Updated 26 April 2013

Your mattress is alive!

Your bed is crawling with life: 10 000 dust mites call it home. They live off the half litre of moisture you sweat out every night, as well as bits of your shed skin.


Who doesn't look forward to bed after a hard day's work? Sinking back onto a comfortable mattress and forgetting all the worries of the day. 

But the bad news is that your mattress could contain dust mites, which live off the flakes of skin shed on mattresses. The moist, warm conditions in mattresses contribute to this accumulation. Your bed is crawling with life: 10 000 dust mites call it home. They live off the half litre of moisture you sweat out every night as well as bits of shed skin.

Although dust mites generally don't spread germs, their faecal waste contains a protein that causes an allergic reaction in many people. Wheezing, coughing, itchy eyes, allergic rhinitis and eczema characterise this. Dust mites can also contribute to asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

Other pests, such as bedbugs (Cimex lectularius), also thrive on dirty mattresses and can carry germs. Spots of blood on bedclothes are an indication that these bugs are sharing your bed with you. Although they have not been linked to the transmission of any disease, they have been shown to harbour the causative organisms of relapsing fever, tularaemia, Q fever and hepatitis B. Their bites can also cause severe allergic reactions in some people.

But don't lose too much sleep over this - there are many things you can do to wipe out this problem.

How to keep mattresses clean

The thought of being dined on by thousands of invisible dust mites while you are in dreamland, is not a pleasant one. But there is much you can do to solve this problem.

Cover your mattress with an impermeable cover and pull your bedcovers back each morning to allow the bed to air thoroughly. Wash your bedding once a week at 60°C in soapy water to destroy mites. Turn your mattress and vacuum it each month and expose it to fresh air and sunlight whenever possible. Keep your pets out of the bedroom.

Reduce the humidity in your bedroom to less than 50% to control mites. The easiest way to do this is to open up your windows and to put the fan or air conditioning on for a few hours every day.

To get rid of bedbugs, mattresses should be sprayed with an effective insecticide, which should be reapplied once a month. Sleep elsewhere for a night or two, as insecticides are toxic and can be quite dangerous, especially to toddlers. The bedroom should also be fumigated. Get professionals to help if the problem is serious. For a peaceful night's sleep, it is also important that you get a good mosquito repellent, as these insects can rob you of a good night's sleep, just as bedbugs can.

Handy hint:
In beach houses, mattresses should be put in plastic covers while everyone is away. This will stop bed bugs from finding a comfortable nesting place in your absence. 




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