The Hazards of a Well-Made Bed

By W. Gifford Jones, M.D.
Created: December 17, 2012 Last Updated: December 22, 2012
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Dust mites can cause health problems for the whole family. Keep the pet out of the bed, air your bed before making it, and change your sheets regularly. (

Dust mites can cause health problems for the whole family. Keep the pet out of the bed, air your bed before making it, and change your sheets regularly. (

What do you sleep on? Of course, the normal reply is a mattress. But few people realize they’re also resting on millions of Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (dust mites). So how can you decrease the risk of these crawly creatures in your bed? And why should you also think twice before quickly making up the bed?

Dust mites are related to spiders and will never win a beauty contest. They’re ugly, menacing, microscopic in size, have eight legs, and you can put either 1,000 mites or 250,000 of their fecal pellets in half a teaspoon. Hardly exciting bedmates!

Dust mites accumulate in rugs, fabrics, and furniture. But they prefer warm beds, pillows, and blankets where they live along with vast amounts of their fecal dropping. Since their diet consists of our dead skin cells, they’re eager for us to go to bed. And how many people know that dead skin cells account for 80 percent of house dust?

At this point, you may be saying, “Luckily, this isn’t a problem for our home.” But dust mites are found is all homes, no matter how clean. And if you think you can escape this nasty creature by moving to Antarctica, don’t bother, as it has been found in that location.

So are dust mites hazardous to our health? For a start, it doesn’t help the psyche to know you’re sleeping along with millions of these creatures every night! But dust mites have been linked to allergy problems, watery, itchy eyes, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, eczema, and asthma. It’s the fecal pellet containing guanine that triggers allergic reactions.

A report by North America’s environmental watchdog agency says asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions in our children and also a serious problem for adults. Authorities say that 80 percent of asthmatic children test positive to dust mite.

So what can you do to limit the number of these spider-like mites, particularly if a family member suffers from asthma or other allergies?

Don’t sleep with your pet. Pet dander is not your friend. Have Fido or Felix sleep in an area far-removed from your bedroom. If this causes psychological problems for you, I doubt that it will affect Fido or Felix.

Think twice before making up the bed. This can be a tough sell if you’re a neatnik. A friend with a compulsive wife once complained to me, “If I get up at night to go to the bathroom, by the time I get back, my wife has made the bed!”

Dust mites cannot live by dust alone. They also need liquid, the water vapor we provide during the night by breathing and perspiring, which amounts to 1 pint per person per night! This is why we always weigh less in the morning. So at least toss covers well off the bed when you get up, which helps to dry out the bed before it’s made up.

In fact, even making up beds is dangerous, as chambermaids are known to suffer from bed-maker’s lung, an allergic condition.

I must admit this column is not inclined to promote a good night’s sleep. In fact, since I started to itch while writing it, I decided to do further research. I discovered that it’s possible to purchase zippered protective mattress covers that are soft as silk, and no mite can penetrate them.

Another company has developed a high-tech vacuum with dual action. It sucks up mites, but also uses ultraviolet light to penetrate mattresses, rugs, and covered furniture to kill dust mites.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ll have a service company get rid of mites.” But Dr. Peyton Eggleston, professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, says there’s no scientific evidence this works. The dust mites will return in a few weeks.

Remember the saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” This may be prudent in some situations. But I prefer the approach: If you can’t beat them, lock them up in a sure-fire protective covering. This will allow me to sleep better and stop itching.

Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto. His website is He may be contacted at

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  • Sandi Dunn

    What about putting bedding out in sun and air on windowsills, as people used to but don’t seem to bother anymore?


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