Just a mite irritating

Bugs that trigger asthma can be beaten, says Robert Verkaik

Asthma sufferer Des Whitrow has turned her house into a minimalist's ideal home. She has taken up almost all her carpets, removed soft furnishings, and covered all beds in plastic. For the past five years, Mrs Whitrow, 44, a biology lecturer, has been waging a one-woman war against an invisible irritant - the house dust mite.

She now claims her rather over-zealous spring-cleaning has made her asthma better, and she is telling fellow sufferers their conditions could improve if they do the same. Her methods are precisely detailed in her book, House Dust Mites, published earlier this year after a five-year struggle trying to persuade uninterested publishers of its worth.

Mrs Whitrow, who lives in Nottingham with her husband and two children, reminds us that we produce a pint of water each night in sweat and a gram of skin every month for the house mite to feed on. She advises ripping out carpets, ditching dust mite-friendly furniture, and replacing old mattresses.

She is by no means alone in her extreme methods. The National Asthma Campaign also advocates carpetless floors for dust mite sufferers, while the National Eczema Society, as part of an extensive package of counter- mite measures, recommends leaving children's soft toys in the freezer to kill off the mites.

But although recent scientific evidence shows the house dust mite's droppings can cause asthma and eczema allergies, experts caution against over-reaction.

The wave of dust mite hysteria which swept the continent a decade ago, recently ended with European governments and their medical advisers having to make embarrassing climbdowns. In 1983, following rash advice from their government, Swedes began ripping up their carpets in a bid to eradicate dust mite asthma. The Swedish carpet industry was decimated.

More recently, an experiment was carried out in Norway, where carpets were removed from all state schools. The French banned carpets in their post offices. Nevertheless, European asthma rates have continued to rise, and in the past year, all three countries have reinstated the continental carpet.

Dr David Hide, consultant of clinical allergy and director of the Clinical Allergy Research Clinic at St Mary's Hospital, Isle of Wight, urges sufferers not to rush into the enormous expense of new mattresses, super-hoovers and house mite sprays without first making an appointment with an allergy clinic to determine whether they are allergic to dust mites. "You can," he says, "reduce your bedroom to a prison cell, but that's extreme. Think of alternatives and be reasonable. Why not try hoovering first?"

Mrs Whitrow has tried everything, including vacuuming, but concludes: "It merely removes the ones on the surface of a mattress or carpet. Those hiding deeper in the padding cling on to the fibres with the suckers on their claws."

This week, Electrolux is introducing a high-powered vacuum cleaner, the upright Airclean 1200, costing pounds 249.99, with a three-stage filtration system, which, it claims, will keep 99.99 per cent of dust sucked up actually in the bag, and not in your lungs.

"A vacuum cleaner with 1200 watts is very powerful," says Mrs Whitrow. "Most have wattages between 500 and 1,000. It's expensive, but I imagine it will take up all the dust. Ordinary vacuum cleaners are a health hazard because they blow dust out."

Meanwhile, Dr John Maunder, director of Cambridge University's Medical Entomology Centre, recently produced a report on the relationship between beds, bedding, house dust mites and asthma. He concludes that many houses don't even contain dust mites in the first place. "There is widespread misunderstanding of the ways in which links between asthma and the mite operate. Possibly no aspect of the subject is more affected by flawed and misunderstood information than the relationship between asthma and soft furnishings."

His report showed that the dust mite allergen found in carpets is either "stuck sufficiently firmly to it or has worked its way sufficiently deeply into it that it is of little danger". He warns that allergens falling on to a carpet-free, polished floor can "become airborne again in the slightest draught".

He advocates simple housekeeping measures, and blames a deterioration of bedroom hygiene standards for contributing to the problem. "Our grandmothers had a collective empirical wisdom. Sleep with your windows open, they said. It's good for your chest, they said, and they were right."

'House Dust Mites' by Des Whitrow is published by Elliot Right Way (pounds 3.99, p&p pounds 4.50), Kingswood Building, Lower Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey, KT20 6TD.

Fighting asthma in the home

In her book 'Coming Up for Air: Self-help for Asthma Sufferers' (Headline, pounds 5.99, 26 October), Brigid McConville recommends the following:

Get rid of as many mite havens (carpets, curtains, soft furnishings) as you can. Where you must have carpets, go for short pile and synthetic.

Cover mattress, pillows and duvet with special barrier covers.

Wash pillows, duvets and blankets at above 55C monthly.

Invest in a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner with first-class filters.

Cut down on humidity. Keep windows open.

Use acaricides - chemical mite-killing sprays for carpets and soft furnishings. They are available from chemists.

Throw out feather dusters and dusters.

Dust sheets (prices are for double-mattress covers) available from: Allergy Relief Products (01703 332919) pounds 30; The Linen Cupboard (0171-629 4062) pounds 35; 1-In-4/Holden Medical (01204 571686) pounds 56.95; Alprotec (0161- 903 9293) pounds 57.60; Allerayde (01636 613444) from pounds 65.95. Boots sells Intervent covers at pounds 139. Mattresses fitted with Intervent covers are available from Slumberland (0161-628 4886 for stockists) from pounds 178. For solvent- free emulsion paints, contact The Healthy House (01453 752216). Electrolux stockists: 01582 585858.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss