House Dust- It is worse than we thought!

All too frequently I hear  someone saying that they are allergic to ‘Dust’. Just what is ‘Dust’ and is my ‘Dust’ the same as your ‘Dust’? More importantly is dust, specifically house dust, a harmless nuisance?

When I was at Henry Ford Hospital, Dennis Ownby, MD analyzed the house dust material that was used in the immunotherapy program. Of note is that there was more cat allergen in the house dust mix than what was available in the cat preparation that was available at the time. This house dust extract came from homes. I learned that dust is a mixture of many things.

During my fellowship we went on a field trip across the state of North Carolina to Greer labs. The house dust used for allergen diagnostics and for treatment sets came from collections from a large number of homes. The house dust extract had cat, dog, house dust mite fecal material, roach, other insects, food, mold, and IgA from human spittle.

The June issue of the journal Pediatrics had a quip from the editor emeritus, Jerold F. Lucey, MD regarding the ‘Dirt on Dust’. Dust is a big deal in allergy so this interested me. The note starts with the statement that simple house dust may not be as simple as all that. His source was a text box by Andrew Grant which was part of a more elaborate article by Michael Tennesen in the May 2010 issue of Discover magazine.

Mr. Grant reports that we are responsible for our own house dust. A scientific analysis of house dust reveals that it contains fibers from clothing, crumbs from food, and human dander. Hopefully, so far this is not too disgusting.

House dust has the remnants of other living creatures- plants, bacteria, mold, fungi, decaying insect carcasses, and fecal droppings from house dust mite (yes that is poop!). Had enough? It gets worse.

Our open windows and our shoes bring in the chemical villains. A study by the US Geological Survey from January, 2010 reported on numerous harmful chemicals discovered in house dust. Included in the samples were polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This is used to coat parking lots. DDT, a pesticide banned 40 years ago was detected in house dust samples. Reference was made to another study in which arsenic and lead contaminated soil was found in house dust samples. The lesson here is that we track it in to our home on our shoes.

Clearly, dust is not so simple. It is a hodgepodge of items- biological and chemical. Some can elicit an allergic response; some can cause illness in other ways.

This has caused me to wonder about dust. My wonderment has lead to a few questions;

  • If the house dust has all this stuff from our shoes, I wonder what is lurking on the mat at the front door?
  • Are there enough food particles in house dust to trigger an allergic reaction in someone sensitive to food?
  • What is the composite listing of what is in house dust? Endotoxins would be on that list.
  • What is the seasonal variation in house dust composition?
  • How do various methods of cleaning change what is in house dust? Now that we have been scared, what can we do about it?
  • Are certain types of homes more conducive to certain dust components.

Good studies and information always beget more questions. I am now removing my workday shoes prior to walking into my home!

Fred Leickly

June 9, 2010 · fleickly · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Allergies, Dust, Environment

One Response

  1. Bethany - June 9, 2010

    You had me at “dust mite fecal matter.”