Problems caused by dust mites

Symptoms caused by allergies

Dust mites provoke respiratory allergies in humans and animals.

According to studies, the percentage of people allergic to mites is somewhere between 5 - 15% of the global population.

These allergies should not be taken lightly. Dust mites are actually the leading cause of respiratory allergies around the world (75% of respiratory allergies).

Allergic rhinitis manifests itself when allergens come into contact with the ear, nose and throat area. Typical symptoms include sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose and are often linked to conjunctivitis and therefore watery, red and itchy eyes. It is estimated that allergic rhinitis affects 6-9% of children, 11-27% of adolescents and 25-35% of adults.  

Personne atteinte de rhinite

The most serious symptom caused by this hypersensitivity is asthma, characterised by the obstruction and inflammation of the distal airways and the overreaction of the bronchial tubes.

Allergic asthma, which is characterised by a wheezing breath, a tight chest and a dry cough is also a possible consequence of the presence of dust mite allergens. In Belgium, it is estimated that 50% of allergy sufferers and 65% of asthma sufferers are sensitized to mites. Some bronchial reactions can be particularly severe or sometimes even fatal. If someone is constantly exposed to the allergen for long periods of time, this form of asthma can develop into chronic asthma.

These symptoms can affect the sufferer’s quality of life and may, in turn, cause other problems such as sleep disorders, low productivity levels and an increased rate of absenteeism, etc.

Among children, a lack of sleep can affect memory and concentration and may affect their learning capabilities.

Respiratory diseases (rhinitis and allergic asthma), which have been exacerbated by the evolution of modern society, pose a serious problem to public health. 

There are many reasons behind the increasing number of allergic people

The number of people allergic to mites is increasing because there is a greater number of dust mites in our houses following the introduction of central heating, double-glazing and thermal insulation. These all help raise the temperature and relative humidity within a house (due to the reduced exchanges between internal and external air), which consequently leads to the growth of dust mite populations because they prefer humid and warm environments.

Another hypothesis explaining the increased number of allergic people was the hygiene hypothesis, proposed by Professor David Strachan. His hypothesis suggests that modern-day sterilised lifestyles limit early childhood exposure to micro-organisms that have evolved symbiotically with us for thousands of years (good germs), thus suppressing the natural development of the immune system. Therefore, when harmless elements such as pollen or mite excrement enter the organism, the organism’s defences overreact and this overreaction is known as an allergy.

There are a growing number of people with dust mite allergies because of the introduction of central heating, sterile living environments and increasingly insulated housing.

What are house dust mites?

A bit of biology...

Agrégat dacariens Dermatophagoides

House dust mites are arachnids (related to spiders) that are invisible to the naked eye and live in the dust lying around our houses. Mites are not insects.

They belong to the Dermatophagoides genus (principally Dermatophagoides farinae and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus). They can scatter throughout a dust mite-free house in a matter of months. House dust mites measure less than 1 millimetre (between 0.1 - 0.3mm in length). They can be found in mattresses, pillows, cushions, carpets, sofas, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys... They may be inhabiting your house in the thousands, or even millions.

They feed on dead skin produced by humans and animals, as well as all kinds of organic waste (foodstuffs). They have a few domestic predators such as silverfish, pseudoscorpions and other predatory mites.

Whether you like it or not, they live among us and have long since been a part of our living environment. These mites do not sting or bite and do not pose a danger to 85-95% of the population. If you are not allergic to mites, forget about them.

Where do they get the water they need to survive?

Organes dacariens de matelas Dermatophagoides

Dust mites need warmth and humidity to survive (preferably 20-30°C and 70-90% relative humidity).

They obtain the water they need to survive by harnessing the moisture in their surroundings. That is why they like living in our mattresses. While we sleep, we lose almost half a litre of water through respiration and perspiration. During the night, dust mites move nearer to us (never

actually on us because we are too warm for them) to harness the humidity generated by our respiration and perspiration. When we get up in the morning, the dust mites take refuge in the folds of our sheets and deep within our mattresses, which makes it difficult to eradicate them.

Dust mites need warmth and humidity to survive.

Current solutions

It is impossible to completely eliminate all dust mites because they reproduce rapidly, grip onto and hide in the folds of fabric, mattresses and sofas.

If you are allergic to dust mites, the first step to controlling your allergy involves drastically reducing the number of mites hiding in their most popular places of refuge, such as mattresses and sofas. By reducing the number of mites, the quantity of allergens present in the environment will decrease and therefore trigger fewer allergic symptoms.

Reducing the relative humidity

In order to effectively limit the proliferation of dust mites, the relative humidity of ambient air in bedrooms must be reduced to below 50%. Field experiments in homes have shown that lowering humidity levels limits reproduction, but does not completely eliminate the mites.

It should be noted that lowering the relative atmospheric humidity can dry out and therefore weaken human respiratory mucosa. This method is not suitable for asthma sufferers and hypersensitive people because it may exacerbate other respiratory symptoms.

Using acaricides or biocides

There are many acaricides and biocides available on the market for fighting against dust mites. Formed from a base of vegetable extracts (vegetable pyrethrum, essential oils) or synthetic products, these products are easy to use and fairly cheap. However, they have a short shelf life and can be toxic to the user. Moreover, many dust mites have grown resistant to them.

Using mattress covers

Mattress covers keep the mites within the mattress. We recommend their use, but remind users to pay close attention to the quality of the product. Many cheap covers are useless because the fabric is too loosely woven to act as a barrier against mites. Good quality covers are relatively expensive, but can be uncomfortable to use (increase perspiration and cause an irritating noise whenever the user moves).

How can you eliminate the allergens produced by dust mites?

Allergies are actually triggered by the substances present in dust mite excrement and moulting residue. This excrement and residue is very lightweight and spreads through the air. These tiny particles (substances called ‘allergens’) enter the lungs and cause a violent defensive reaction in allergic people.

Reducing the number of allergens in an area by cleaning is vital, but it is not an easy job! Dead mites and their excrement are so light that they can escape vacuum cleaner bags and therefore scatter through the surrounding air. In order to eliminate them, it is essential to use bags equipped with adequate (HEPA) filters. Living mites, on the other hand, use their suction feet to help them stick to whichever surface they are inhabiting. As such, you will need to use a much more powerful vacuum cleaner than a regular domestic one in order to eliminate them.

To effectively eliminate allergens in bedding, wash said bedding at 90°C. This technique is effective when repeated on a very frequent basis.

What NOT to do if you have an allergy to dust mites:

  • Totally avoiding animals is not recommended. It has been shown that children living in the company of animals have a much lower chance of developing allergies.
  • Air purifiers are not effective for eliminating dust mite allergens.
  • Ozone generators are not proven to be effective.
  • Anti-mite mattresses often contain acaricides/biocides, which are often disguised under different names, such as ‘bio-agents’. These mattresses are sprayed with said substances without undergoing any control procedures and are automatically awarded ‘anti-dust mite’ labels. Biocides are one of the substances suspected to be responsible for the increased instances of cancer in recent years. According to numerous studies, it is urgently imperative that we reduce the presence of this type of exogenous molecule in our environment. 

If you are allergic to dust mites, the first step to controlling your allergy involves drastically reducing the number of mites hiding in their most popular places of refuge, such as mattresses and sofas

Our solution

The Acar’up solution

acarup

We are proposing a solution that has been developed in our laboratory and is now being sold by the company Acar’up. (www.acarup.com).

Acar’up is an easy-to-use trapping device that is aimed at extracting and killing allergenic dust mites living in mattresses, armchairs, rugs and all other upholstered furniture that they can inhabit.

It is a technical textile which is put on the bed or upholstered furniture that needs cleaning. This technical textile is sprayed with a solution containing molecules that attract house dust mites. This spraying is done with a pump dispenser (spray with dosage measure). After spraying, the dust mites living in the mattress are attracted by the scent and take refuge in the textile, which is then placed in the washing machine to get rid of said mites. After washing, when the textile is dry, it can be placed on upholstered furniture and sprayed again with the attractive solution to trap further mites.

Why are the dust mites attracted to the solution?

Agrégat dacariens des matelas

Dust mites obtain the water they need to survive by harnessing the moisture in their surroundings. If the air is too dry, in order to avoid losing water, dust mites send each other chemical messages to gather together. These messages are called aggregation pheromones. After sending these messages, dust mites form aggregates in our mattresses, which can contain thousands of individuals. Once gathered, they are able to avoid dying of desiccation. It is crucial to their survival that they understand this chemical message and attractive pheromone. When the humidity of their surrounding environment drops, dust mites that are unable to gather together with their fellow species will die of dehydration.

We have identified and quantified these pheromones. They are present in the attractive solution in quantities sufficient to attract dust mites hidden even in the depths of mattresses. These molecules are not toxic. In fact, they are an existing part of dust mite biology and therefore the mites will not form a resistance to them, unlike biocides. This research has been carried out in collaboration with three Belgian laboratories; ULB, ULG and UCL.

Acar’up is an easy-to-use trapping device that is aimed at extracting and killing allergenic dust mites living in any upholstered furniture that they can inhabit

Did you know?

All animals need water to survive, so where do the mites in our mattresses obtain it from? Mites find the water they need in the air’s humidity: when a bedroom becomes increasingly humid, water molecules in the air condense on the animal’s cuticle and on other objects around the room (condensation). When a mite is dehydrated, its haemolymph concentrates into mineral salts. This causes the water molecules that have condensed on the cuticle to diffuse by osmosis. In addition to this extraordinary hydration process, their supracoxal gland is able to actively harness water vapour from the air within a home. This gland secretes a hygroscopic fluid, which runs down the length of a hollowed tube along the animal’s cuticle and into its mouth. The animal swallows this water molecule-enriched fluid and hydrates itself.

Contact

Do you have questions about this product? Do you want to know how or where to get hold of it? Please contact the Acar’up company selling this product (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or visit the www.acarup.com website.

If you have questions of a scientific nature, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Link to find out more about pests of all kinds

www.acari.be