If you have unexplained allergies, a minor trigger could be to fault – dust mites. Dust mites are small creatures that sometimes go unseen in our homes, yet they can have a tremendous influence on our health. These microscopic arthropods are related to spiders and ticks and are usually found in household dust, thus their name.
While they do not bite or sting like other pests, their presence can induce a variety of allergic reactions, causing discomfort and suffering. In this article, we’ll look at dust mites, their relationship to allergies, and, most importantly, how to keep them from turning your house into an allergen hotspot.
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How do dust mites affect our health?
Dust mites, despite their small size, can have a negative impact on our health, especially for individuals who are sensitive or allergic to their waste products. These microscopic organisms feed on dead skin cells shed by people and animals on a daily basis.
Geeta Patel, MD, an assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, said that dust mites are pests that feed on dead skin cells from humans and pets. An average-sized adult can shed up to 1.5 grammes of skin every week, supplying dust mites with an abundant food source. While they are not parasites and do not physically bite or damage us, their waste products cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.
With regards to its relation to allergies, hen someone who is allergic to dust mites comes into contact with the allergens, their immune system creates antibodies known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These specific IgE antibodies attach to dust mite allergens, causing histamines and other substances to be released. Histamines are responsible for typical allergic symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and inflammation.
What are dust mite allergies?
Dust mites excrete waste products that contain allergies, such as faecal pellets and shed exoskeletons. These allergens are proteins that become airborne and are easily inhaled when disturbed by activities such as dusting, vacuuming, or simply moving about in bed. The most common dust mite species responsible for allergies are Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae.
These allergies occur when our immune system overreacts to proteins contained in dust mite waste products. Most people have no adverse responses when exposed to these allergies. However, in those who are allergic, the immune system recognises these proteins as hazardous intruders and mounts a defensive response.
What are the symptoms of dust mite allergies?
For individuals with dust mite allergies, exposure to these allergens can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Common signs of dust mite allergies include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Sinus congestion
- Itchy, red, or watery eyes
- Post-nasal drip (a flow of mucus from behind your nose that goes into your throat)
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy nose, mouth, or throat
- Itchy skin
- Trouble sleeping
Patel added that a dust mite allergy can cause or worsen other medical conditions such as allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis or eczema.
Where do dust mites thrive at home?
Clifford Bassett, MD, an allergy and clinical immunology specialist and a clinical associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said that dust mites can be found in nearly 85% of homes. Plus, they’re resilient and last for months.
- Bedding. Your bed is one of the most inviting places for dust mites. They prefer to live in mattresses, pillows, blankets, and sheets because they have easy access to shed skin cells.
- Carpets and rugs. Dust mites find carpets and rugs to be a cosy home.
- Upholstered Furniture. Sofas, armchairs, and other upholstered furniture provide a great habitat for dust mites, particularly in living spaces where people spend a lot of time.
- Curtains and drapes. These can trap dust and skin cells, creating a breeding environment for dust mites, especially if they are rarely cleaned.
According to Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist and immunologist with the Allergy Asthma Network and a clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, dust mites like warm, moist, and humid environments.
Who are prone to dust mites?
Although dust mites can impact everybody, some people are more prone to developing allergies than others. People who have a family history of allergies, asthma, or eczema are more susceptible to dust mite allergens.
Furthermore, young children and the elderly may be more vulnerable since their immune systems are more sensitive or compromised. It’s critical to recognise dust mite allergy symptoms, especially if they continue or worsen over time. If you or a family member suspects they have dust mite allergies, get medical assistance and have particular allergens tested.
Why do some develop allergies while others don’t?
Allergies are caused by a complex interaction of hereditary and environmental variables. You are more prone to develop allergies, including dust mite allergies, if you have a family history of allergies, asthma, or eczema. However, genetics alone do not provide the complete picture.
For people who do have allergies, sensitivities, and conditions like asthma, Patel explained that dust mites can trigger reactions with symptoms like sneezing or coughing. “Not everyone is allergic to dust mites, but dust mite allergy is very common, affecting an estimated 20 million people in the U.S.,” she said. “For those who are sensitive, symptoms can vary from very mild to more severe.”
Patel also said that dust mites have proteins in their feces that “are so small that they become aerosolized and we all inhale them—which is why they are called aeroallergens.”
Additionally, environmental variables are also important in the development of allergies. Growing up in a relatively sterile environment with limited exposure to allergens may deprive the immune system of the stimuli needed to acquire tolerance, increasing the likelihood of having allergies later in life.
9 tips to prevent dust mite allergies at home
The truth is, dust mites cannot be completely eliminated from your environment since they feed on dead skin cells from humans and pets. However, experts say there are numerous things you can do to limit the amount of mites in your house and reduce the health risks associated with their exposure.
Wash Bedding and Linens in Hot Water. To successfully kill dust mites and remove allergies, wash your bedding, including sheets, pillowcases, and blankets, in hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) on a regular basis.
Use Allergen-Proof Mattress and Pillow Covers. Use allergen-proof covers to encase your mattresses, pillows, and duvets. These impermeable coverings form a barrier between dust mites and your bedding, lowering allergy exposure while you sleep.
Stuffed Toys. If you or your children have stuffed toys, wash them on a regular basis or freeze them overnight to eradicate dust mites. Avoid putting teddy animals on the bed.
Implement Proper Ventilation. To lower indoor humidity, ensure that your home has adequate ventilation. Expel moisture with exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens, and open windows when the weather permits.
Use Dehumidifiers. Dehumidifiers should be used in areas with high humidity levels, such as basements or bathrooms. Aim for an indoor humidity range of 30% to 50%.
Select HEPA-Filtered Vacuum Cleaners. HEPA filters effectively catch microscopic dust mite particles and allergens, preventing them from being discharged back into the air.
Dust with a Damp Cloth. Instead of dry dusting, clean surfaces with a damp cloth. Dry dusting can agitate allergens and disseminate them throughout the air, whereas moist dusting retains the particles and keeps them from becoming airborne.
Go for hardwood. Hard surfaces such as hardwood, tile, or linoleum flooring are less prone to harbour dust mites than carpets, making it easier to maintain the living space clean and allergen-free.
Consider Leather or Vinyl Furniture. Upholstered furniture has a higher concentration of dust mites and allergens than leather or vinyl alternatives. Choose furnishings made of these materials if at all possible.
4 natural solutions for dust mites
The good news is there are natural techniques for minimising and controlling dust mite populations in your home, and you can find them in your cupboard. Here are some natural cures and cleaning procedures for removing dust mites:
Eucalyptus Oil. Eucalyptus oil contains eucalyptol, a chemical that has been demonstrated to have anti-dust mite effects. In a spray bottle, combine a few drops of eucalyptus oil with water and sprinkle your beds and upholstered furniture.
Tea Tree Oil. Another essential oil with antibacterial characteristics is tea tree oil. When washing linen, add a few drops of tea tree oil to help fight dust mites.
Vinegar Spray. In a spray bottle, combine equal parts white vinegar and water and use to clean surfaces. The acidity of vinegar aids in the breakdown of dust mite excrement and allergies.
Baking Soda Sprinkle. Sprinkle baking soda on carpets and upholstered furniture, leave it for a few hours, and then vacuum it up. Baking soda helps neutralize odours and can absorb moisture that dust mites thrive on.
You can also consider employing professional pest control services specialising in dust mite elimination if you have severe dust mite infestations that are difficult to control using domestic means.
Ditch the Dust Mites to Prevent Allergies
Dust mites may be imperceptible to the human eye, but their presence can have serious consequences for our health, especially for those who suffer from allergies. To minimise dust mites in your home and symptoms of dust mite allergy, experts recommend vacuuming, cleaning, and washing your bedding frequently. If these measures do not work for you, see a board-certified allergist to get help managing your symptoms.