Microscopic bugs that live in our homes can mean huge problems for people with allergies and asthma. Dust mites that feed on dead skin cells are one of the most common environmental allergens.
They are a trigger for yearlong allergies in populations throughout the world. While prevention is the best
However, with a few lifestyle adjustments, certain medication, and a well-cleaned home, dust mite allergies can be controlled.
Fast facts on dust mite allergy
Here are some key points about dust mites allergy. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures that resemble tiny white spiders.
- Dust mite allergies present similarly to other allergies, including seasonal ones.
- A doctor may find it hard to pinpoint a dust mite allergy during an initial exam.
- In many cases, a person can treat allergies to dust mites easily.
All continents of the world have dust mites except Antarctica. They thrive in warm, humid environments, such as someone's home.
Dust mites feed primarily on skin cells. One person sheds enough skin to feed millions of dust mites a day, which means someone's home can have millions of dust mites in it.
The skin cells shed by people and pets can be found deep within fabric surfaces of a home, such as in the carpets and couches.
Dust mites are nearly impossible to get rid of entirely. However, there are steps a person can take to help rid their homes of most of these allergy-causing arthropods.
Dust mites cause allergies in two ways. The first is through their waste. They produce waste, as they eat, as all organisms do. The waste is an allergen for some people.
The second cause of dust mite allergies is the bodies or body parts of these creatures. As dust mites die, their remains stay in place. These remains are the second allergen produced during their life cycle.
Often, a person will experience symptoms of dust mite allergy that include:
- red itchy eyes
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- post-nasal drip
- itchy throat or nose
People who have asthma may find that their asthmatic symptoms are triggered. Because of the similarities with other allergies, it can be hard to distinguish an allergy caused by dust mites.
If allergy symptoms persist year-round, it may be a sign that dust mites are the cause. A doctor will refer someone with allergy symptoms to an allergist for further tests, including:
- Skin prick test (SPT): A practitioner pokes a small hole in the skin and introduces a drop of an allergen. If the person has an allergy to it, the area will become irritated, red and inflamed.
- Specific IgE Blood Test: An allergen is added to a blood sample and the amount of antibodies created is measured. The higher the number, the more likely it is that a person is allergic to the substance.
A doctor will often use both the test results, along with an interview and examination of the person, to diagnose an allergy to dust mites.
There are several treatment options for allergies caused by dust mites. These include:
- Decongestants to help dry up and keep nasal passages clear.
- Antihistamines to help reduce allergic reactions, such as watery eyes.
- Nasal steroids to cut inflammation and open up the nasal passages.
- Leukotriene inhibitors, such as Singulair (montelukast). These block a pathway in the allergy response.
They are useful for people with asthma that is triggered by allergies.
If these medications do not relieve symptoms, a doctor may recommend immunotherapy, which works in a way that is similar to vaccines. With immunology, the body is introduced to a small amount of an allergen over a period of time, making it less allergic to certain substances.
These methods require a long-term commitment to a treatment plan. Options include:
- allergy shots, usually multiple times a month for several years
- Odactra, which replaces shots with a dissolvable tablet placed under the tongue
In addition to over-the-counter and prescription medications, a person may consider other home remedies for allergies. Some at-home treatments include:
- herbal teas with honey to soothe an itchy throat
- herbal combinations that contain butterbur or spirulina
- nasal washes
These treatments focus on relieving and preventing symptoms. There is no cure for the allergic reaction.
As with any allergen, limiting exposure is the best means of preventing an allergy to dust mites. Unfortunately with microscopic dust mites potentially living on any number of surfaces in the home, limiting exposure can be difficult.
Following these tips might help limit exposure and prevent symptoms from flaring:
- Use airtight mattress, pillow, couch, and box spring protectors.
- Use pillows with synthetic fibers.
- Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep humidity at less than 50 percent.
- Use blinds instead of curtains, whenever possible.
- Remove stuffed animals from the home or wash them on hot regularly.
- Wash bedding in hot water and dry on high heat once a week.
- Remove carpet in bedrooms, if possible.
- Wear a mask when dusting and wet-dust regularly.
- Vacuum using double sealed or HEPA-filtered machines.
- Wash rugs in hot water and dry on high heat.
- Mop hard floors regularly.
The best method to rid a home of most dust mites is to clean it regularly. No method will completely remove all dust mites, but many will get rid of a large number of them.