Ever wondered why one morning you wake stuffy nosed, itchy eyed and wheezing, suspecting you might have a dust mite allergy, yet another morning you’re fine?
Could it mean you’re not allergic to house dust mites? While only an allergy test can answer that definitively, there is another possible reason why your dust mite allergy seems here today, gone tomorrow: a phenomenon known as allergen load.
Not all allergic reactions are severe and immediate, the kind where there can be no doubt as to what caused them. A morsel of shellfish. A shot of penicillin. A bee sting. Even the touch of a latex surgical glove … these are some of the allergens that are known to cause severe, and at times fatal allergic reactions.
Some allergens however, like house dust mites, may only sporadically trigger reactions in people, which can be confusing when you’re trying to figure out the cause of your stuffy nose, itchy eyes and wheezy chest. Why?
First things first though …
WHAT IS AN ALLERGY?
You have an allergy when your immune system becomes sensitive to and reacts to something that is usually not harmful. Unlike bacteria or a virus, dust mites or pet dander don’t pose a real threat to our bodies. Yet for many people, their immune systems react to these allergens as if they’re a clear and present danger, causing immune reactions that can range from mild and annoying, to severe and life threatening.
This reaction may only occur though, if the immune system is pushed beyond its allergic threshold, when the allergen load on it is too high.
WHAT IS ALLERGEN LOAD?
An allergen can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Yesterday, your dust mite allergy alone may not be enough to push you over your allergic threshold, and so you don’t experience symptoms. But today, add an unexpectedly heavy pollen count and suddenly your bed teeming with dust mites is too much for your immune system.
Once your immune system reaches its threshold, that allergen that seemed to do nothing yesterday could cause an immune reaction today.
And factors such as sickness, emotional strain, hormonal imbalances and environmental conditions like pollution can push your immune system that much closer to its threshold. This is why your reaction to dust mites and other allergens can appear random and inconsistent.
REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE
Dust mites thrive in moist, dark environments where they have plenty of dead skin cells to feed on, making your bed prime dust mite real estate. This is bad news if you’re an allergy sufferer. Instead of eight hours of beauty sleep, you get eight hours of exposure to dust mite poop and carcasses, common allergens that trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, postnasal drip, itchy and watery eyes, and asthma symptoms.
FIVE WAYS TO LOWER THE LOAD
Reducing your exposure to dust mites can make a big difference to your allergen load and your resultant allergy symptoms.
- PROTECT YOUR BED
One of the best and simplest ways to cut down on your exposure is to use a dust mite-proof mattress and pillow protector. Be sure you choose protectors that are woven tightly enough to be waterproof. The Protect-A-Bed range utilises a completely mite-proof, waterproof layer called Miracle Membrane. This layer forms an impenetrable barrier to dust mites, yet is still air porous for a cool, comfortable sleep.
- SCRUB A DUB DUB
Hot wash your bed linen weekly, and your mattress protector every four to six weeks. Wash bed linen every week on a hot wash (over 55 degrees). Duvet inners and unprotected pillows should be washed monthly (another good reason to invest in pillow protectors).
- REPLACE SOFT WITH HARD
If you have severe reactions to dust mites, you can further reduce your contact with these critters by replacing carpets with hard flooring and curtains with blinds. Remove soft furnishings like cushions, soft toys and upholstered chairs from the bedroom.
Vacuum bed bases and carpets frequently. If you don’t use a mattress protector, vacuum the mattress too. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, to prevent dust mites being pumped into the air through the air filters.
Remove dust-gathering clutter.
NOTE: This article does not constitute medical advice. Consult a trained allergy and immunology specialist to help manage your allergies, especially since allergic reactions may worsen with repeated exposure to allergens.