is important to note that dust or its components are not the cause of allergies.
Allergic reactions occur when harmless substances (allergens) trigger an exaggerated immune reaction. Normally the immune system reacts to any threat and one of the consequences is that inflammation occurs at the site of the threat. In an allergy the immune system misidentifies the harmless substances as a possible threat and reacts to it. Inflammation occurs at this site and will often continue as long as the body is exposed to these allergens.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a dust allergy largely depends on which part of the body is the most affected. Dust is inhaled and therefore most of the symptoms are seen in the respiratory passages. Similarly it can come into contact with the skin and trigger a skin reaction. However, this does not exclude the fact that the reaction can be systemic and affect any site of the body even if the dust has not come into contact with it.
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy red nose
- Loss of smell
- Watery eyes
- Itchy red eyes
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- Hoarse or whispery voice
- Itchy, dry skin
- Oozing discharge (may be a sign of a skin infection)
Removal of Dust for Allergies
Since dust is such a normal part of everyday life it cannot be entirely avoided and this is one of the reasons that allergic conditions like asthma can persist for so long. House dust mite for example can never be entirely removed from the home even with the most thorough cleaning. The same applies to some of the other components of dust although exposure to animal dander and secretions can be almost completely eliminated.
The hot spot for prolonged exposure to the triggers is usually within the bedroom since a person spends around 8 uninterrupted hours within this space. These tips can drastically reduce exposure to the components of dust.
- Remove carpets from the bedroom. Rugs should also be eliminated. Couches or other padded furniture and accessories such as cushions (throw pillows) and even soft toy should be removed from the bedroom entirely. These areas are heavily infested with house dust mite.
- Mattresses should be turned over every 3 to 4 days. This ensures that any triggers that collect on the mattress surface is minimized. House dust mite populations can also be reduced to some extent.
- Use a waterproof mattress protector between the mattress and sheet. This will reduce the house dust mite populations by disrupting the food supply (dead human skin cells) of the mites. It will also minimize exposure toe the mite’s feces.
- Vacuum the entire house thoroughly with extra care in cleaning the bedroom. Ideally vacuuming should be done daily but it is better to do it fewer times and more thoroughly rather than just a quick clean.
- Change bedding frequently, if possible every second or third day. Ensure that bedding is washed in temperatures exceeding 60C (140F) and dried thoroughly. Bedding that cannot be immediately washed should be dusted and hung in sunlight for a few hours.
- Minimize the moisture in the air. Avoid keeping wet laundry in the room and do not attempt to dry it over a radiator. Also avoid steam cleaning carpets too often especially in weather where it will not dry quickly. Home steam cleaning devices often do not reach the temperatures needed to eradicate house dust mite as effectively as professional devices.
- Remove pets from the home and do not allow animals in the bedroom. Although research has shown a lower incidence of allergies among children living in homes with pets, the constant exposure to animal dander and secretions can still trigger allergies.
- Regular pest control by a professional is advisable to prevent cockroach infestations even if it is not visible in plain sight. This should be done occasionally. Avoid regular home insecticide sprays in excess as it can trigger allergies in sensitive individuals.
- Treat rising damp in the house to prevent mold on the walls. Fix any water leaks and ventilate the bathroom thoroughly after bathing to ensure that moisture does not linger.
These are just some of the steps that may help with reducing or removing the triggers of dust allergies. Some of these measures may be extreme compared to the minimal benefit. However, allergy sufferers can benefit to some degree even from these small measures.
Treatment of Dust Allergy
One of the most effective options for long term management of a dust allergy is to reduce exposure to the dust and remove as much of the components. Treatment is usually required for controlling the symptoms. This may involve the use of the following medication:
- Antihistamines to relieve sneezing, watery eyes and running nose, and itching of the eyes and nose.
- Decongestants to unblock the congested nasal passages.
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and airways.
Asthma may be treated with additional medication like combined inhalers, leukotriene modifiers, beta agonists and theophylline. In very serve cases of a dust allergy, immunotherapy may be also considered. This is the form of desensitization therapy to reduce the immune system’s response to the allergen(s).