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Dust Mite Allergy: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 22, 2024

Dust mite allergy is a common allergy affecting 20 million people in the US. These tiny, microscopic creatures thrive in our homes, particularly in bedding, carpets, and upholstery, causing allergic reactions.

Allergies caused by dust mites can lead to discomfort, inconvenience, and sometimes severe health issues. However, finding clear and trustworthy advice on managing and preventing these allergies can be challenging with so much information.

That's why we've compiled a comprehensive guide on dust mite allergies. In this article, you will learn about dust mite allergy symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention strategies.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Dust mite allergies are caused by tiny creatures known as dust mites, which can be found in most households and may trigger allergies and asthma, particularly in warm and humid environments.
  • Symptoms of dust mite allergies can include sneezing, a runny nose, itchy skin, and even asthma when exposed to a high concentration of dust mites in household dust.
  • To diagnose a dust mite allergy, a healthcare professional may perform a skin prick test, which involves placing a potential allergen on the skin and checking for redness and itching.
  • Dust mites feed on human skin cells and are commonly found in bedding, mattresses, and pillows, making these areas more likely to trigger allergy symptoms, especially at night.
  • Controlling humidity is essential in preventing dust mite allergies, as keeping humidity below 55 percent and using dehumidifiers can reduce their presence in the home.
  • If diagnosed with a dust mite allergy, healthcare providers may recommend medications like montelukast (Singulair) to manage symptoms.
  • Preventive measures, such as using vent fans in bathrooms and the kitchen, repairing water leaks, and maintaining cleanliness, can help reduce dust mite populations in your home and alleviate allergies.

Understanding Dust Mite Allergies

Dust mite allergies stem from microscopic creatures called dust mites, closely related to ticks and spiders. These minuscule arthropods thrive in warm, humid environments, measuring 0.2–0.3 millimeters in length, and cannot be seen without magnification.

They feed on human skin cells, potentially causing allergies and asthma in some individuals. It's crucial to understand that dust mites exist in all households, regardless of cleanliness, with higher populations in warm, humid climates, especially during the summer.

Dust mites primarily consume organic materials like:

  • Skin flakes
  • Animal dander
  • Soiled clothing
  • Feathers

However, they can also exist on synthetic fibers and starches in materials like nylon, rayon, and polyester. The optimal breeding conditions for dust mites include a temperature range of 20–25 degrees Celsius (68–77°F) and a relative humidity level of 75–80%.

💡 Did You Know?

An average adult may shed up to 1.5 grams of skin in a day, which can feed one million dust mites!

Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms

Dust mite allergies can be triggered when people come into contact with the proteins in dust mite feces and body parts. As a result, their immune system releases histamines and other chemicals, leading to several symptoms.

Allergy symptoms vary in severity and may include:

If a dust mite allergy triggers asthma, the following may also present:

A rare dust allergy rash may appear, causing redness, itchiness, or hives. A dust mite skin allergy can make atopic dermatitis symptoms flare.

🗒️ Related Articles

The primary recommendation for individuals managing food allergies that result in hives is to avoid consuming allergenic foods proactively. This involves thoroughly checking ingredient labels and communicating your allergy to restaurant staff.

If you want to learn more about food allergies, you can check out some of our articles:

Causes of Dust Mite Allergies

Dust mite allergies happen when your body reacts to tiny bugs in dust. This reaction is caused by a special allergy called Type 1 hypersensitivity. It all starts with specific cells in your body making IgE antibodies that target the dust mites. These antibodies stick to mast cells and basophil cells.

When exposed to dust mites again, the antibodies bind to these cells, releasing substances that cause allergy symptoms. This process can happen early in life and may lead to problems like runny nose and asthma, known as the allergic march.

The dust mite's droppings can irritate your airways by disrupting the protective barrier in your lungs. This lets the allergens get to special cells that can cause allergies. They release chemicals that attract other cells to your airways and trigger more allergic reactions.

💡 Did You Know?

Individuals allergic to house dust mites can experience acute asthma when exposed to 500 house dust mites per gram of household dust.

Diagnosing a Dust Mite Allergy

Diagnosing a dust mite allergy typically involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and specific tests. Here's how a dust mite allergy is diagnosed:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Your healthcare provider will start by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. Be prepared to provide details about when your symptoms began, their severity, and any potential triggers. During the physical examination, your healthcare provider will also check your vital signs, examine the affected area, and perform additional tests to diagnose your condition.
  • Skin Prick Test: This is the most common test for diagnosing allergies, including dust mite allergies. Tiny amounts of allergen extracts, including dust mite proteins, are applied to your skin using a small needle or plastic device. If you are allergic to dust mites, you will develop a small raised bump or redness at the site.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests, like the specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test, can measure the levels of IgE antibodies to specific allergens, including dust mites. Elevated IgE levels may indicate an allergic reaction.
  • Allergen-Specific IgE Testing: Specific allergen panels can be ordered to test for dust mite allergens. These tests can help identify which dust mite proteins you are allergic to.

❗Remember

A positive skin prick test and blood test for an allergen do not necessarily mean that the allergen caused your symptoms, just like in the case of skin testing. Your doctor will evaluate your test results and symptoms to determine the best course of action for your treatment.

Dust Mite Allergy Treatment

Managing a dust mite allergy primarily involves reducing exposure to these tiny allergens, serving as the initial defense against allergic reactions.

However, it's important to note that completely eradicating dust mites from the environment is not a practical solution. Therefore, medication may become necessary to control the associated symptoms effectively.

Your healthcare provider may suggest one of the following medications to relieve allergy symptoms including:

1. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are a class of medications that block the action of histamines, chemicals released during an allergic reaction in the body. They are particularly effective at relieving sneezing, itching, and running nose.

Some popular over-the-counter antihistamines include:

  • Fexofenadine ® (Allegra Allergy)
  • Loratadine ®(Alavert, Claritin)
  • Cetirizine ®(Zyrtec)

For children, there are antihistamine syrups tailored to their needs. Additionally, prescription antihistamines administered as nasal sprays include:

  • Azelastine ®(Astelin, Astepro)
  • Olopatadine ®(Patanase)

2. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are potent anti-inflammatory medications that can help reduce the body's immune response to allergens. They are known for their ability to control hay fever symptoms while posing a significantly lower risk of side effects than oral corticosteroids. Some of the medications include:

  • Fluticasone propionate ®(Flonase Allergy Relief)
  • Mometasone furoate ® (Nasonex)
  • Triamcinolone ®(Nasacort Allergy 24HR)
  • Ciclesonide ®(Omnaris)

3. Decongestants

Decongestants are medications used to reduce nasal congestion, a common symptom of allergies. They work by narrowing blood vessels in the nasal passages. They are most effective at alleviating nasal stuffiness and can help individuals breathe more comfortably.

Decongestants are available in both oral and nasal spray forms. While some decongestant products are available over-the-counter, stronger formulations may require a prescription.

4. Leukotriene modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers are medications that can help control allergy symptoms by targeting leukotrienes, inflammatory chemicals produced by the immune system.

They are typically used when other medications do not provide sufficient relief for allergy symptoms or in cases of exercise-induced asthma or allergic rhinitis. If you have a dust mite allergy, your healthcare provider may recommend using montelukast (Singulair).

5. Immunotherapy Or Allergy Shots

If medications fail to relieve your dust mite allergy completely, immunotherapy or allergy shots may be considered. This long-term treatment option can help prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

Immunotherapy works by altering your body's immune response to allergens, and it can decrease the duration of the allergic disease. The following are examples of immunotherapy or allergy shots:

  • Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), known as allergy shots, this treatment method has a well-established history of 100 years, proving its effectiveness over time. SCIT involves a series of shots that contain increasingly larger amounts of allergen.
  • Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) offers an injection-free alternative for treating dust mite allergies. Patients place small doses of the allergen under their tongue, enhancing their tolerance to dust mites and diminishing associated symptoms. In 2017, the FDA approved Odactra (SLIT) tablets that treat dust mite allergies. If you want to learn more about SLIT, talk to your allergist.

Foods to Avoid with Dust Mite Allergies

If you have a dust mite allergy, it's essential to be aware that dust mites are not only found in bedding and carpets but can also be present in certain foods. In simpler terms, consuming specific foods might trigger an allergic response to dust mites because these foods contain similar proteins.

Additionally, it's essential to be aware that dust mites and related allergen-producing insects can contaminate certain foods, mainly grain flour.

Some of the most common foods to steer clear of if you have a dust mite allergy include:

  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Fish
  • Grits
  • Flour-based products
  • Oats
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Certain types of nuts, such as walnuts and pistachios

Preventive Measures To Avoid Exposure To Indoor Dust

Measures beyond vacuuming and dusting your house regularly may be needed to eliminate dust mites and their waste. These tiny dust mites can survive deep within the stuffing of upholstered furniture, mattresses, pillows, carpets, stuffed animals, and toys.

Up to 95% of dust mites can remain even after vacuuming. Therefore, it's necessary to take extra measures to eliminate them.

For effective management of a dust mite allergy, it's best to steer clear of the most common allergen triggers. Here are some simple steps to prevent exposure to indoor dust:

  • Allergen-Proof Bedding: Invest in allergen-proof mattresses and pillow covers designed to keep dust mites from infiltrating your bedding. These covers create a barrier between you and the mites.
  • Regular Bedding Cleaning: Wash your bedding, including sheets, pillowcases, and blankets, with hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) every one to two weeks. This will effectively eliminate dust mites and rid your bedding of their allergens.
  • Reduce Humidity: Dust mites flourish in moist surroundings. Maintain indoor humidity levels below 55% using a dehumidifier, especially in damp areas like bathrooms and basements.
  • Ventilation and Air Filtration: Ensure proper ventilation in your home to reduce humidity. Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to trap airborne dust mite particles in your HVAC system.
  • Remove Clutter: Minimize clutter in your home, as it provides hiding places for dust mites. Reduce the number of items on shelves and in open storage.
  • Hard Flooring: Opt for hard flooring, such as wood or tile, rather than wall-to-wall carpeting, which can harbor dust mites.
  • Avoid Down or Feather Bedding: Down and feather bedding can trap dust mites. Use synthetic or hypoallergenic bedding materials instead.
  • Regular Cleaning: Dust surfaces frequently with a damp cloth to prevent dust mite particles from becoming airborne.
  • Air Purifiers: Use HEPA filters to reduce airborne dust mite allergens, especially in bedrooms and other commonly used areas.

Final Thoughts

Managing and living with dust mite allergies can be a persistent challenge for the millions of individuals affected by these microscopic creatures. From the discomfort of sneezing and runny noses to more serious conditions like asthma, dust mite allergies can significantly impact one's quality of life.

While completely eradicating dust mites from the environment is challenging, effective management strategies involve reducing allergen exposure by using allergen-proof bedding and taking medications like antihistamines and corticosteroids.

Immunotherapy or allergy shots can also be viable for those seeking long-term relief. Awareness of cross-reactive foods and extra cleaning precautions are also essential for individuals dealing with dust mite allergies.

FAQs On Dust Mite Allergy

What are the scents that kill dust mites?

Essential oils are packed with compounds that can repel or exterminate insects, dust mites included. Among these oils, clove, rosemary, and eucalyptus are the top choices for combating dust mites.

Can a dust mite allergy cause hives (urticaria)?

Yes, a dust mite allergy can trigger hives. When exposed to dust mite allergens, some people may develop hives, which are raised, red, and itchy welts on the skin.

How do I get rid of house dust mite allergy in my house?

Ensure your bedding is refreshed every week. If washing with hot water isn't an option, consider using the dryer for a minimum of 15 minutes at a temperature exceeding 130°F (54.4°C) to eliminate mites effectively.

Are dust mite allergies the same as hay fever or pollen allergies?

No, a dust mite allergy is triggered by dust mite allergens, while hay fever or pollen allergies are caused by exposure to pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds. The symptoms can be similar, but the triggers are different.

How do you treat dust mite allergies naturally?

To treat dust mite allergies naturally, use essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, and peppermint. Create a mixture of two teaspoons of essential oil, two teaspoons of white vinegar, and water in a spray bottle. Regularly spritz your furniture every 2-3 weeks to deter these unwelcome critters.