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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dust may offer allergy protection

Anthony L. Komaroff Universal Uclick

DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep a tidy house, but no matter how much I clean, there’s more dust than I’d like. Is dust dangerous to my family’s health?

DEAR READER: Yes, depending on its contents, dust can be harmful to your health.

What is dust? It’s a little like sausage: You don’t want to know what’s in it. But I’ll tell you anyway.

More than half of household dust comes from soil either tracked into the home or wafting in as airborne particles through doors and windows. The remainder of dust is a hodgepodge that includes skin cells from family members, skin cells and fur from household pets, carpet fibers, kitchen grease – and more.

Household dust often contains remnants of household chemicals and possibly even heavy metals. It also contains bacteria, fungi and dust mite (insect) particles that can trigger allergies. In particular, the debris dust mites leave behind can provoke powerful allergic reactions.

Perhaps the most effective way to control dust levels is with regular housekeeping. Frequent vacuuming, preferably using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, is a good place to start. It may be necessary to vacuum several times a week.

You should consider putting heavy-duty doormats in front of doorways to stem the amount of soil coming into your house. Even better: Remove your shoes upon coming inside.

Filters on heating and air conditioning systems should reduce dust. Portable air cleaners with HEPA filters are another option.

I’ve talked about how dust in the home can trigger allergies, so you’d think that dust is just plain bad. But it may not be that simple. New research indicates that newborns and very young children who grow up in relatively “dirty” surroundings, such as farms, may actually be protected against developing allergies and allergic diseases (such as asthma) later in life. I’m not urging you to keep a dusty home for the first few years of a child’s life, but someday you may hear that advice!

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