Coronavirus: Health experts warn about asthma risk caused by dust levels at home

Risk is even higher because of Covid-19 pandemic, say experts

The health risks from dust mites are even higher during the pandemic. Courtesy: Dyson
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Spending more time at home than ever before is making people more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, health experts have warned.

Sofas, mattresses, cushions, curtains and even light fittings at home are all perfect grounds for dust mites – the most common source of allergic reactions in the world.

Allergies caused by exposure to dust mites range from runny noses, itchy eyes to severe asthma, which could have devastating consequences on an individual as the world grapples with Covid-19.

Shutting yourself off at home means you are going to be more exposed to it

“We have known for some time that dust mite faeces can lead to allergies and now we are starting to discover they can act as catalysts for other health problems,” said Gem McLuckie, an advanced research scientist with Dyson, who specialises in microbiology.

“You can get severe asthma from being allergic to dust mite faeces. It is something that is becoming more of an issue.

“Not having a good respiratory at the moment is definitely not a good thing.”

Recent figures released by the World Health Organisation suggested that UAE residents are spending up to 90 per cent of their time indoors.

Other studies have shown that dust mite allergies have increased since the Covid-19 outbreak as more people have been working from home.

“Shutting yourself off at home means you are going to be more exposed to it,” said Ms McLuckie, citing a study in Italy that showed an increase in dust mite allergies during the country's lockdown.

“Being shut off at home means you are going to be exposed to more potential allergies. Closed environments have been created during Covid-19 so you will be exposed to it at higher levels.”

Dust mites primarily feed on dead skin flakes and cells created by humans and animals. The average human sheds around 2 grams of skin each day.

“Wherever you spend the most time and shed the most skin, that’s where you’re most likely to find dust mites,” she said.

People spend a third of their lives in bed and millions of dust mites can be found in a single mattress - along with their faeces.

Dust mites thrive in warm, dark and damp conditions. They favour humidity above 70 per cent and temperatures higher than 25°C.

“Few mites can survive in humidity levels less than 45 per cent, but even raising the humidity levels for an hour and a half a day can enable house dust mites to survive,” said Ms McLuckie.

“Cooking a meal or having a hot shower can easily keep humidity levels high in your home.”

Though conditions in the Emirates are perfect for dust mites, Ms McLuckie said it was a global issue.

“Even in other countries where it is colder heating is turned on so it’s something that affects the entire world.”

It is impossible to get rid of dust mites but an environment that minimises their affect can be created at home.

“It’s about trying to keep the levels of allergens as low as possible.

“If you can see dust, you have got a lot of allergen. You want to keep the levels as low as possible and remove invisible dust.”

Cleaning out air conditioning units, using a vacuum cleaner and wet dusting all help to reduce dust mites, which can be found in unexpected places at home.

“People don’t always think to vacuum clean their sofa, but they should,” said Ms McLuckie.

“You even need to be dusting around light fittings and in suitcases.

“How many people clean their suitcases with vacuums?”

Dr Sunil Vyas, pulmonology specialist at Aster Hospital in Al Qusais, said anyone who thinks they have developed an allergy to dust mites should visit a hospital to test for the allergy.

“Any viral infection can trigger the worsening of asthma,” he said.

“Not only is that discomforting it is also more serious because of the pandemic."

Sneezing, coughing, runny nose, itchy eye and dermatitis like rashes on the face and hands were all symptoms of having an allergy to dust mites, he said.

“It’s important to get proper treatment so you don’t get the symptoms you would if you weren’t taking the right medication and still being exposed to the dust mites. You need to treat the asthma to control it.”