All About Dust Mite Allergy

Dust mite allergy is one of those problems that a lot of people have without even realizing it. For example, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) reports that about 20 million US citizens are affected by dust mite allergies today, yet a lot of them are unaware of this problem. The reason for this is that the dust mite allergy symptoms are often mistaken for other health issues or are just taken for granted as something “that happens”.

But what exactly is dust mite allergy and what are its symptoms? Should you be worried about it?

What is dust mite allergy?

Dust mite allergy, or as it is also often called – dust allergy – is the allergy to the corpses and waste (aka excrements) of dust mites in the air. Dust mites themselves are microscopic insects of the spider family and are close relatives to ticks and fleas. They are, however, so small that they are invisible to the naked eye, which is another reason why people often ignore them.

Unlike with ticks and fleas, dust mite bites are not the actual source of the problem as these insects don’t bite living animals and don’t feed on blood. Instead, they feed on the dead skin we shed off which forms a significant percentage of the dust in our homes. It’s the excrements and corpses they live behind that we breathe in and that trigger our allergic responses.

dust mites pictures

Sebastian Kaulitzki/

As with any other allergy, an allergic dust mite reaction happens when our body’s immune system detects the presence of a foreign object such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, etc. The reaction typically consists of the production of proteins (or antibodies) to attack the foreign body which the immune system falsely registers as “dangerous”. The end result is typically sneezing, coughing, trouble breathing, and so on.

Another annoying thing about dust mites is that they can thrive even if you are maintaining a regularly clean and dust-free home, particularly in your bedroom. Even if you are keeping your floors, carpet, drapes, and furniture clean and dust-free, there is always enough dead skin and dust inside your mattress and bed for dust mites to live in. That, together with the warm temperatures and good humidity in most bedrooms can make your bed an ideal home for dust mites even if you are keeping your home clean. Fortunately, that’s why dust mite mattress and pillow covers exist.

What causes allergic reaction and symptoms?

Dust mites are in and of themselves harmless to us, albeit the thought of them can be repulsing. Unfortunately, our immune systems often disagree with that assessment and attack the presence of dust mite waste in our bodies with extreme prejudice. Depending on the individual situation you can either experience a really severe dust mite allergy or a fairly mild one. Additionally, some people’s allergic response can trigger violently from even the smallest presence of dust mites in the air, while others can have just minor symptoms even if there are a googolplex dust mites in their homes. Fortunately, as institutions such as the Mayo Clinic tell us, there are lots of symptoms that can help us determine whether we’re dealing with dust mites or not.

So, what are the symptoms of a dust mite allergy you should be looking for?

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy nose
  • Red or itchy eyes
  • Swollen eyes and skin around them
  • A congested nose
  • Snoring
  • Coarse throat
  • Coughing
  • Facial pain

This first set of symptoms often expresses itself rather mildly which leads a lot of people to ignore them. Millions of people think that their troubles breathing during the night are due to the position they sleep in, the humidity in the air, a supposedly chronic respiratory condition, and so on. And while this is sometimes the case, a lot of other times dust mite allergy contributes quite a bit.

Sadly, there is also a more severe set of symptoms, particularly if the dust mite allergy is contributing to an already existing asthma:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness and/or pain
  • Audible whistling when breathing
  • Sleep interruptions due to coughing and insufficient breath
  • A significant worsening of other respiratory problems such as colds or the flu

If you notice any of these symptoms, dust mite allergies should always be something you consider. Even if you do have another respiratory condition that you know of, making sure that it isn’t made worse by even a minor dust mite allergy is always a good thing to do.

How to recognize whether these symptoms are from dust mites or something else?

As there are a myriad of respiratory problems that can plague us and they all exhibit similar symptoms, it’s not always easy to recognize a dust mite allergy. Regardless, whether you are coughing and having troubles breathing because of a dust mite allergy or anything else, it’s always smart to address the problem and see what you can do about it. As with any other physical ailment, the best first step to take is to go visit a physician.

A consultation with a medical professional should be enough to determine whether you have a respiratory problem that’s unrelated to dust mites such as a different allergy, asthma, the flu, sinusitis, or anything else.

As for signs and considerations that you can use to determine whether or not you have a dust mite allergy yourself, here are some tips:

  • You know that you don’t have any other significant respiratory condition yet you’re having trouble breathing in your home, particularly in your bed
  • Your respiratory distress becomes much less prominent after you clean your home, bedroom, and bed properly
  • Dust mite protective mattress and pillow covers drastically reduce your respiratory problems
  • Even something as simple as changing your bed sheets more frequently decreases your breathing problems
  • If even mild symptoms such as a running nose and redness in the eyes persist for more than a week or two
  • A diagnostician can use a diagnostic test to determine whether you have dust mite allergies. The typical diagnostic test is a simple skin-prick test. A blood test can also be used

What to do when you have recognized dust mite allergy symptoms?

A dust allergy treatment can involve anything from allergy shots for dust mites to mere antihistamines. Generally, a trip to the doctor is always advisable even if the symptoms are minor. If the difficulties persist for more than a week or two, it’s defiantly a good idea to see a doctor. In case of more severe symptoms such as nasal congestion, coughing and difficulty sleeping – call your doctor immediately.

There are also a set of over-the-counter medications that can help for dust mite allergies such as:

  • Antihistamines can relieve symptoms such as sneezing, itching or a runny nose
  • Nasal corticosteroids can help with inflammations
  • Decongestants can help with nasal breathing
  • Immunotherapy (i.e. allergy shots)

With or without medical assistance, however, the most important thing you should do is reduce the number of dust mites in your home. As these microscopic pests are quite persistent you might have to do more than just clean your floors every once in a while although that’s defiantly where you should start. Here are some tips as to what to do:

  • Wash all your bedding in hot water at least once per week – twice if you have to at first
  • Use allergen-proof bedding zippered covers and protectors
  • Use an AC unit or a dehumidifier to keep the relative humidity in your home between 30% and 50% as dust mites thrive better above 50% humidity
  • Use an effective HEPA filter
  • Frequently wash all stuffed toys, couch cushions and other similar items that collect dust easily. Also – buy only washable stuffed toys and couch cushions
  • Dust your furniture frequently with a damp cloth or mop
  • Vacuum your home regularly
  • Remove all household clutter as dust gathers there very easily. Clothes, papers, dishes, and other such items should always be cleaned and put in their places instead of left all around the place
  • Clean your curtains and upholstered furniture frequently
  • Wash your carpet more often or replace it with wood, tile, vinyl or something else

Is there a difference between dust mite allergy and dust allergy?

Even though dust mite allergy is often called just dust allergy and even though the two are definitely related, the simple explanation is that “dust allergies” can include more than just dust mite allergies. People with dust allergies can also react to the pet dander that’s often found in household dust, the mold particles in household dust, or even cockroach corpses, waste and saliva parts that can also be found in dust. Cockroach dust allergies are not as commonly known as dust mite allergies but can be a significant problem for a lot of people, especially in warmer, southern climates.

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