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Dangerous Dust Bunnies

If you wake up every morning with a headache, stuffy nose and itchy watery eyes - you might be allergic. And the source of your allergies may be right under your nose - literally! I'm talking about microscopic critters called dust mites - living, among other places - inside your pillow.

HOUSER: "dust mites are tiny creatures that tend to live off shed human skin and commonly live in places such as our pillows and in our bed linens and in our mattresses"

Dr. Steven Houser is an ear nose and throat doctor specializing in allergies at metro health Medical Center. He says dust mites are microscopic - so tiny - that they can only be seen with an electron microscope - but their effects are huge for those who are allergic to them. There's a good chance your mattress is full of them - A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands of dust mites. Disgusted yet? Nearly 100,000 mites can live in one square yard of carpet. And ten percent of the weight of a two year old pillow can be composed of dead dust mites and their droppings.

STAGER: "this is the excrement from a dust mite, which sounds gross, but could be living in your sheets, pillows and carpets"

Sharon stager is a nurse in Dr. Houser's office. She's mixing up some dust mite poop, to use as a treatment for people who are allergic. It's not actually the critters themselves that people are allergic to - but you guessed it -their poop. Microscopic bits of dead dust mites and their excrement get into the air where they can be inhaled - causing typical allergy symptoms. Humans and pets shed 30 to 40 thousand skin cells every minute - and over the course of a lifetime, that could fill a 40 pound bag. And since most of us spend a third of our lives in our beds - the mattress and pillow is a veritable smorgasbord for hungry mites. And speaking of bugs, indoor allergies come from cockroaches too - and their poop.

Dr. Houser says that cockroaches commonly live in the walls - but little bits of their bodies as well as their poop make up the dust we breathe.

HOUSER: "Kind of the little bits and pieces get into the air, kind of work their way out of the wall where people can breathe them in.

And don't think that just because you don't have any cockroaches in your house your house - you can't be allergic to them. Because they are very common in other places.

HOUSER: "ypically patients are very shocked and even offended and say "but I don't have cockroaches in my home!" And very commonly they don't have them in their home, but cockroaches can be prevalent in public buildings and they can develop a sensitivity there - at their workplace, at their school, etc.."

And if dust mites and cockroaches aren't enough to contend with there's the mold. According to Mahmoud Gannoum, a mold expert at Case Western reserve University, several species of mold are common in our homes.

The mold, which thrives in damp places like bathrooms and basements reproduces by creating tiny organs called spores. The spores disperse into the air looking for a place to land and begin growing. - if they find their way into our noses and lungs they can trigger an allergic reaction

GHANNOUM: "In our houses they are present in the air around us, in the dust for example. All these spores are carried in the dust."

So, how bad can it get? Well, imagine this. The "harmless" dust bunnies under your bed ? They actually can be comprised of human skin, hair, pet dander, mold spores, dead dust mites and cockroaches, and their poop.

The solution for allergy sufferers is fairly simple - get rid of the dust. That means, removing carpets and drapes, vacuuming daily, frequently washing sheets and blankets in hot water and keeping mattresses and pillows incased in dust mite proof covers. It may also mean keeping the home cool and dry to prevent the growth of mold and dust mites says Houser.

HOUSER: "Once they can clean up these areas often patients will feel much better."

Of course, the good news for most people is that dust mites, mold and even cockroach poop cause no reaction at all….except maybe a big…yuck.

Gretchen Cuda 90.3