What do beds and pancakes have in common?
A: Romantic interlude
B: Snuggly Sunday treat
C: Wonderfully considerate partner
D: Potentially lethal mites
Answer: All of the above
If you’re lucky in love, you get some romance along with your hot pancakes, propped up on your comfy mattress and fluffy pillows.
If you’re not so lucky, you suck in a lungful of Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus from your comforter and slug down a syrup-coated helping of its wheat-loving cousin, Dermatophagoides farina. And if your immune system is easily triggered, this relaxed repast can turn into a choking, wheezing trip to the hospital.
The tiny (300 micron), translucent house dust mite frequently haunts human beds, thoughtfully cleaning up mold, fungi, bacteria, pollen, your dead skin cells, and maybe that other white sock you lost a couple months ago.
Because of their tiny size and adaptive nature, these guys traveled with us from our damp, dark caveman homes to our modern hang outs and creature comforts: beds, blankets, sofas, rugs, and cuddly stuffed animals.
For most of us, house dust mites cause no problem. They’re so tiny we can’t see them. They don’t sting or bite. And even if 100 were creeping up your leg – which they will probably do tonight – you would never know.
But unfortunately, they can seriously bug people with atopy. It’s not the mite per se, but its numerous droppings that cause issues among the allergic. Inside those tiny poo balls are bits of undigested food and the digestive enzymes meant to break them down. All it takes is a breath of air – or a dip in pancake batter – for the “stuff” to melt away, activating these enzymes.
Inhalation reactions start when the molecules come into contact with lung epithelium. Scavenger cells get the inflammatory process up and running, aggravating asthma and other allergic reactions, like atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and otitis media.
Pancake syndrome is a variation of the inhalation reaction. Whenever cooks use mite-infested flour, there is potential for danger. The medical literature contains case reports and series of both children and adults who experienced an anaphylactic reaction after eating mite-infested wheat-flour based foods. The reactions varied from mild to lethal.
In all cases, the flour used was replete with dust mites of several species – and full of the cell-destroying Der enzyme, cysteine protease. Among its many talents: direct damage to airway epithelium; destruction of the body’s epithelial tissue damage defense system; disruption of intercellular junctions; and of course, stimulating those pesky proinflammatory mediators.
Infested flour is more likely to be found in temperate, humid areas, and in poorly stored wheat flour or flour-based mixes – or products that have been opened for a long period and never used. In 2009, the World Allergy Organization published a dust mite oral anaphylaxis paper, suggesting that all grain flours be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
So the next time a half-empty box of pancake mix gets you in the mood for some snuggly breakfast in bed – try switching to eggs. – Michele G. Sullivan