Sunday, May 25, 2008

How to combat allergies to dust mites using pillow encasings

Humans constantly shed skin cells, as known as dandruff. [The shed skin cells of animals are called dander. See the parallel?] There are microscopic insect-like critters called dust mites that eat our dandruff for food. The feces or droppings of these dust mites contain dust mite allergens. Disgusting, but completely true. The places with the highest concentrations, and in order of importance, are the pillow, bedding, mattress, carpet, and upholstered furniture. We spend about one-third of our day sleeping in bed with our heads resting on pillows. I consider pillows to be giant sponges of dust mites and their droppings. Thus we all have daily exposure to dust mite allergens from our pillows. There are several measures that can be taken to significantly reduce a person's exposure to dust mite allergens. First, the pillows can be replaced about once per month with new pillows. This could add up though. Second, the pillows can be washed in hot water once per week. This, however, can get annoying, because it is not easy to dry a pillow's insides. Third, put the pillow in the deep freezer for one day to kill the dust mites. People in Scandinavia and Canada can and do simply leave their pillows outside for one day! Fourth, the most practical and cost-effective measure is to use a special pillow encasing. This is essentially a zippered Glad bag that prevents dust mites and their droppings from entering the pillows. To make the encased pillows more comfortable, you can place another regular fiber pillow case over the special pillow encasing. The regular pillow cases should be changed once per week and washed in hot water. In an informal survey I did in my office, I asked patients or their guardians, "How often you do any one of these four measures?". The answer was that only 13% did one of these measures, which means, in that survey, 87% patients continued to be exposed to clinically significant amounts of dust mite allergens from their pillows. Signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) may continue and so too may medication use for it. For health reasons, I urge patients and guardians with allergies to dust mites to consider at least one of these measures for their pillows.

Next, I will review where to economically purchase these special pillow encasings.

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