Dust mites are a common indoor allergen that can cause uncomfortable and frustrating allergy symptoms year-round. Dust mites are microscopic pests that live in furniture, bedding, and carpeting. In this article, we'll explain what dust mite allergies are, the common signs and symptoms, and the best ways to prevent and manage a dust mite allergy.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are microscopic insect-like pests that live indoors in warm environments and fabric-covered surfaces like mattresses, furniture, and carpets. Dust mites are a common indoor allergen and feed off organic matter, such as dead skin cells shed by humans and pets.
Dust mites are extremely common. They’re especially prevalent in warm climates and areas with high humidity. Places with a lot of dust, such as attics or garages, can be hot spots for dust mites. Areas like bedrooms and living rooms with a lot of soft fabric furniture and carpets also act as an ideal habitat for dust mites, as they provide both food and moisture.
Dust mite droppings contain proteins that are known to trigger allergies and asthma, as well as other respiratory issues.
What Causes a Dust Mite Allergy?
Dust mite allergy symptoms happen when the body ingests the allergenic protein in dust mite feces. A single dust mite is capable of producing hundreds of pellets of waste; when these feces become airborne, they can enter the body through inhalation. For most people, this has no effect.
When allergens enter via airways, the body's immune system perceives a threat and responds the same way it would to an actual danger like a virus. Histamines are released as a defense mechanism, causing inflammation and discomfort. The result is a range of symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and sneezing, as well as swollen eyes and an itchy throat.
Signs and Symptoms
Dust mite allergy symptoms can vary from person to person - how you react comes down to your immune system and level of sensitivity. But most people experience similar effects upon coming into contact with this allergen. When exposed to dust mite allergens you may experience symptoms including:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Runny nose and sneezing
- Chest tightness
- Itchy rash
- Swollen eyes
- Itchy throat
In more severe cases, a dust mite allergy can lead to asthma attacks or even anaphylactic shock. The link to asthma is especially strong. In some cases, the presence of dust mites has been connected to severe asthma attacks even in those who do not have a documented allergy.
What Do Dust Mites Look Like?
If you're preparing to go search for them through your house, don't expect to see any. Identifying a dust mite isn't like spotting a spider on the wall as these creatures are so tiny that they can only be seen through a microscope.
If you were to look through one, you'd see that dust mites have eight legs and are shaped like spheres, similar to ticks or spiders. They measure approximately 0.3 millimeters in length and have yellowish-brown bodies which allow them to blend in with the dust and fabrics typically found in homes.
3D Rendered Illustration of a House Dust Mite by SciePro
Where Do Dust Mites Live?
Dust mites survive by feeding off dead skin cells and moisture. As a result, dust mites tend to be found in indoor areas with plenty of fabrics. This is due to the amount of skin cells that accumulate on these surfaces as well as their ability to retain moisture.
The most likely places you'll encounter dust mites are in your mattress, bedding, pillows, soft furniture (sofas and armchairs), carpet, and curtains. They also thrive in damp areas such as bathrooms and kitchens.
How Can You Tell if You Have Dust Mites?
There is no straightforward way of telling that you have dust mites. Being so small in size, it's impossible to spot them with the naked eye. The best gauge is allergy symptoms - people with a sensitivity to dust mites are likely to react in concentrated areas.
In any case, it's safe to assume that you have at least some dust mites in your home. The real issue is how many and whether they're causing you allergy symptoms.
How to Get Rid of Dust Mites Indoors?
Dust mites are lucky in that they're too small to swat away like other crawling pests. Being so common, it's virtually impossible to get rid of them entirely. However, there are some practical steps you can take to reduce the number of dust mites in your indoor spaces.
Vacuuming is one of the best methods for reducing dust mite populations. The vacuum's suction power can pull up large amounts of debris from carpets, couches, and other fabric surfaces. Be sure to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to ensure that the dust mites are being captured effectively.
Washing Bedding and Other Fabrics Regularly
Dust mites feed on dead human skin cells, which accumulate in bedding, pillows, and other fabrics. Having these items regularly washed can reduce the number of dust mites in your home significantly.
Dust mites thrive in damp, humid environments. To reduce their numbers, try to keep your home's humidity level below 50%. You can do this by using a dehumidifier or running an air conditioner to draw moisture out of the air.
Using Allergen-Proof Covers
Dust mite allergen levels can be reduced by encasing mattresses, box springs, and pillows in special covers that are designed to prevent dust mites from passing through. These covers are typically made from materials like polyester or nylon and can be found in most home stores.
What Is The Difference Between Dust Mites and Bed Bugs?
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed on the tiny particles of skin, hair, and other organic material found in dust. They can be found in carpets, bedding materials like pillows or mattresses. They don't bite humans and aren't identifiable with the naked eye.
Bed bugs are considerably larger than dust mites—about the size of an apple seed. They feed on human blood, usually while people are sleeping. Per the name, they're most often found in beds and other areas of the home where people sleep. Bed bugs are easily identified due to their reddish-brown color and oval shape.
When to See a Doctor for Dust Mite Allergy
If you think you may have a dust mite allergy, it's important to speak with your doctor to get allergy tested and find an effective treatment plan. Proper medical advice and treatments can help reduce the severity of your symptoms - and even prevent them from occurring altogether.
Generally, the process starts with testing for allergies to confirm that dust mites are indeed the source of the problem. From there, your doctor can recommend specific treatments such as medication, lifestyle changes, or immunotherapy to help manage the symptoms.
Dust mite allergies can be difficult to diagnose because they share many of the same symptoms as other allergies, such as those to pollen or pet dander. An allergist can use skin-prick tests and blood tests to help determine if dust mites are the source of your allergy.
If you're looking for a convenient and less-intensive method of testing, Wyndly offers at-home test kits for seasonal and environmental allergies, including dust mites. At-home allergy tests are a popular alternative to traditional skin prick tests as they can be taken from home and only need a small finger prick.
If testing confirms that you're dealing with a dust mite allergy, you'll have several potential treatment options to consider. It's usually best to start with home remedies and see how they help. If your symptoms persist or become unmanageable, the following treatment methods may be recommended.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are what you'd find in a typical drug store. They do not require a prescription, however, can only provide temporary relief from allergy symptoms. Common OTC allergy medications include:
- Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines can help reduce the amount of histamine released by the body in response to an allergen.
- Decongestants: Decongestants are useful for those suffering from nasal symptoms as they reduce inflammation and mucus production.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays can help reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief from a stuffy nose.
Prescription medications are typically more powerful than OTC options and can provide more long-lasting relief. They are often recommended when OTC medications do not provide enough help.
Corticosteroids are one of the most popular prescription medications for allergies. These drugs reduce inflammation and may be taken orally or through nasal sprays.
Allergy shots, otherwise known as subcutaneous immunotherapy, is a treatment option that involves introducing small amounts of allergens into the body over a period of time so that the immune system can become desensitized to them. This therapy is administered by a doctor and requires regular visits for months or years.
Sublingual Immunotherapy, or SLIT, is an innovative alternative to conventional allergy shots. Rather than introducing allergens through needles, SLIT can be administered through tablets or drops that are placed under the tongue. SLIT is a popular alternative to allergy shots since it is just as effective but can be safely taken at home.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
Allergies can be a difficult and frustrating condition to manage, however, there are several treatments available that can reduce symptoms. Wyndly provides an innovative, non-invasive solution with sublingual immunotherapy treatment plans. Take our allergy assessment to see if Wyndly is right for you.