The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts
By Howard LeWine, M.D.
Q: My son was recently diagnosed with asthma. I am trying to reduce his exposure to indoor triggers. What’s the best way to get rid of dust mites?
A: In most homes, the largest population of dust mites is in the bedroom, especially in mattresses, pillows and carpeting.
When your son lies down to sleep, he is pressing his nose against some of the most popular gathering places for mites. Reducing exposure to mites in his bedroom, and especially his bed, should be your top priority. Here’s how:
–Wash mattress pads, comforters and blankets in hot water every seven to 10 days.
–Cover mattresses, box springs, and pillows in allergen-proof encasements. Mites and their debris can’t pass through because these covers are made with tightly woven material.
–If possible, remove wall-to-wall carpeting.
–Remove throw rugs, or wash them frequently. Follow the same washing routine as for bedding.
–Keep a bedspread on his bed all day to collect dust. Carefully remove it from his bedroom (without shaking it!) before he goes to sleep.
–Avoid feather or down pillows. Instead, use washable pillows that can stand a hot water wash (polyester fiber-fill such as Hollofil or Dacron).
–Don’t use fuzzy blankets unless they can be regularly washed. They tend to collect more dust than blankets with a thin weave.
–Remove any other dust collectables, such as stuffed animals that cannot be washed regularly in hot water.
–Keep the humidity below 50 percent because dust mites thrive in humid conditions.
–Don’t stir up dust when cleaning. Use a damp rag or mop, or vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Air cleaners and air filters that remove dust are a costly solution that may not be worth the investment. They generally don’t work any better than the above steps to cut down on indoor allergens.
There are a number of products available that kill dust mites. They can be used periodically for carpeting and furniture that can’t be removed from the bedroom or playroom. Test them on a small patch because some of them can leave a stain.
Howard LeWine, M.D. is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.