The Trouble With Dust Mites – Singapore’s Most Common Allergy

25-Aug-2011 (Thu) Health & U special supplement, The Straits Times

Invisible to the naked eye, these tiny organisms are responsible for Singapore’s most common allergy, reports Geraldine Ling

Dust mites are the top cause of allergic rhinitis, Singapore’s most common allergy, which produces symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion.

Other triggers of allergic rhinitis include cats, dogs and cockroaches.

About 10 per cent of the general population here have the condition, with 90 per cent of these cases caused by dust mites, says Dr Mark Thong, a consultant at the department of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery – at the National University Hospital.

It is the mite’s droppings that are responsible for the allergic reactions, says Dr Thong.

Allergic rhinitis, like all allergies, typically result from a hyper response from the body when it comes into contact with an offending protein (allergen), says Dr Leong Jern-Lin, a consultant ENT surgeon and director of Ascent Ear Nose Throat Specialist Group.

In such cases, the body produces large amounts of an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). The high IgE levels then trigger the allergic response of swelling, mucous secretions and itchiness, he says.

A person who suffers from symptoms at least four days a week is said to have moderate to severe allergic rhinitis, adds Dr Leong. In severe allergic rhinitis, sleep is often disrupted.

Genetics are a key factor in allergy development.

Dr Thong explains that a child has a 13 per cent chance of developing allergies if both parents do not suffer from allergies.

However, that statistic increases to 30 and 50 per cent respectively if one or both parents suffer from allergies. Other factors that play a role in allergic reactions include over-exposure to environmental allergens and a person’s immunological balance.

“Allergies are generally a result of the complex interaction among these three major factors,” says Dr Thong.  
Allergic rhinitis is usually diagnosed through a physical examination and a thorough check of the patient’s medical history.

To get rid of dust mites, wash clothes and bed linen in hot water of least 55 to 60 deg C every one to two weeks. Anti-dust mite casing should be washed once every two to three months.

Special care should also be taken in ensuring that the surfaces in your home are dust-free.

Household objects or furniture that can trap dust should be removed. These include stuffed toys, carpets, upholstered furniture and curtains. Dust mites typically feed on skin flakes that have been shed and commonly found in household dust.

Use furnishings made from leather, wood or plastic as these can be wiped clean easily, says Dr Thong.

Books, decorative items and clothing should also be kept in enclosed cupboards that have easy-to-clean surfaces to prevent dust from gathering. Beddings and mattresses must ideally be covered with anti-dust mite casings.

Wash stuffed toys with hot water to remove dust mites. If the toys are not machine-washable, freeze the toys overnight, followed by vacuuming them the following day. This will kill dust mites.

Dust mites, Dr Thong explains, are very small and their droppings are even smaller. At about 28 microns in diameter, the droppings are 10 times smaller than a strand of human hair.

But not all vacuum cleaners work equally, he cautions.

Often, regular vacuum cleaners have big holes in their filters that allow dust mites and their droppings to pass through.

These allergens are then blown back out into the air through the cleaner’s exhaust ports.

To trap dust mites and their droppings, use vacuums with a medical-grade true HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration system. True HEPA filtration can trap particles that are as small as 0.3 microns with up to 99.97 per cent efficiency. “Do not be misled by terms like HEPA-type or HEPA-like as they are probably not medical-grade true HEPA-filters. The only way to be sure is to buy from a reputable company whose cleaners are affixed with medical-grade HEPA or true HEPA filters,” he says.

“Do not be misled by terms like HEPA-type or HEPA-like as they are probably not medical-grade true HEPA-filters. The only way to be sure is to buy from a reputable company whose cleaners are affixed with medical-grade HEPA or true HEPA filters.”
- Dr Mark Thong

3 Comments

  • by
    Martha Stewart
    Posted February 6, 2017 3:36 pm 0Likes

    What a nice article. It keeps me reading more and more!

    • by
      Cindy Jefferson
      Posted February 6, 2017 3:37 pm 0Likes

      I am with you on this 100%

  • by
    Adam Brown
    Posted February 6, 2017 3:37 pm 0Likes

    Wow looks very easy, nice and neat. Thank you!

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