Dust mites are a tiny, invisible nuisance to many allergy sufferers around the world. This article will explain what dust mites are, what causes dust mite allergies, and what steps and treatments can be taken to reduce their impact on your life.
What Is A Dust Mite Allergy?
A dust mite allergy is a sensitivity to the presence of small, harmless bugs living in the dust of your home. Although they’re too small to see with the naked eye, these mites are a common source of allergies, especially among those with asthma or other respiratory sensitivities.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are microscopic arthropods related to ticks and spiders. They live and thrive in warm, humid places such as mattresses, carpets, furniture, bedding, and clothing. The average dust mite is about 0.3 millimeters long; so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Dust mites feed on dead skin cells that humans naturally shed every day. Dust mites do not bite and they are not dangerous to humans but can cause allergies and asthma symptoms in some people. Dust mites are found in every home, regardless of how clean it is. Populations are highest in warm, humid climates and during the summer months.
Dust mites usually prefer organic material for their food sources such as animal dander, flakes of skin, soiled clothing, and feathers. They can also feed on synthetic fibers and starches from fabrics such as rayon, nylon, and polyester. The ideal conditions for dust mites to breed are a temperature between 20 – 25 degrees Celsius (68 -77°F) and a relative humidity level of 75-80%.
What Causes An Allergy to Dust Mites?
Dust mites themselves don't directly interact with the body to cause an allergic reaction. Rather, it's the proteins they produce through defecation, urination, and death that are responsible. These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
When places where dust mites frequent - such as furniture, bedding, and other soft surfaces - are disturbed, dust mite molecules become airborne. When these molecules are inhaled by someone with a dust mite allergy, their body perceives them as a foreign invader and responds to them as such.
The resulting immune system reaction initiates a release of histamine, provokes inflammation in the airways, and causes the nasal passages and their surrounding areas to swell. This is what leads to the development of the classic symptoms of an allergic reaction to dust mites.
Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms
Dust mite allergy symptoms can manifest in many different forms and may vary from individual to individual. They often develop upon exposure, lasting around a few minutes to several hours. Severity depends on both the individual’s allergic sensitivity and the magnitude of the allergen exposure.
Common dust mite allergy symptoms include:
Dust mites produce airborne allergens, and as such, many of the reactions they provoke affect the respiratory system hardest. One of the biggest symptoms is the tightening of the tissues in the throat, leading to difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. Sometimes, the nasal passages may become congested with mucus and inflammation, exacerbating this symptom.
Coughing is a common symptom of dust mite allergy, particularly when the allergen is inhaled. This form of coughing typically becomes worse in dusty, poorly ventilated areas such as carpeted rooms and other places where dust mites are likely to be found. Coughing can be either dry or wet and may be accompanied by chest tightness, as well as congestion and increased production of mucus.
Sneezing often occurs shortly after exposure to dust mite allergens. It can range from a few simple sneezes to continuous and violent bouts of sneezing which can last for several minutes at a time.
Itching is a common symptom of dust mite allergy, particularly in skin areas not covered by clothing. It can be caused by the allergy itself, as well as from scratching the skin to relieve irritation.
Wheezing is defined as a whistling sound while breathing, usually caused by airway obstruction or inflammation. It is usually a sign of asthma and can be triggered by dust mite allergies.
A runny nose is a classic allergy symptom, developed when the body's immune system increases mucus production in an attempt to flush irritants out. Dust mite allergies are no exception; those suffering from dust mite allergies may have a runny nose that won't go away. The mucus produced can be clear and thin, or it can be thicker and yellow or green.
Postnasal drip occurs when excess mucus from the nose and sinuses builds up and drips down the back of the throat. It can be caused by inflammation of the sinuses due to dust mite allergies, leading to symptoms such as a sore throat, coughing, and difficulty swallowing.
Foods to Avoid with Dust Mite Allergy
Having a dust mite allergy doesn't mean being directly allergic to food, but there are some that may put you at an increased risk of experiencing symptoms. This is because of a phenomenon called cross-reactivity, which occurs when the body's immune system identifies proteins in different substances as structurally similar or biologically related.
In other words, eating certain foods may trigger an allergic reaction to dust mites because they contain similar proteins.
It's also worth noting that dust mites and similar types of allergen-producing bugs can contaminate food, specifically grain flour.
Some of the most common foods to avoid if you have a dust mite allergy include:
- Flour-based products
- Certain types of nuts, such as walnuts and pistachios
How to Prevent Dust Mite Allergies
A dust mite allergy can feel like an inescapable nightmare - after all, how are you supposed to avoid something if it's in practically every room of the house? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to limit dust mite exposure and reduce the chances of an allergic reaction. We'll go through some tips below.
Lower Humidity Levels
Dust mites love humid environments, so they're more likely to be found in warmer climates. By reducing the humidity level in your home, you can lower the chances of dust mites setting up shop. Investing in a dehumidifier, utilizing exhaust fans when cooking and bathing, and keeping windows open are all excellent ways to keep the humidity low.
Clean and Reduce Clutter
Vacuum and sweep often, and make sure that you're washing your bedding and blankets in hot water at least once a week. Cleaning out closets, drawers, and other household items can help reduce the chance of dust mite build-up, as well as remove any potential sources of food for them (like dead skin cell particles). This is an especially important practice if you have pets or live with many people.
Reduce Carpeting and Upholstered Furniture
Carpeting, upholstered furniture, and curtains act as dust magnets, harboring various allergens including dust mites. Limiting these items in your home can help reduce the amount of dust mite exposure. If you must have these items, make sure to vacuum them regularly and use a wet mop on hardwood floors.
Invest In an Air Filter
High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are excellent at filtering out allergens, including dust mites. Investing in one for your air conditioner can help to reduce the amount of dust mite exposure in your home. Make sure to change the filter every 3-6 months for maximum efficiency.
Use Dust Mite Covers
Dust mite covers are mattress and pillow covers that are specially designed to keep dust mites from getting into the fibers of your bedding. These covers can be found in most home goods stores or online. They should be replaced every 6-12 months or whenever you notice any signs of wear and tear.
When to See a Doctor
Dust mite allergies are generally non-serious, but there are certain cases where a trip to the doctor is warranted. This includes if your symptoms are severe or persistent, you're having trouble breathing, or your eyes become swollen and itchy. Some people experience a more life-threatening reaction to dust mite allergens, if this is the case, seek medical attention immediately.
How Are Dust Mite Allergies Diagnosed?
Dust mite allergies are diagnosed the same way that all other allergies are diagnosed - through allergy testing. Allergy testing can be conducted either from a doctor's office or with an at-home allergy test. Here's a closer look at what each option involves:
Skin Prick Testing
Skin prick testing is the most well-known type of allergy test. This type of test involves pricking the skin with a needle and applying a small amount of dust mite allergen to it. If the skin reacts, it's an indication of an allergy.
At-home testing kits are a popular method of allergy testing due to their accessible and relatively pain-free process. It starts with ordering a kit from a provider like Wyndly to get everything you need to test for allergies shipped to your door. All that's required is a finger prick to draw a small blood sample and then you send it to our labs for analysis. Our allergy doctors will interpret your test results and create a personalized treatment plan for your allergies.
Dust Mite Allergy Treatment
The symptoms of a dust mite allergy can be extremely disruptive, making it difficult to sleep or focus on the tasks at hand. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments and medications that can help reduce their impact.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like antihistamines can be helpful in reducing allergy symptoms. They work by temporarily blocking the body's histamine response, which is what causes the sneezing and itchy eyes associated with dust mite allergies. Decongestants may also be helpful if you're suffering from a stuffy nose, cough, or headache.
While OTC medications can be effective in temporarily alleviating allergy symptoms, it's important to recognize that they are not a long-term solution to living with a dust mite allergy. You'll still need to remain vigilant in avoiding potential triggers, as well as have these medications on hand in the case of a reaction.
Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroid medication specifically for dust mite allergies. These medications are more powerful than OTC ones and often come in the form of an inhaler or nasal spray. They are meant to be used over the long term and can help reduce the frequency and severity of allergy symptoms.
Allergy immunotherapy is a type of treatment used to reduce the body's sensitivity to allergens. It works by introducing small amounts of an allergen—such as dust mite proteins—into the body in a controlled and gradual manner. Over time, this can help the immune system build a tolerance, reducing or eliminating allergy symptoms. There are two main types of immunotherapy: conventional allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy. We explain each below.
Allergy shots are what they sound like —small injections of an allergen that are administered in a doctor's office. For several weeks, the patient receives injections with increasing doses of the allergen and gradually builds up a resistance to it. Allergy shots usually require one or two visits to the doctor's office each week for several months, and most people will need to keep receiving maintenance shots for up to five years.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a newer form of allergy treatment that does not require injections. Instead, the patient takes daily doses of an allergen via a tablet or liquid drops placed under the tongue. SLIT is usually preferred to allergy shots, as it is less expensive, equally effective, more convenient, and does not require regular doctor visits or needles.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you think you might have a dust mite allergy or want long-term relief from your allergy symptoms, Wyndly can help. Our allergy doctors will help identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to help you live allergy free.
Take our quick online allergy assessment and get started on the road to relief today!