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Bed Bugs? Dust Mites? What's the Difference?
Posted by Rachel P. on Sunday, November 17, 2013
This week's blog will not be as cute or cuddly as my previous blog. Today I'm going to discuss the difference between dust mites and bed bugs. I've had many calls and questions about dust mites and bed bugs and how to treat them. However, people often use these terms interchangeably, but they are very different pests! So here of some of the major differences between the two.

Dust Mites
House dust mites are tiny arachnids (kin to spiders and scabies), commonly found in carpets, mattresses and upholstered furniture. At about 0.25-.3 mm in length, dust mites are not really visible to the naked eye. If you can see dust mites, you've Normal, Non-Godzilla Sized Dust Miteeither got bionic eyeballs or godzilla-like dust mites. The Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Department of Medicine, of the University of Virginia explains their diet consisting of human skin scales and the moisture of "human shavings", which we naturally shed, all day, every day. Sometimes they diversify their diets with fungi, cereals, crumbs and fish food.

"Well, Rachel this is pretty gross. How is this relevant to my asthma and allergies?"

Well, digestive enzymes found in dust mite excretions trigger allergic reactions such as wheezing, airway hyper responsiveness (AHR), nasal congestion, cough, hay fever, etc. Most of us breathe in this allergen to no effect, but for people with allergies, asthma, COPD or other respiratory problems they can trigger reactions. Where, specifically is the allergen found? Considering the ubiquitous nature of dust mites, it is found everywhere! If there are people, there are dust mites, but specifically, the allergen is found in their their dead, decaying body parts as well as their feces. You read that correctly, dust mite poo.

Young children and senior citizens are the most vulnerable to these allergens, but as the most common household allergen, dust mite allergies affect a wide variety of people. However, there are a few limiting factors to these cosmopolites' survival, and controlling these is something we'll discuss below.

Bed Bugs
These parasitic six-legged creatures are flat rusty colored insects that are about the size of an apple seed, which means they are visible to the naked eye if you are unfortunate enough to spot these elusive creatures of the night. Cimex lectularius comes from the the insect genus Cimex, which are known to be hematophagous (bloodsucking insects). So to recap, they're tiny vampires.

Bed Bug in Later Stages of Life CycleA bed bug infestation can happen anywhere, but usually happen in love messy households or apartments and hotel/motel rooms. Mess affords them better opportunity to hide, and areas where there are frequently visitors provides greater opportunity to travel and spread. They can and do travel anywhere, usually by hitching a ride in suitcases, pillows, or any travel items really. So, they're also hitchhikers (except these ones simple hide in your trunk without thumbing for a ride!).

Bed bugs are most active at night, and tend to hide in crevices, mattresses, behind headboards, base boards, nightstands etc. Their activity mainly consists of coming out from their hiding spots and doing their best Count Dracula impression, feeding directly off of us, and leaving small itchy bites all over your skin. The one small upside is they do not create allergic reactions (they lack the enzymes that we react to). The bites can be itchy and physically painful, and knowing you have a hidden infestation of tiny, hitchhiking, blood sucking vampires can be psychologically disturbing.

During World War II bedbugs were a huge problem in the U.S. military, and in response, they used cyanide-based pesticide, Zyklon B to exterminate them. As a "safer alternative" DDT was later used to fumigate these pests. Both of these toxic treatments are not longer in use. Oh the good ole days.

Limiting or Eliminating These Pests
Bed bugs are repulsive but more importantly, very difficult to get rid of without professional help. If you rent, call your landlord or property manager. If you own, this is something you'll be paying for out of your own pocket, but despite some websites and people offering cheap advice on how to rid yourself of bedbugs, most are simply looking to make a quick buck at your expense or worse, offer dangerous or banned substances. When you travel, check your luggage and personal belongings. Bag luggage and clothing and store it outside or in the garage until you can wash and inspect it. When staying at a hotel or motel, report any bites to management ASAP, and keep your bags elevated. Avoiding them is your best bet, and in that vein, you can use bed bug proof mattress covers to seal up your mattress and box spring. In the event you do find bed bugs, you often have to discard a lot of things, and covering your mattress like this can avoid the pain and cost of potentially having to purchase a new one.

Dust mites are easier to rid of with the help of dust mite bedding covers, cleaning products that denature the dust mite allergen or kill dust mites, and general cleaning methods to reduce house dust (the primary component of which is dust mites). Hot can be very useful when it comes to dust mites. Wash your bedding in hot water of at least 113° F but ideally warmer (140°). It will work wonders for killing not only dust mites but also bed bugs. For dust mite allergen that might linger, the use of an anti-allergen detergent or a dust mite laundry additive to denature the actual protein allergen in the bedding.

When it comes to bedding, bedding that is simply labeled "hypoallergenic" is probably a complete waste of money. What actually helps though, are bedding covers. Quality mattress, pillow and box spring covers actually create a physical barrier between you and the dust mites that are most certainly in your mattress and pillows. These specially woven covers block the allergen and keep it out of the air you breathe. This, as part of an overall environment control regimen (washing regular bedding in hot water, dusting and vacuuming more frequently) can help to reduce allergic reactions without the use of medication.

All of these things can help you not only determine what type of pest you're dealing with but how to best to rid yourself of it or reduce its impact. Remember, if you can see the critter, it's not a dust mite, and there are other bugs and pests that can move in besides dust mites and bed bugs.

Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite!

Author: Rachel P.

1 Comment
On 11/22/2013 Linda Perkins wrote:
I absolutely agree with these insights. Bed bugs infestation or even dust mites are indeed an awful thing. Getting rid of these sleep stealers is something every home owner should do to avoid getting bites while asleep. Finding ways to eliminate these is one important thing to do. Using bed bugs remedies helps so much. A bed bug cover is a great tool in avoid bed bugs frustrations. Keeping everything clean helps a lot, too.
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