Dust mite allergies are an allergic reaction to tiny bugs that commonly live in homes. The symptoms of dust mite allergy are sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose. Many people also experience signs of asthma like wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Dust mites are tiny creatures about a quarter of a millimetre long, they can’t be seen with the naked eye. They eat human skin cells, humans shed about 1.5g of dead skin per day which can feed up to 1 million dust mites. They like to live in warm (20 – 25°C), humid environments. Dust mites don’t drink water; they absorb it from the air around them. They live in bedding, pillows, clothes, soft furnishing, curtains and carpets which are easy to burrow down into and hold moisture well. Dust mites don’t bite but they are allergenic. People with dust mite allergies are most often allergic to the proteins found in their droppings but they can also be allergic to the body parts of the dust mite. They produce about 20 droppings per day and these continue to cause allergies even after the dust mite has died.
Dust mites are a common allergy among people with asthma. Over 50% of people with allergic asthma have dust mite sensitivity. It’s also common in people with eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis. If you or your child is allergic or sensitive to dust mites, reducing the number of dust mites in your home can reduce the allergy symptoms. There are steps you can take to reduce the number in your home.
Bedding and pillows are common spots for dust mites, and since you spend an average of 8 hours there a night, the bed is a great place to start.
Diagnosis of dust mite allergy
Medical History: Your healthcare provider will take a detailed medical history. Its good to keep note of when symptoms occur and what you were doing at the time. For example are symptoms are worse when you go to bed or while cleaning when dust mite allergens would be temporarily airborne.
Allergy Skin Test: Tiny amounts of purified allergen extracts — including an extract for dust mites — are pricked onto your skin’s surface. This is usually carried out on the forearm, but it may be done on the upper back.
Allergy blood test: A blood test that screens for specific allergy-causing antibodies to various common allergens, including dust mites.
How to get rid of dust mites
Allergy proof bed covers. Zipped dust proof covers for pillows, mattresses and duvets can help reduce dust mites. The covers are made with a material with pores that are too small to let dust mites or their droppings through. You can also use plastic or vinyl covers but these can be uncomfortable to sleep on.
Silk filled duvets are excellent for people with asthma and dust mite allergies as they are naturally hypoallergenic. They are resistant to dust mites, mildew and dander. The silk strands don’t trap dust mites like cotton and other fibers.
Regular washing of bed clothes can help but some studies show that in order to have any effect, chemicals called acaricides need to be included. Weekly washing in at 60°C can kill the mites and remove the allergens. If the bedding can’t be washed hot, put it in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at a temperature above 60°C to kill the mites and then wash it to remove them and the allergens. Freezing the bedding for 24 hours can also kill the mites but won’t remove the allergens.
Getting rid of fabrics that cannot easily be washed such as carpets can help. If possible replace with tile, wood, linoleum or vinyl flooring. Carpets can have a lot of dust and dirt permanently embedded into it that no amount of vacuuming can get out. Dust mites burrow down deep into the carpet and can hold on fast. It’s virtually impossible to vacuum up live dust mites. If you decide not to take up carpets, regular cleaning is advised. Steam cleaning has been shown to be more effective than cold shampooing. Don’t wash carpets with hot water as this can cause the carpet to be damp at the base and provide an ideal environment for the dust mites. Dry cleaning rugs will kill dust mites and is also good for removing dust mites living in fabrics. Roll type shades on windows can be used on windows instead of on curtains. Consider replacing other dust-collecting furnishings in bedrooms, such as upholstered furniture.
Buy washable toys and wash them frequently as with the bedding. Freezing the toys for 24 hours and then washing it at lower temperatures can also be done in cases where the toy can’t be washed at a high temperature. Asthma and allergy friendly toys can be bought which don’t contain any filling or fabric known to aggravate asthma and they are made to withstand frequent washing and freezing.
Remove dust. Use a damp cloth or oiled mop to dust all surfaces and mop floors regularly. Damp cloths prevent the dust from becoming airborne and resettling.
Wear a mask while cleaning: Face masks will limit your exposure to dust mite allergens that get stirred up in the process.
Get rid of clutter. Anything that collects dust also collects dust mites. It’s a good idea to get rid of as much clutter as possible such as knickknacks, books, magazines and newspapers from placing that you spend the most time such as bedrooms and living rooms.
Special HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum cleaners can help prevent mites and their waste from escaping once they have been vacuumed up. Vacuum regularly but if your allergies are severe, stay out of the area being vacuumed while someone else does the work. Wait about two hours before going back in the vacuumed room.
Keeping the humidity in your home low can also help as dust mites don’t like to live in low humidity environments. A dehumidifier or air conditioner can help with this. Maintain a relative humidity below 50% in your home. A dehumidifier or air conditioner can help keep humidity low, and a hygrometer (available at hardware stores) can measure humidity levels.
A HEPA filter with your home heating unit or air conditioner can help trap dust mites from your entire home. Air purifiers can only filter the air in a limited area.
Treatment of Dust mite allergies
The first treatment for controlling dust mite allergy is avoiding dust mites as much as possible. However, it’s impossible to completely eliminate dust mites from your environment. Dust mites can be found all over your house, on floors and in soft furnishings, not just in the bedroom. Measures to reduce dust mites in your home will reduce the levels but not get rid of them completely. Reducing dust mites is often enough to reduce allergy symptoms significantly but sometimes, reduction is not enough to show any noticeable difference. Apply an effective allergen barrier balm around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollens and other allergens and help prevent a reaction. Allergen barriers are available as balms or gel nasal sprays. If the above techniques don’t provide sufficient relief your doctor may direct you to take one of the following medications to control symptoms
- Nasal decongestants,
- Nasal irrigation
Image: Flickr/Tina Franklin
Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Allergy Lifestyle Limited (t/a) Allergy Lifestyle) uses reasonable endeavours to check the accuracy of information provided however no warranty is given that they are error-free.