How can a tiny, microscopic insect like a dust mite be such a problem? While it may be hard to understand, dust mites — which only reach a maximum size of 0.5 mm — cause the most common household allergic reaction in people.
But why? The common house dust mite isn’t parasitic and can’t bite or sting humans. The culprit is the dust mite’s skin, fecal material, and secretions, which contain powerful allergens. Since dust mites feed off the dander or skin cells of people, they live in close proximity to us as we go about our daily lives.
Symptoms of Dust Mite Allergy
If you are allergic to dust mites, you may experience an inflammation of your nasal passages. Other symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, red, or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy nose, roof of mouth, or throat
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pressure and pain
- Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
A child with a dust mite allergy may also frequently rub their nose upward. An allergy to dust mites can worsen asthma as well, leading to increased difficulty with breathing, chest tightness or pain, or an audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling.
You may also experience issues with sleeping because of shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing. Finally, any coughing or wheezing from a cold or the flu may be worsened as a result of a dust mite allergy.
The symptoms of a dust mite allergy are similar to those of a cold. If your symptoms last longer than a week, or if you experience severe nasal congestion, wheezing or difficulty sleeping, you should see your doctor to help you resolve the problem.
Diagnosing and Treating a Dust Mite Allergy
Based on what symptoms are shared with a doctor, if a health care provider suspects a dust mite allergy they will perform a series of allergy tests. These typically include a skin prick test or a blood test.
During a skin prick test, the medical staff will prick a small amount of a purified extract of the dust mite allergen onto the skin’s surface, typically the forearm or the back. They will then observe the spot for any signs of an allergic reaction, like a red, itchy bump.
Some people may not be able to undergo the skin prick test because of a medication they are on or a skin condition that could impact the results. In these cases, a blood test can be used to screen for allergy-causing antibodies.
While it is impossible to completely eliminate dust mites from the home, you can limit your exposure. Steps you can take include:
- Remove wall-to-wall carpeting
- Cover mattresses and pillows with dust mite covers
- Wash sheets and blankets in hot water
- Use a vacuum and HVAC air filters that have been certified to trap dust mites and their waste
- Keep the home’s humidity at 50% or lower with a dehumidifier
To handle your symptoms, over-the-counter medications like antihistamines, corticosteroids, and decongestants can help. These will address the itching, sneezing, runny nose, and inflammation. If over-the-counter medications are not effective, you may benefit from allergy desensitization treatments such as allergy shots.
If you are seeking treatment for asthma or allergies, contact Columbia Allergy, with convenient locations in California, Oregon, Idaho, or Washington. We take a patient-focused approach that views every person as an individual with unique challenges and goals.
This is not medical advice. If you are concerned about your allergies, please contact a medical professional for an assessment.