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Column originally published Oct 24, 2006

There Are Ways To Reduce Dust Mites And Moulds That Trigger Allergies

Question: Our daughter got very sick recently. We thought she just had a bad flu. She had high fever and a lot of green drainage from her nose. After three days of fever that didn’t respond to ibuprofen, we finally took her to our doctor. He told us she had a bad sinus infection which was caused by severe allergy in her nose. He showed us that the swelling under her eyes was a sign of allergy, and told us that our daughter is a mouth-breather and her snoring at night is indicative of nasal allergy. We have always known that our daughter snores since she was one to two years of age. We thought it was just normal, since almost everyone in my family snores. He told us to work on reducing dust and moulds around the house. Can you give us some guidance as to how we can do that?


I know many parents are surprised that allergy in the nose can cause sinus infection. Let me begin by explaining in more detail about this relationship before giving you ideas how to reduce these allergens.

Allergy is a medical condition where our body over-reacts to surrounding things. Most people recognize food allergy, drug allergy, and skin allergy. However, the most common allergy physicians see is in the respiratory tract.

In the nasal passage, there are many immune cells that can over-react to particles that we breathe in through our nostrils. This is called nasal allergy. Some recognize this as hayfever if they experience sneezing and nasal congestion during spring and fall seasons.

Whatever we breathe in through the nose will go into our bronchial tubes. Allergic condition of the bronchial tubes is called asthma. Many who suffer nasal allergies are also prone to asthma.

Allergy is a very common medical condition. Depending on where one lives, as many as one in 5 people can suffer from one form of allergy or another. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize allergy problems, especially when it is not obvious.

I have seen many parents totally surprised when I pointed out the signs and symptoms of nasal allergy like your daughter. These children have swelling under the eyes that are called allergic shiners. They also learn to become mouth-breathers because it is easier to breathe through the mouth instead of the clogged up nose. Over time, their adenoid, which is a patch of lymphatic tissue in the back of the nose, can become enlarged, further obstructing the nasal passage and leading to snoring at night.

Unfortunately, because the snoring happens every night, many parents assume that it is normal, especially if it happens to other family members. Because they also breathe through their mouth at night, these children may complain of sore throat in the morning, which often gets better after they drink or after they eat breakfast.

Nasal allergy can block the openings of sinus passages, and lead to sinus infection (this is also called sinusitis). Many children have low grade sinusitis with green drainage from their nose from time to time. They don’t feel too well when this happens, but they may not be too sick either. As a result, parents may not take them to see their doctors, and physicians may not be able to find enough evidence to suspect low grade sinusitis or the underlying nasal allergy.

Once in a while, a child can get an acute sinusitis and become quite sick with high fever. Occasionally sinus infection can spread to surrounding tissues, including the eyes and even the brain. Treatment of acute sinusitis often require antibiotics for two to three weeks. Shorter courses of antibiotics can suppress the infection, but may not eradicate the problem completely.

Another important treatment is to reduce nasal allergy. Dust mites and moulds are two common indoor triggers. Dust mites are the tiny insects in the dust found inside our house (and not in the dirt outdoors). They feed on the skin cells that we shed from our body everyday. Dust mites are found in carpets, bedding, mattress and box spring, stuffed toys, as well as forced-air heating system. They grow very well in places with high humidity like our maritime provinces, and are less of a problem in dry places like Alberta.  It is the poop of these dust mites that cause our allergy.

One way to prevent dust mite allergy is to put mattress, box spring, and pillows inside plastic covers that have zippers, so that the whole mattress, for example, is completely sealed. Some even put masking tapes over the zipper. This will prevent the mites and their droppings from coming through the mattress or pillow when your daughter sleeps in her bed.

I cannot emphasize enough about removing carpets from the home environment, especially in a child’s bedroom. Children spend many hours in their bedroom, often on the floor; that is why it is important to do this as soon as possible. Stuffed toys collect lots of dust mites. Parents should allow only a few small ones that can be washed weekly and dried thoroughly in a dryer. The rest should be packed away or given away, and not placed on shelves or in the toy box.

Forced-air heating system is another great concern, because the ducts can collect lots of dust, and circulate it around when the furnace kicks on. There are some relatively expansive filters one can install at the furnace which are more effective in removing dust particles in the air. Other filters can be placed over air vents to reduce the flow of dust. Hiring professional duct cleaners can remove larger amount of dust in the forced-air system. Hot water radiator and electrical heating systems do not circulate dust around the house.

Some parents have found air purifiers equipped with HEPA filters quite effective to reduce the amount of dust in their children’s bedroom. These purifiers can run 24 hours a day. They suck air through the filter and trap dust mites and other particles that can trigger allergy in those sensitive individuals.

Moulds are found around windows, especially in those homes that are well insulated. Basement is also a good place for moulds to grow, because of the dampness and cool temperature there. Cleaning around the windows and putting a dehumidifier in the basement can reduce moulds inside the house. Adding an exhaust fan in the bathroom to remove moisture after shower is also effective.

Unfortunately, moulds also grow outdoors on fallen leaves in autumn. In early spring, moulds again circulate outside when the snow melts. That is the reason why many people have more allergy symptoms in spring and fall. It is probably not a good idea for you to use the clothesline. Anything that you hang out there will trap the mould spores (as well as other pollens) which can increase allergy symptoms.

I hope that I have given you some ideas how allergy can cause your daughter’s problem, and how you can prevent it in future.