There are many types of allergens that can affect us when we are indoors. The most common types are dust mites, mold and pets.
What are Dust Mites?
The term house dust mite usually refers to those species of the mite family Pyroglyphidae that are known to commonly occur in the dust of human dwellings. House dust mites are microscopic organisms that primarily live on dead skin cells regularly shed from humans and their pets. Dust mites are harmless to most people. They don’t carry diseases, but they can cause allergic reactions in asthmatics and others who are allergic to their droppings.
Where do they live?
Skin cells and scales, commonly called dander, are often concentrated in lounging areas, mattresses, frequently used furniture and associated carpeted areas. These sites often harbor large numbers of these microscopic mites.
Beds are a prime habitat. A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands of dust mites. Bedroom carpeting can contain nearly 100,000 mites in one square yard. Mites prefer warm, moist surroundings such as the inside of a mattress when someone is on it.
What is house dust?
Ash, cigarette ash, incinerator ash, combustion products, fiber, synthetic textile fibers, wool, cotton, paper, and silk, fingernail filings, food crumbs, glass particles, glue, graphite, hair (human and animal), insect fragments, oil, soot, pain chips, plant parts, pollen, polymer foam particles, salt and sugar crystals, skin scales, soil, spores, stone particles, tobacco, wood shavings, and much more can all be in the dust we inhale. Van Bronswijk, 1981
Are dust mites harmful? What do they do?
For most people, house dust mites are not harmful. However the medical significance of house dust mites arises because their microscopic cast/skins and feces are a major constituent of house dust that induces allergic reactions such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema in some individuals. A dust mite allergy can be genetic, but like many allergies, it can also develop over time. It is estimated that anywhere from 18%-30% of Americans are allergic to dust mites’ waste products, and almost 50% of American homes have allergen levels that are high enough to cause a dust mite allergy. In addition to producing allergic reactions, dust mites can also cause nasal polyps, growths within the nose.
Some data suggests an exposure to mites in the first crucial year of life can trigger a lifelong allergy. Prevention of exposure is difficult, yet can help with dust mite sensitivity.
What is Mold?
Mold is a ubiquitous organism classified as microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more. Most are filamentous (threadlike) organisms and produce spores. These spores can be transported by air, water, or insets. All are fungi which mean they are many-celled organisms that reproduce by sending tiny seeds called spores into the air. Molds need four things to grow: food, air, the right temperature, and water. Fungi grow naturally outdoors. Molds are also very common in buildings and homes and will grow anywhere indoors where there is sufficient moisture. They like dark, damp, warm environments and can grow on anything from basement walls to garbage pails to houseplants, and many building materials. Moisture can come from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, flooding, leaking roofs, leaky plumbing, sewer backups, and frequently overflowing washing machines.
Basic Mold Cleanup
The key to mold control is moisture control. It is important to dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
Ten things you should know about mold
- Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.
- There is no practical way to eliminate all molds and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is control moisture.
- If mold is a problem in your home or school, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
- Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.
- Reduce indoor humidity to 30-60% to decrease mold growth by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Clean mold off hard surfaces with detergent and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles that are moldy may need to be replaced.
- Prevent condensation. Reduce potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e. windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation
- In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting (i.e. by drinking fountains, sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).
- Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any surface, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.
What are the health concerns about molds?
Mold and its spores contain allergens, meaning that in some people they will manifest sensitivity to fungi (molds). A major concern associated with exposure to biological pollutants such as mold is allergic reactions, which range from rhinitis, nasal congestion, eye irritation, and hives to asthma. In occupational settings, more unusual allergens (bacterial enzymes, algae) have caused epidemics. Probably most proteins of non-human origin can cause asthma in a subset of any appropriately exposed population. Certain molds can cause infection, in the same way bacteria do. Molds may also produce musty odors known as volatile organic compounds that may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.
How do I treat mold allergy?
Once you are found to be allergic to mold then you can discuss further treatment options with your physician such as medications and/or immunotherapy (allergy shots) to mold.
Pet Allergy Overview
Almost 62% of U.S. households have pets, and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs.* Unfortunately, millions of pet owners have an allergy (allergic rhinitis) to their animals. There is a myth that animal allergy comes from the pets hair in actuality the proteins are found in a pet’s dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine which can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people. Now pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens causing allergic symptoms.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no truly “hypoallergenic breeds” of dogs or cats. Allergic dander in cats and dogs is not affected by length of hair or fur, nor by the amount of shedding.
Giving up a pet in order to prevent allergy symptoms isn’t always necessary. There are treatment options to treat symptoms caused by your loving pet.