Can you feel dust mites crawling on you?

Someone in a short-sleeved pink shirt, scratching their arm with curled fingers as if insects were crawling on their skin

The short answer is no. These microscopic creatures measure roughly 0.01 inches (in) long. They’re too small to see and far too small to feel. And although they may hitchhike on your clothing, they don’t live or crawl much on humans.

Dust mites live in our homes and you may get heebie-jeebies at the thought of them. But they prefer to settle down on fabrics that catch and store their favorite meal. That means beds, upholstery and carpet, mainly. Dust mite food is your dead (not live) skin cells, fungi and other microorganisms.

Keep reading to find out what that crawling feeling could be and to debunk some dust mite myths. You’ll also learn how an allergic reaction to them might leave you feeling.

How would I know if I had dust mites?

You probably wouldn’t, unless you have allergic reactions to dust mites. It’s a very common allergy and tell-tale symptoms include sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, congestion, coughing and itchy, watery eyes. Dust mite allergy can also trigger lower respiratory problems.

Feeling like this when you’re indoors could indicate that you have more dust mites in your home than is good for you. Get out the vacuum cleaner regularly and hot-wash your bedding each week to help kill dust mites. And ventilate well to ensure low humidity.

If not dust mites, what is that crawling feeling?

Your brain has special areas for processing data coming in through all five senses, including tactile perception. Whenever you touch something, nerve endings in your skin send information to your brain about the intensity, texture and temperature of the stimulus. Those messages can sometimes go awry or be confusing, as we’ll explain.

Dust mites love poorly
ventilated homes

Blue sky is visible through the condensation on a glass window. This could be the perfect humidity for dust mites to thrive.

Tactile hallucination: An imagined feeling of insects on your skin

The feeling of insects crawling on or under your skin when there are no actual insects is called formication. It comes from the Latin formica, meaning ant. Your brain behaves as if it was processing real signals. Tactile hallucinations of crawling insects can follow certain illnesses, neurological conditions like a stroke or Parkinson’s Disease, and mental health disorders. It can also be a side effect of medication and a symptom of drug withdrawal.

Talk to your healthcare provider because the underlying cause could be serious and the feeling is likely to be uncomfortable, even distressing.

Dust mite rash and the mechanical itch

Proteins or allergens in dust mite waste and shed shell can aggravate atopic dermatitis. This common skin rash, also known as eczema, can cause extreme discomfort as well as itching. People occasionally describe it as feeling as if thousands of bugs are biting them at the same time.

Atopic dermatitis is often worse at night. That’s partly because your bed is a dust mite hotspot, but also because of the touch of night clothes and bedding. This can cause a mechanical itch. It’s a similar physical response to when an insect walks across your skin. But it still isn't real dust mites you can feel crawling on you.

4 more dust mite myths…busted

There's a lot of misinformation about dust mites so let's clear some of that up.

Quote Image

Dust mites are arachnids, like spiders, with eight legs and a round body but no wings. the only flying they do is by aeroplane. They won't bite you either.

Do dust mites fly?

No. They’re arachnids, like spiders, with eight legs and a round body but no wings. The only flying dust mites do is by aeroplane. They’re known to infest aircraft, with those that spend a lot of time on the ground in tropical humid climates most at risk from high dust mite populations.

Do dust mites float through the air?

No, they don’t float, at least not when the bugs are alive. Unlike other indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust mite feces and shed shell are quick to settle. The particles only take 20–30 minutes to come to rest on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. They become airborne again and cause allergy symptoms when household dust is disturbed.

Do dust mites burrow under your skin?

No, dust mites do not burrow into you. You’re mixing them up with scabies mites (Sarcoptes scabiei). The two are related but different bugs entirely.

Scabies mites tunnel into the first layer of your skin to lay their eggs. A scabies infestation can cause a rash and small bumps or blisters on the skin. It usually spreads through close contact with someone who has the condition or with their clothing, towels or bedding. The most common symptom is intense itching and the treatment is usually a lotion that kills the scabies mites.

Do dust mites bite?

No, not only do they not burrow, but dust mites won’t bite you either. Other family members do, such as rodent, bird and chigger mites (also known as red or harvest mites). But dust mites don’t need to. We supply their favorite food without them having to make any effort for it at all. House dust mites eat dead skin flakes from humans and animals. And the average adult human sheds 0.15 ounces (oz) of dead skin every day.

You may want to investigate bed bugs as a possible cause if you’re getting bites at night.

How do you treat dust
mite allergy?

Allergist with a white coat, stethoscope and clipboard, explaining to her patient all about dust mite allergy treatment

How do you treat dust mite allergies?

Dust mites may seem boringly ordinary now but they can still cause discomfort. If you’re allergic to them, your healthcare provider will help you come up with a treatment plan. It’s likely to start with avoiding your allergens (you’ll find more tips on how to do that here).

Allergy medication may help ease your symptoms. Antihistamines block the histamine your body releases in an allergic reaction. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory and can help relieve congestion. Decongestants shrink the blood vessels in your nose, easing stuffiness. But you should only take them for a short time.

It isn’t always possible to avoid dust mite allergens or keep symptoms under control with the short-term relieving medications above. But there is another option, allergy immunotherapy. The idea is gradually to retrain your immune system so that it stops treating the allergen as the enemy. If you’d like to talk to an allergist about it, we can help you find one nearby.


You can’t feel dust mites crawling on you. They’re too small. The bugs may catch a lift on your clothes but they don’t live on humans. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about crawling sensations or think you may have dust mite allergy.

You can't eliminate dust mites entirely but it’s worth trying to prevent dust mites living in your home in such numbers. There are also treatment options to manage and potentially reduce your allergy symptoms.

Just another bug...almost
If it wasn’t for causing allergy symptoms, no one would care about dust mites. They’re too small to trouble humans otherwise. We hope this article has taken away your heebie-jeebies. Do get in touch if you have any feedback or questions about dust mite allergy. You can email klarify or come find us on Facebook and Instagram.
klarify takes allergy science and makes it simple, and we have rigorous process for doing this. We use up-to-date and authoritative sources of information. Medical experts review our content before we share it with you. They and the klarify editorial team strive to be accurate, thorough, clear and objective at all times. Our editorial policy explains exactly how we do this.

Last medically reviewed on 12/13/2023


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