Dust mite allergy can make you feel like you’ve got hay fever all year round. Your nose is blocked and it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep, even when the pollen count goes down. Dust mite allergy is one of the most common forms of allergy the world over. There aren’t many places you won’t find the pesky bugs. So here’s all you need to know about dust mite allergy, the symptoms and how to manage them.
Dust mites normally pose no threat, unless you’re allergic to them. And then they’re a real pain. The tiny creatures live in all our homes and in indoor public spaces. So dust mite allergy can be very hard to get away from.
You can find most house dust mites in your bedroom, especially on mattresses, pillows and bed linen. But they could be anywhere in your home. Dust mites love upholstered furniture, carpets, rugs, curtains and even soft toys.
Dust mites don’t like arid places. They need high humidity. The bugs will stick around all year in the right conditions but in some climates a dry summer could give you a welcome break from symptoms.
There also tend to be fewer dust mites at altitude – for instance in the Rocky Mountains or the Alps. That’s because indoor humidity tends to be lower there, not because the bugs get breathless. Clearly higher spots in the steamy tropics are the exception.
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Dust mite allergy is not a reaction to the mites themselves, but to their waste and shed skin. A single mite produces as much as 200 times its body weight in feces in the course of its short life.
The particles of waste are very small; they measure about 20-25 μm (microns), roughly the same as a pollen grain. So you can breathe them in and anything you do in your home will disturb them. Turn your head on the pillow, make your bed, walk across the room or cuddle a teddy bear and it sends up a cloud of allergens. The particles then take about 20-30 minutes to settle back down again.
Typical symptoms of an allergy to dust mites include:
An allergy to dust mites can cause skin reactions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) or a skin rash. Both are caused by your body reacting to the tiny waste particles not by the dust mites themselves – luckily they don’t bite!
Your immune system identifies the mites’ waste particles as dangerous intruders and activates defense mechanisms. The tissue lining your nose becomes inflamed causing symptoms of allergic rhinitis such as a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing. That has a knock-on effect.
dust mite allergy shows up as eczema, repeated flares of the rash can be very itchy and irritating. That can interfere with sleep too.
Allergy to dust mites is not a trivial problem. As you can see, it can have quite an impact on your life.
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To find out for certain if you have dust mite allergy, you’ll need to visit your health care provider.
Be ready to describe your symptoms, how bad they are and how long they last, and your medical history. Your health care provider might then refer you to a specialist for more tests, such as a skin prick test or a blood test, to help make the diagnosis.
Once diagnosed with house dust mite allergy, your focus will most likely be on how best to manage your symptoms, as well as minimizing your exposure to dust mite waste particles.
If you have eczema, there are skin care regimes designed to soothe and moisturize. Meanwhile antihistamines and corticosteroid creams may help control itching and inflammation.
Always follow your doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice as well as the instructions in the patient information leaflet when taking medicines to relieve dust mite allergy symptoms.
As well as taking medications to ease symptoms, people with dust mite allergy should try to avoid contact with dust mites and their waste products.
The tiny creatures can be found all over the home – but particularly on bedding, carpets, furniture and stuffed toys. So bedrooms are a hot spot. Dust mites thrive in warm, humid conditions; also why they love bedrooms as the covers trap sweat and the moisture in your breath.
Trying to get rid of dust mites may mean adapting your home; for instance, replacing carpets with wooden floors. And there are steps you can build into your household routine to help too.
Dust mite allergy is a pest. But there are practical steps that may help you live more comfortably and benefit your long-term health. Don’t let the pest win.
Dust mites don’t drink water. Instead, they get their liquid by absorbing moisture from the environment through their front leg glands. They love warm damp climates and conditions. That’s why it’s really important to keep humidity levels down in your home when you have dust mite allergy.
A dehumidifier will help keep relative humidity levels down to a steady 35% to 50%, and so create an unfriendly environment for dust mites. Ideally, you’d have one for each different area of your home. But if you can only buy one, put it in your bedroom for the greatest effect.
A hygrometer is a useful tool if you have an allergy to dust mites. It measures the relative humidity in your home so you can keep track of humidity levels.
Dust mites are particularly fond of bedding; they breed in the fibers of mattresses, pillows, duvets and sheets. Also, dust mites feed on dead skin particles. That’s another reason why they love your bed; you shed a lot of skin when you’re in one place for a long time.
It’s a good idea to use mite-proof covers on your bedding. These are made of very tightly woven fibers. They seal in the waste particles so you don’t breathe them in while you’re asleep.
When you have dust mite allergy wash your bedding every week at 120F to get rid of dust mites. But washing at a lower temperature can also remove a lot of the dust mites. Put stuffed animals that cannot be washed at higher temperatures in the freezer for at least 12 hours once a month and then wash at the recommended temperature.
Is it right for me?
Household chores are super boring but they’re essential for keeping the amount of dust mites down.
But try not just to stir the dust up more than you have to. Otherwise you’ll end up breathing in even more of the allergens you’re trying to get rid of. Use a damp cloth instead of a duster and vacuum regularly.
When you have dust mite allergy all surfaces of upholstered furniture should be vacuumed regularly. It takes more than the average vacuum cleaner to do the job properly. A regular machine may make your floors look nice, but it will only remove a small portion of dust mites and might actually blow the particles back into the air.
To attack dust mites and their allergens effectively, start by using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. These can remove a high proportion of the smallest particles and trap them in the dust collector.
Dust mite allergy is a pest. But there are steps you can take that may help you live more comfortably with dust mite allergy. And that can benefit your long-term health too. Talk to your health care provider for a diagnosis first. They will help you consider the treatment options for dust mite allergy. And follow the simple steps above to cut the level of dust mites and allergens in your home. Don’t let the pest win.
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, thank you. And we’d love to know what you think. Have you had symptoms of dust mite allergy? If so, have you tried any of the tips we’ve suggested? Or maybe there are some of your own you’d like to tell others about? Head over to our Facebook page or email us and share your story.