The Science Behind Allergy Avoidance

Dust Mites

Allergy, whether we like it or not, is a chronic condition and will linger in the backgrounds of our lives. As with any medical condition, it is important to evaluate your options and choose the methods that work best for you in context of your lifestyle. One key to deciding treatment methods is to delve into the scientific research behind them.

However, trying to sift through such reports can prove tedious, leaving your mind-numbingly bored and more confused than before. Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of searching out these experiments and breaking them down to the essential information that will help you in your allergy treatment decisions.

The Department of Allergology, Division of Internal Health in the Netherlands commissioned a study on the effectiveness of allergy-avoidance measures in the homes of household dust mite (HDM)-allergic patients. It specifically focused on the uses of acaricides and non-chemical mattress encasings.

Prior to the experiment, research has found that exposure to indoor allergens is the most common cause of allergic reactions, especially in sensitized asthmatic patients. Based upon this reasoning, the doctors decided to limit their participants to asthmatic patients because they represent the worst-case scenario. It is one thing to have itchy eyes and a runny nose but it is another thing to lose the ability to breathe.

Over the years, science has made incredible advances in reducing the exposure to indoor allergens such as dust mites. Smooth (non-textile) flooring, indoor humidity control, increased air ventilation, acaricides, and allergen-impermeable encasings have all made an impact in the quality of life for sufferers. This particular study acknowledges that and seeks to see exactly how effective they are.

Concentrating on Acaroson (an acaricide) and allergen-impermeable encasings, they examined their effect on reducing HDM levels and if the chemical Acarosan method provided better results than the encasings.

The study consisted of 59 participants with a history of asthma and proven HDM sensitization. Using a double-blinded placebo-control method, they were able to observe the effects of Acaroson on mattresses and textile floor coverings. Three groups were formed. The first two were given unmarked chemical treatments that were either Acarosan or placebo detergent. Those who did not wish to put chemicals on their bed were given allergen-impermeable mattress and pillows covers. All participants checked in with a clinic every six months for allergy tests and every three months the dust levels were measured to see if they were reduced in the mattress and flooring.

An important key instruction to this experiment was that all participants were NOT given special cleaning instructions - they should live like they normally would.

At the start of the study, all three groups had comparable concentrations of Der p1 (the protein dust mites produce that drives us crazy) with the dust mite mattress cover group coming in a little lower. Despite this lower initial Der p1 concentration, the greatest decrease in the protein in mattress dust was found after the application of the encasings. For the two groups with chemical treatments, there was not a significant decrease until after the second application six months in. Even then, the decrease after a year was still about 2000 ng/g while the encasings reduced to 200 ng/gs.

In the case of reducing Der p1 concentration in textile flooring, the mattress covers obviously had no effect. However, the application of Acaroson did significantly reduce the concentration but it still took until after the second application six months in to really show anything. Most surprisingly, after all the tests were completed, tests should that airway hyper-responsiveness decreased in the Acarosan and mattress encasing groups. That shows that doing something to control your environment DOES make an improvement in your health.

Since allergy-avoidance measures are often recommended to allergic asthmatic patients, it was interesting to observe the difference between chemical and non-chemical intervention. Both methods did result in an improvement of airway hyper-responsiveness, although the acaricide to a lesser extent. The doctors did note that the use of chemicals to control HDM-levels is still very controversial and probably best left to surfaces that are not constant exposure risks (ie carpet, upholstered furniture).

This study goes to prove that you cannot do just ONE thing to treat your home for dust mites. A mattress cover will reduce the levels in your bed but it cannot do anything for your flooring. Therefore, one must take a vigilant approach and attack the whole house with different methods. The report concluded with some amazing advice:

“Allergen-avoidance measures may play and important role in the treatment of patients...a combination of measures should be tailor-made to the individual allergic patient”

This is something we have been telling out clients for over 20 years.