Dust mites are a very common trigger for allergy sufferers year round. It is estimated that nearly 20 million people in the United States have an allergy to dust mites. Dust mites are found in many homes all over the world, taking up residence in household dust.
What Is A Dust Mite?
Dust mites are microscopic creatures. They are related to the spider. Dust mites flourish in warm, humid settings and are commonly found in homes across the world. Dust mites feed on human skin cells that have been shed. Dust mites reproduce frequently, approximately every 3 weeks, so it is easy for a home to become infested with them. Having dust mites in your home does not indicate that your home is not clean. Common, ideal environments for dust mites include:
- Upholstered Furniture
- Curtains and Drapes
What Are Dust Mite Allergies
The dust in our homes is made up of several components such as skin cells, pet dander, tiny fibers, bacteria, food particles and dust mite parts and feces. A dust mite allergy does not refer to an allergy to dust alone. It includes an allergic reaction to the dust mite particles and waste; it is the dust mite debris that causes the allergy to develop. While a dust mite is extremely small, so small that it can only be viewed under a microscope, it can produce nearly 200 times it’s own weight in fecal matter. It is the proteins in the waste that act as allergens.
Symptoms of a dust mite allergy include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Watery or red eyes
- Congestion of the nose
- Post nasal drip
- Pain and pressure in the face
- Itchy nose and throat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Swollen eyes
- Puffy, bluish skin under the eyes
- Rubbing of the nose, typically in children
If a dust mite allergy persists and triggers asthma, a person may also experience:
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Trouble breathing
- Shortness of breath and coughing that interferes with sleep
All allergies occur when your body views the allergen as a threat and reacts by inflaming the nasal passages and lungs. Repeated or constant exposure to the same allergen can cause asthma. Dust gets trapped often in bedding and furniture. Therefore, it is common for homes, especially bedrooms, to inhabit dust mites. While dust usually settles, activities such as walking, cleaning, and vacuuming disturb it. When the dust is disturbed the allergens are released into the air and can easily be inhaled, causing an allergic reaction to be triggered.
The probability of developing a dust mite allergy may be raised by the following risk factors:
- If you have a family history of dust mite allergies, you are likely to also have a sensitivity to dust mite allergens.
- Having been exposed to elevated levels of dust mites early in life may increase your chances of developing a dust mite allergy.
- Young adults and children are more likely to develop an allergy to dust mites.
If you believe you or your child is suffering from dust mite allergies, see a doctor to evaluate the situation. An allergist can determine the cause of your symptoms and come up with a plan to control your allergy symptoms. On your initial visit the allergist will likely ask you many questions to determine when your allergies seem to flare up. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, your allergist will likely perform a few diagnostic procedures, including:
- A skin allergy test will be performed to determine exactly what you are allergic to. During this test, the allergist will take purified allergen proteins and needle them into your skin’s surface. After the droplets are left on for 15 minutes, the allergist will observe your skin for any allergic reactions. If you are allergic to any of the substances, your skin will likely be red, swollen or itchy in that area.
- In cases where skin allergy tests cannot be performed due to certain skin problems or medical conditions, a blood test will be performed. With a blood test your allergist will be able to determine how sensitive you are to any given allergen and to check for the presence of antibodies that would cause allergic reactions to any allergens.
There are many medical treatments for dust mite allergies and other nasal allergies, including:
- Antihistamines. Taking antihistamines will relieve symptoms of an allergic reaction such as sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose. They come in pill or liquid form and many varieties are available by prescription and over-the-counter.
- Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids found in many nasal sprays can reduce nasal inflammation.
- Decongestants. Decongestants can help to reduce the swelling of nasal tissue, making it easier to breathe through your nose during allergy flare-ups. Many decongestant varieties are available at your local drugstore.
- Cromolyn Sodium. This over-the-counter nasal spray can prevent the immune symptoms from releasing chemicals responsible for allergic reactions.
- Leukotriene modifiers. These prescription pills can block the release of immune system chemicals involved with allergy production.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy or allergy shots can be helpful in eliminating symptoms. The goal of the shots is to train your immune system to not view the allergen as a threat and therefore not react. Your allergist will gradually expose you to the allergen, in this case dust mite protein.
There are several home remedies to control allergy symptoms. Many of them are simple and effective. Home remedies include:
- Saline Spray. Using saltwater to rinse your nasal passages will help decrease congestion, postnasal drip and sneezing.
- A Hot Shower. Rising off your hair and body can rid you of accumulated allergens.
- Peppermint Tea. Drinking peppermint tea can help to control congested nasal passages.
- Steam. Breathing in steam can help to reduce the swelling of sinuses.
- Use a dehumidifier. Using a dehumidifier can help to control allergens like pollen, mold and dust.
- Wasabi. Enjoying the Japanese condiment may help to clear sinuses and tear ducts and promote the flow of mucus.
Reducing Dust Allergens
The first defense against dust mite allergies is making modifications to your home. While it is not possible to rid your home completely of dust mites, certain steps may prove helpful, including:
- Washing all bedding weekly in hot water.
- Keeping the home cool and dry.
- Enclosing the mattresses and pillows in allergen-proof covers.
- Removing carpeting from bedrooms.
- Never sleeping on upholstered furniture.
- Using air purifiers
- Using HEPA filters in your home vacuum.
- Clearing clutter.
- Limiting stuffed toys.
Dust mite allergies are very common. Dust mite allergies can be treated by both home modifications and medication. If you suspect you or a family member has a dust mite allergy, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.