Dust mites may not be a particularly well-known pest but make no mistake, they are just as irritating as any other form of household pest.
Dust mites do not bite. In fact, they aren’t physically capable of biting us. Instead of mouths or pincers, they have openings that they use to scoop up their food. This means that unlike bed bugs, dust mites do not feed on human blood. Their main source of sustenance is actually our dead skin flakes.
What are dust mites?
A common household pest, dust mites are tiny, microscopic insect-like arthropods that feed off dust, bacteria, pollen, and human skin tissue. They pull moisture from the air and absorb it through their bodies. They can, therefore, be a very common presence in all areas of our homes. In fact, a mere few feet of space can sometimes hold up to several million of these critters.
They are most heavily concentrated in places which contain discarded flakes of human skin tissue. Because of their minute size, however, they can go undetected for years and therefore are hard to get rid of. At up to only 0.5 millimeter in length, they are invisible to the naked eye and can only be observed by using a microscope. To make it even more difficult to spot them, some are translucent.
One of the few clear signs that dust mites leave is the effect their proximity has on some of us. Some individuals have an allergic reaction to these creatures, often taking the form of eczema flare-ups, while those who suffer from asthma can find their symptoms aggravated by these bugs. Any symptoms tend to get worse after vacuuming or sweeping as this stirs up the mites and their fecal matter, making them more likely to be inhaled in the air you breathe.
Dust mites prefer warm, humid environments to cold, dry ones, where they die easily. Though the males of the species have a short lifespan (a little over a month), the females can survive for up to three months and can lay up to 80 eggs during that time. Dust mites certainly are fast breeders!
Dust mite bites: Signs and symptoms
Even though dust mites can have an effect on us, it is not true to say that this is a result of their bites.
It is here where their contact with our physical bodies begins and ends. Due to the fact that our skin constantly sheds dead cells as it renews itself, we provide these creatures a steady supply of food. Actually, the only reason this myth of dust mite bites perseveres is that dust mites are often blamed for bites that are actually the work of bed bugs.
This is probably because, like bed bugs, dust mites are an elusive, invisible enemy. It is also because most people do not want to believe that their home contains bed bugs due to the association with uncleanliness that those insects possess.
As mentioned, dust mites do have an effect on some people. This effect, however, is an allergic reaction. The reaction is to bits and pieces of dead dust mites as well as their feces. It occurs when these particles are inhaled. They are an allergy like any other allergy and have been blamed for asthma development in children. Unlike seasonal allergies, symptoms of dust mite allergies persist throughout the year.
What are the main signs symptoms of dust mite allergies? The answer is that it differs from individual to individual. Some of the most common reactions are:
- Cold or flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, a stuffy nose, sneezing, cough, etc.
- Eye irritation, including itchy, watery, or red eyes or swollen bags under the eyes
- In some people, the upper pallet of their mouth, their throat, or the inside of their nose becomes very itchy
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema (skin rash)
- For children, a common tell-tale indicator of an allergic reaction to dust mites is frequent nose-rubbing.
As you can see, dust mite allergies can be difficult to distinguish from a cold, the flu, or asthma or allergies caused by a different source. When it comes to bed bug bites, however, there is a clear difference: bed bug bites appear on your skin as raised red spots (often lined up in a row) and bear a slight resemblance to mosquito bites. Additionally, bed bug bites take a while to appear and it usually takes them at least a couple of weeks to fully heal.
Dust mite allergies: Treatment
Prevention is the best form of treatment. The best way to treat mite allergies is to limit the amount of time you are exposed to them by taking measures to transform your house into a dust mite-free zone. These include:
- Regular dusting (with a damp cloth) and vacuuming (with a HEPA filter). (Eliminate the dust, and you eliminate the dust mites!)
- Regular washing of your bedding and other linen (at least once a week). Any linens that can’t be washed can be frozen to kill the mites.
- Treating the home with benzyl benzoate or tannic acid. However, check with your allergist before using chemicals. They can exacerbate some allergies.
Some other methods to eliminate dust mites from your home are:
- Encasing your mattress in a protective cover.
- Dehumidifying (dust mites can’t survive at less than 50% humidity) and lowering the room temperature below the point where dust mites can survive and thrive. This is around 70ºF (21ºC).
- Using synthetic fiber pillows rather than feather or foam.
- Disposing of stuffed or feathered toys as they can also collect dust mites.
- Replacing carpeting with hardwood, tile, or vinyl flooring.
Of course, if your home has already been infested by dust mites and you have started to exhibit signs of an allergic reaction to them, you will have to treat the symptoms. If you want to get some relief, try these over-the-counter medications:
- Antihistamines: An anti-itching medication that helps relieve the symptoms of itchy, irritable nose, mouth, eyes, etc.
- Decongestants: This medication will help to clear up a clogged up nose, chest, and ears.
If you have severe symptoms, set up an appointment with an allergist so you can be tested and treated. They may prescribe stronger antihistamines or even corticosteroids. Immunotherapy is another option to treat allergies.