Dust mites vs scabies mites

Young woman with brown hair in bed scratching her arm – could the nocturnal itching be caused by dust mites vs scabies mites?

Dust mites are microscopic eight-legged critters that feed on flakes of skin and thrive in warm, humid conditions. Scabies mites, or Sarcoptes scabiei, are a parasite from the same family which burrow into the skin and lay eggs. Both can cause allergic itching but only the latter gives you scabies.

House dust mite waste is one of the most common triggers of year-round allergies and lower respiratory symptoms. Scabies mites also cause allergic reactions, but they affect fewer people because they’re not found in as many homes.

In this article we’ll compare dust mites with human-infesting scabies mites. We’ll look at their differences, signs and symptoms, treatment options and how to reduce contact with both.

What are scabies mites?

The common name, human itch mite, says it all. Scabies infestations can cause intense itching and a skin rash. It’s caused by an allergic reaction to the proteins and feces the bugs leave under your skin in their burrow. Scabies mites rarely transmit disease but there is a risk of secondary skin infections.

Scabies is incredibly contagious and affects an estimated 300 million people every year. It’s more common in poor countries and tropical climates. But you’ll find scabies mites in cities and communities all over the world where people live in close contact with each other. Children’s nurseries, schools, university halls of residence and nursing homes are all potential hotspots.

You may have seen animals with mange. That’s scabies too but from a different type of mite. It may hop onto you from your cat or dog, burrow in and cause itching. But it can’t reproduce and will die in a couple of days.

What could be causing my skin rash?

A doctor smiles at a woman in glasses sat on an examination bed as they discuss her allergy skin rash.

House dust mites vs scabies mites: 4 ways to tell the difference

These bugs share a lot of characteristics but there are important differences too:

When you get symptoms

Dust mites Scabies mites

Dust mite allergy symptoms can affect you all year round because the tiny bugs live and shed their waste, which triggers allergy, in your home.

Symptoms can be subtle and may take four or more weeks to develop, during which you can spread scabies. If you’ve had it before, severe skin irritation can appear much sooner, often 1-4 days after exposure.

Scabies mites or dust mites: Only one of them bites

Dust mites Scabies mites

Dust mites don’t bite. They feed off tiny flakes of shed human skin.

Scabies mites do bite. They bore under the skin to lay eggs in tunnel or comma-shaped burrows up to 0.4 inches (in) long. Favorite places are between your fingers, around nipples, in your armpit or belly button.

Where you come into contact with these bugs

Dust mites Scabies mites

Dust mite populations may be found in mattresses, carpets, bed linen, furniture and stuffed toys. They like the same conditions and environment that people do and it’s impossible to eliminate them entirely.

Scabies mites mostly travel from person to person. Usually contact needs to last 5-10 minutes; a quick handshake or hug isn’t enough. You can also pick up scabies mites by sharing clothes, towels or bed linen – even the same home.

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Who’s most affected by scabies vs dust mites

Dust mites Scabies mites

If anyone in your family is allergic to house dust mite particles, then you may be at a higher risk of reacting too. Dust mite allergy tends to develop in childhood and at puberty and last into adulthood.

Scabies is more common among children and young adults. Children spend hours close together in childcare or school, while young adults are more likely to spread it to each other through sexual contact.

Dust mite vs scabies symptoms

Dust mites and scabies can both cause itchy skin and skin rashes. Scabies has more skin related symptoms than house dust mites. But dust mite allergy has other symptoms too, which may help to differentiate between the two.

Dust mites Scabies mites
  • Itchy skin
  • Skin reactions, such as rashes or eczema
  • Itchy eyes (which may feel gritty)
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Dry or sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Itchy skin – this can be very intense, especially at night
  • Skin reactions, including a pimple-like rash, tiny blisters or scales
  • ‘Hot spots’ may include between the fingers or on the wrists
  • Skin sores – caused by scratching
  • Thick crusts of skin – this could be a symptom of a severe form of scabies called crusted (Norwegian) scabies. It tends to happen in people who have a weakened immune system.

Guide to dust mite allergy treatments

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

Longer-term health effects

Dust mite allergy may go on to cause lower respiratory symptoms. In tropical climates, scabies can be a risk factor for serious conditions including heart disease and kidney disease.

Getting a diagnosis for your itch

Speak to your healthcare provider if you’ve got a rash and aren’t sure what’s causing it. Note down all your symptoms, how long they last and your medical history. They’ll also want to know if allergies run in your family.

Dust mite allergy can be identified using allergy testing, such as skin prick or blood tests. The results need to be interpreted by your healthcare provider.

Scabies is usually diagnosed by sight but it can be difficult to identify because it can look like other skin infections such as eczema. Your healthcare provider will look for evidence of the burrows, mites, mite eggs or fecal matter. They may take a skin scraping to do this.

Treatment for dust mite allergy and scabies

Antihistamines and corticosteroids can ease dust mite allergy symptoms. They can also be given to treat the severe itching, redness and swelling associated with scabies. Some medications are available as over-the-counter, while others need a prescription. There is also a long-term treatment option for dust mite allergy, particularly if you don’t respond well to short-term symptom relieving medications. Ask your healthcare provider about allergy immunotherapy.

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Our top anti-dust mite laundry tips

Managing a scabies infestation means treating the person affected and all their close contacts, for instance their family. Permethrin or crotamiton creams and lotions to kill scabies mites are available with a prescription from your healthcare provider. Crotamiton is only suitable for adults. Permethrin or sulfur ointment may be used in children. Read the medicine information leaflet carefully before using it.

How do I get rid of scabies mites and house dust mites?

Try to keep humidity levels in your home below 50%. Everyday activities such as showering and drying clothes indoors, even breathing, causes levels to fluctuate so you may need to use other methods of controlling dust mites.

Washing bed linen once a week at the highest temperature possible should reduce the dust mite population and allergen levels in your bed. It’s also effective for decontaminating bedding, clothes and towels used by someone with itch mites.

Scabies mites can’t survive more than three days away from human skin. So quarantine anything you can’t wash for at least 72 hours. You can also vacuum furniture and carpets in rooms used by affected people to help reduce itch mite populations.


Dust mites feed on flakes of human skin while scabies mites bore into your skin to lay eggs. Both can cause itching and skin reactions. The timing and presentation of symptoms may help to determine if you have had contact with either.

Treatment includes antihistamines and corticosteroids to ease itching, redness and swelling. Other prescription-only creams and lotions are available to kill scabies mites. Meanwhile, both types of mite can be reduced in quantity by hot washing contaminated fabrics. Few dust mites can withstand temperatures of 120-130°F14.

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Last medically reviewed on 13/12/2023