Dust Mite Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
After a long day at work or outdoors, we just can’t wait to get home and relax. However, for people with dust mite allergies, spending time indoors can be one of their worst nightmares.
Home is supposed to be somewhere where you can always count on when you need comfort. But this same home can trigger very uncomfortable symptoms for people who are allergic to dust mites.
* Dust Mite Allergies:
The allergy of the dust mite is identified as the response of the immune system in the human body to a certain protein in this insect.
This response stimulates the inflammation of the inner wall of the nasal passages, causing sneezing, ulceration and other signs and symptoms associated with hay fever.
For some people, allergies from dust mites are the main cause of inflammation and constriction of lung airways, ie asthma, resulting in wheezing, shortness of breath, and other breathing difficulties.
Dust mites like a spider are small in size, and difficult to see . The dust mite gets its food from the skin cells, and it lives in the warm moist environment.
In most homes, bedding, ,upholstered furniture and carpeting are ideal environments for dust mites.
Reducing the number of mites in the house reduces the risk of allergies, as well as some medications that relieve the symptoms and help control crisis episodes.
In fact, such symptoms get worse during or immediately after sweeping, vacuuming or dusting. All these cleaning processes stir up dust and this makes it easier for dust mites to be inhaled.
People with dust mite allergies dread spending time indoors – whether it’s in their homes or other people’s houses.
Dust mites can be defined as tiny organisms that feed on house dust and the moisture present in the air. They are among the most common causes of indoor allergies and the symptoms can be present all year round.
The most common symptoms of dust mite allergies include allergic rhinitis. They can also trigger an asthma attack and cause eczema to flare. Therefore, you can only imagine if you suffered from any of this conditions and then you contracted a dust mite allergy – what a nightmares it would be!
Dust Mites and Dirt
Dealing with someone who is allergic to dust mites can be quite complicated especially if you don’t know what to do. Therefore, it is important to understand the behavior and living habits of dust mites.
First of all, they prefer living in temperatures higher than 70F. They also prefer when the
humidity is higher than 70% or 80%. Consequently, they cannot survive in places that are very cold or very dry.
In fact, research has proven that dust mite allergies are always at their peak in July and August in the United States. This is the time when dust mite populations are at their highest due to warm weather.
To get rid of dust mites, it is also important to know that they like to feed on dead skin – both from pets and humans.
As a side note, a human being probably sheds enough skin in a day to feed a rough estimate of a million dust mites.
This means that there are flakes of dead skin in furniture, beds and carpeting and this, in turn, acts like a major attraction for dust mites.
What exactly causes dust allergies?
- Dust mites
- Pet hairs
Although this might sound gross, a single piece of dust can have pieces of a dead cockroach, pet dander, mold spores, dust mites and dead skin.
Besides dust mites, pet dander and cockroaches are also common trigger allergies. Most homes in the United States – especially in southern U.S face a major problem with cockroach waste, body parts and saliva.
More about dust allergies triggers and risk factors
Dust mites: they can also be referred to as bed mites. They are the most common dust allergy triggers found in house dust. As stated earlier, warm and humid places provide the most convenient environment for them to live and multiply.
When the humidity falls too low (less than 50%), they die. Therefore, they can be rarely found in dry climates.
Dust mite particles can easily float on air when one walks on the carpet, vacuums or when the beddings are disturbed. They are the most common cause of asthma especially in children.
A house doesn’t have to be visibly or obviously dirty to trigger a dust allergy. This is because dust mite particles are very tiny and it is not possible to see them with our naked eyes. Moreover, this also means that normal cleaning procedures are not efficient enough to clear out all the dust mites. On the contrary, a vigorous cleaning exercise will only make the symptoms worse.
Cockroaches: Cockroaches are diverse insects and can be found in all types of neighborhoods and buildings. Tiny particles or cockroach body parts also largely contribute to household dust and may also result in a dust allergic reaction.
Mold: Mold can be described as tiny substances (fungi) that produce spores. These spores can easily float on air. If someone who is allergic to mold inhales the spores, they will exhibit the allergy symptoms.
Mold can appear in different ways – and therefore some can be visible while others can be invisible to the naked eye. The most common and visible type of mold is the green mold that grows on bread when it goes bad.
Other types of mold can be found on logs and other fallen plant parts. They can also grow in moist places such as the bathroom or kitchen. In other words, tiny particles of molds can be found on household items and may largely contribute to dust allergies.
Pollen: Pollen can be found on multiple sources such as flowers, trees, weeds and grass. That said, there are different types of pollen and this directly interprets to different types of pollen allergies.
Some people are allergic to pollen from specific grass or only pollen from beech trees. Pollen can also be found in many household items and this makes most people susceptible to a dust allergy.
Pet hair, fur and feathers: No matter how much you love your cat, dog or even bird, if you notice that you keep sneezing or having trouble breathing when you are around it, you might be allergic to it.
Pets produce dander (or skin flakes) and other body fluids such as saliva and urine. When these waste particles combine with house dust, they can result in a severe allergic reaction.
In cases where the pet is a bird, bird droppings and feathers can also cause an allergic reaction when combined with dust from household items.
How to prevent dust mite allergy symptoms?
The most obvious way of preventing dust mite allergies is to minimize your exposure as much as possible. The bedroom is the most vulnerable of all places. A large population of dust mites can be found in beddings, upholstered furniture and on the mattress too. Therefore, it is advisable to wear a mask when cleaning the bedroom.
Tips on how to clean your bedroom
- Make sure to cover all pillows, box springs and mattresses with airtight plastic dust mite covers.
- Always pick pillows filled with polyester as opposed to those filled with feathers or kapok.
- Wash all your beddings in very hot water (above 130F) at least once every week. It is important for the water to be this hot in order to kill the any dust mites that might be present.
- Use a hot dryer to dry the beddings after washing. The main aim of doing this is to subject the dust mite and any other potential allergens under very high temperatures and dry air conditions to destroy them.
If your bedroom is near a basement or a concrete floor, try moving upstairs if possible. This is because concrete is always dump most of the time, and this moist and humid conditions create the best environment for dust mites to thrive.
How to clean the other rooms?
- Instead of sweeping, clean all bare floors with a damp cloth or mop
- When vacuuming, always go for a vacuum with a high-efficiency particular air (HEPA) filter.
- Invest in a N95 filter mask an always wear it when sweeping, dusting or vacuuming
- Always keep in mind that it takes time (more than two hours) for dust particles to settle especially after extensive cleaning. Therefore, whenever possible, do the cleaning when the allergic patient is away, and avoid cleaning the patient’s bedroom at night.
- Vacuum all your carpets at least once or two times every week.
- In cases where the dust mite allergies are severe, you might consider replacing all the wall-to-wall carpeting and switching it with vinyl or hardwood floors. This could come in handy since carpets trap too much dust.
- Wash all your throw rugs in very hot water
- Furniture made out of leather, metal, wood or plaster is always a better option for people with dust might allergies.
- Replace all the drapes with roll-up window shades.
- In case you have curtains in your house, always wash them regularly with hot water every season.
- Discard off any soft toys, stuffed animals, and any other items that are easy targets for dust collection.
Always maintain clean and dry air
If there is anyone with a dust mite allergy, then that home should have a dehumidifier and an air conditioner. The dehumidifier will be useful in maintaining low humidity levels and an air conditioner will help maintain dry air.
When shopping for a HEPA filter, always go for the one with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Also check for this rating in your air conditioning and heating unit. The rating is always listed on the packaging and this makes it easy to trace it before purchasing. Moreover, you need to change the HEPA filter regularly – at least every 3 months.
Always ensure that the humidity levels of your home are maintained below 55%. You can use a hygrometer to measure it. A hygrometer can be purchased at a hardware or most building supply stores. In simple terms, maintaining lean and dry air is essential minimize the population of dust mites and this, in return, will help to significantly reduce the risk of dust mite allergies.
What are the most common symptoms of dust mite allergies?
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Wheezing (breathing with a sharp sound)
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
Diagnosis and Treatment
The best person capable of diagnosing a dust allergy is an allergist. You should expect some detailed questions from the allergist particularly questions regarding your home and work environment, the medical history of your family, and the frequency of your symptoms including how severe they are. You will also be asked about any pets you are in close and regular contact with and the possibility of any other allergy triggers will be explored.
In some cases, the allergy trigger could be so obvious – a good example is if you keep sneezing whenever you are around your pet, then you might be allergic to pet dander. In other cases, the allergist might do a skin test to determine the specific allergen that’s causing the reaction.
During a skin test, samples of the different potential allergens will be introduced to your skin and then the allergist will look for any reaction.
A reaction such as a welt or some swelling with redness around it will be recorded as a positive reaction and it might be proof enough that you are allergic to that substance. Occasionally, a blood test might be used for confirmation.
Once a dust allergy has been identified, your allergist might recommend the following:
- Subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots)
- Oral immunotherapy (allergy tablets)
- Some changes in your household routine
Management of dust mite allergies
The best way to manage dust mite allergies is to avoid or minimize your exposure for as much as possible. Here are more tips on how to minimize or avoid exposure:
- Consider using “mite-proof” cases for your mattresses and pillows
- Keep pets out of the patient’s room (if they are allergic to pets)
- Cover all unrefrigerated food
- Dispose of any food waste is tightly sealed containers
- If you have a roach problem, try using roach traps and also regularly consult with a professional pest control service.
- Keep a HEPA air cleaner always running in the patient’s room
- Always keep the fan running to act as an air filter for the whole house.
- Regularly change the air filter every three months to maintain clean air all year round.
- Service your air and heat conditioning on a regular basis (at least every six months).
- Invest in a good hygrometer and keep measuring the humidity in your room on a regular basis. Maintain it below 55%. A vent fan is useful in getting rid of moisture especially in bathrooms and kitchens. A dehumidifier can also be helpful especially in a sticky or humid climate.
- Repair all water leaks as soon as possible to keep the moisture away.
In conclusion, dust mite allergies symptoms can get very uncomfortable – especially when they are severe. However, you don’t have to wait till your allergy strikes before you do something. Take action and avoid an allergic reaction in the first place before it happens. Keep in mind that thorough cleaning alone is not enough to avoid dust mite allergies. Be aware of the changing seasons and make the necessary adjustments to suppress your symptoms.