Up till the age of 1 Corey was only allergic to foods (egg, milk, peanut and shellfish). Then one day he started to develop hives at home. At first I thought maybe it was his food allergies acting up. However, through my rigorous tracking I noticed a pattern. The following days after the first hives incident, he would develop new hives every time he was around my sofa and a certain fabric soft toy.
Armed with this information, I emailed his allergist and discussed the possibility that he could have developed a house dust mite allergy. A skin prick test the following week confirmed this suspicion and thus began my battle with house dust mites.
The Secret to Successfully battling house dust mite allergy – each person’s threshold is different
The secret to successfully managing house dust mite allergy is first understanding that each person has a different threshold to this allergy.
Most mild cases of house dust mite allergy results in sneezing and itchy eyes and noses. My own house dust mite allergy was like this and I assumed Corey’s would be too. Thats why, at the beginning of our house dust mite battle, I thought I had already been doing the right things to reduce house dust mites at home. The usual cleaning and vacuuming was already a regular fixture at home, so I thought, ‘I’ve got this’.
BOY WAS I WRONG.
Corey’s was a chronic case of house dust mite allergy. I define chronic case of house dust mite allergy where symptoms are serious and require around the clock medicines to keep in check. Symptoms may include moderate to severe eczema, wheezing and asthma, constantly red and itchy eyes and nose.
His eczema from the house dust mite was severe. He was so sensitive to house dust-mites that I had to keep reducing the amount of house dust-mites in my home till his skin showed improvements.
This was a work in progress for a year but we did it. Read on to find out how we went from the picture on the left to clear skin on the right
How to bring down concentration of house dust mites to an acceptable level
Once you understand that each person’s threshold for house dust mite allergy is different, the next thing to work on is how to bring down the concentration of house dust mites in your home to your baby’s acceptable levels.
Acceptable levels being improvement in symptoms that does not require constant medication or creams to keep under control.
Lessons learnt – getting the facts right
After my initial blunder where I thought I had been doing enough, I went back to basics. I read up about these pests which shed light on what is effective and what is not.
I learnt the following important facts that formed the basis of how I combat house dust mites.
- We are not allergic to dust itself. We are allergic to certain proteins found in the bodies and faeces of the house dust mite, which thrives in dust. After the house dust mite dies, allergens can continue to be released from their carcasses as their body disintegrates.
- House dust mites thrive in hot and humid conditions (yay for us in Singapore where humidity levels are sky high). They are rarely found in mountains above 1200m due to dry and cold climates.
- They thrive in ANY material of bedding (even the hypoallergenic ones!). But especially love natural materials like down feathers.
- They feed on our dead human skin for food and can survive anywhere from 1 to 2 months,.
- They are 0.3mm and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Therefore not to be mistaken for bed bugs.
With the above facts, I made changes to our home environment
1. Take a critical look at where baby sleeps
get rid of anything made with natural materials
Since babies sleep away the majority of the day, you should start with the bedroom and baby’s bedding. Down pillows gone. All changed to synthetic. Quilt blankets were swapped with cheap thin blankets that I could easily hot wash in the washing machine fortnightly.
Stuff toys and any toys with fabric reduced to the minimum. I had a hard time explaining to my 4 year old toddler why his favourite stuffed monkey had to find a new home. After a few rounds of negotiation, we are left with a few that had sentimental value that I just could not bare to get rid of.
Consider your baby’s mattress composition
One big mistake I made was I failed to realise that Corey’s cot mattress was made with natural coconut husk. Weeks went by where he would wake up with fresh rashes on his back (see picture gallery). I suspected the mattress for a while, but because I had just changed a new one when he turned one, I assumed new mattresses would be ok. I even experimented with expensive mattress covers that claimed to be anti dust mites but that did jack shit. Finally I got rid of it all together and used a fully waterproof pvc mattress. This proved to work.
Here’s a picture of his cot before and after. As you can see, before the change, we had cot bumpers, small pillows, bolsters, a thicker mattress. After adjustments it is just bare bones. He did not even have a pillow for a few months as I wanted his eczema to heal properly.
I was a little sad initially looking at my poor baby sleeping on a ultra thin mattress, with no pillows, only his smelly blankie for comfort (and a plastic car or two). BUT IT WORKED.
Some people have asked me if sleeping on PVC is hot. It might be but Corey sleeps with air conditioning and fans on. So far he does not wake up sweating so I’m guessing it does not bother him.
2. lesser foam, lesser space for house dust mites to breed.
I checked in with Corey’s allergist on my method and he agrees. His take is that with lesser foam, lesser space for house dust mites to breed. Fully zipped and totally water proof PVC also meant reduced chances of house dust mites escaping the housing and create havoc.
From a budget perspective, it is better to go with cheaper, thinner pillows so that they can be changed as often as possible. I’m following a 6 months to 1 year life span for my kid’s bedding and pillows. So no expensive stuff for us.
Protective covers that claim to be anti house dust mites should be used with caution.
I spent hundreds on protective pillow and mattress covers that all claimed to be anti dust mites. After none of them worked I did further study into why they did not work. Most companies will tell you they coat their product with a chemical that repel/ reduce breeding of house dust mites. They never ever say they could eradicate house dust mites altogether. And knowing what I know from the facts about house dust mites, they are in every sort of bedding, even hypoallergenic ones! And as long as there are dead house dust mite carcasses and poop, there will be allergens to wreak havoc.
So are there any covers that do work? In theory, if the covers are made with threads woven so tightly that the house dust mite cannot escape the foam (remember the fact about them being 0.03mm?), then that would be effective. So far I have tried Australian company’s AllergEnd with decent results. However, there’s also a need to take into consideration of wear of tear of these fabrics, what happens when the cover is stretch when slept on etc.
3. Extreme temperature conditions are house dust mite’s worse enemy
Sun every pillow and mattress as often as there is hot sun. I hot wash bed linen and Corey’s clothes at 60 degrees and above. Bedsheets are changed weekly.
I have also tried freezing soft toys and pillows but stopped after only trying this method once. The idea of my baby smelling like frozen meat was hardly hygienic. Moreover, once they came out of the freezer condensation occured and still needed to be sunned anyway.
4. Reduce the amount of house dust mite carcass and poop!
So lets say the sun has killed these pests, you still need to vacuum pillows, mattresses as often as you can to remove their carcass to get rid of the allergen. this step should preferably by done away from the presence of the house dust mite sufferer. The allergens can be worked up during a cleaning session which can affect the sufferer.
Damp wiping shelfs, books and toys also works to reduce dust for loose items around the house. This reduces the chance of the allergen flying around and sticking to other areas of the home.
5. Include any areas where there is foam, and where baby spends a decent amount of time
For steps one to 4, you can look at other areas that baby spends a lot of time. These include play pens, car seats and even booster chairs and high chairs.
6. Reduce clutter and stuff to reduce the headache of house dust mites.
This is a quite obvious point where lesser stuff, lesser places for house dust mites to inhabit. Moreover, lesser stuff means lesser things to manage.
Everyone at home benefits from a reduction in house dust-mites
A surprising by-product of sorting out Corey’s HDM allergies is that my older son’s sinus issues improved tremendously. In my efforts to reduce Corey’s house dust mite exposure, I included everyone’s pillows, mattresses and our upholstery sofa. In truth, I would have been lazier and just concentrate on Corey’s bedroom, had his condition been less extreme. But due to the severity of his condition, I took no chances. I’m glad I did because I also sorted out the rest of our family’s mild rhinitis issues.
So in a family where there are multiple members has allergic profiles, the steps lined up above might be worth looking into. Even if your baby’s eczema is mild, any small incremental changes may benefit the whole family.
Do share this with any house dust mite allergy sufferers. Feel free to feedback and let me know what works and what does not.