What Is Dust Mite Allergy?

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Dust mites, the most common of which are Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae, commonly worsen nasal allergies and asthma. They can cause a skin rash, although the skin reaction is less common than the respiratory effects. These mites don't bite, but exposure can trigger an allergic reaction or symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, in people who are susceptible. Treatment includes avoiding them if possible or using medication to treat or prevent their effects.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of dust mite exposure can be mildly to moderately bothersome, but they can also severely interfere with your comfort and quality of life. Generally, the more dust mite exposure you have (a high amount and/or for a long time), the more severe your symptoms will be—although some people have very powerful allergic reactions or asthmatic reactions even with minimal exposure.

Allergic symptoms can include nasal allergies and skin allergies and tend to begin immediately upon exposure. While asthma symptoms may also start right away, they may take longer to develop than allergic effects.

If you have frequent or near-constant dust mite exposure, you might never experience full relief without treatment.

Symptoms of a dust mite allergy can include:

  • Red and/or watery eyes
  • Itchy nose or eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion and/or runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Itchy areas on the skin
  • Red bumps on the skin

You can have all or some of these reactions upon exposure to dust mites. If you are allergic to dust mites, your symptoms will likely be similar each time your allergy acts up.

Asthma symptoms may involve any of the following:

Generally, you will only have asthma symptoms in response to dust mites if you have asthma. Your asthma can generally worsen, with mild wheezing and coughing, or the dust mites might trigger an asthma attack, with extreme shortness of breath and chest tightness.

Causes

Dust mites are highly prevalent in places like homes, hotels, and hospitals because they reside in fabrics and dust. They feed on pet dander and dead human skin, which tends to accumulate in dust, mattresses, carpet, and upholstered furniture.

The tiny particles of waste material and decomposed dust mite bodies can become airborne and are easily inhaled into the lungs. While it might sound gross, these materials aren't actually harmful to your body and many people don't experience any adverse effects from dust mite exposure.

But dust mites and the debris they leave behind are allergens, which means they will trigger a harmful immune reaction for people who are allergic to them. Some people have a an allergic reaction consisting of respiratory symptoms, while others develop a skin allergy.

Asthma triggers, like dust mites, specifically induce inflammation and bronchospasm (sudden narrowing of the airways) in the lungs in people who have asthma.

Inflammation

For those who are susceptible, dust mites induce an immune reaction. They stimulate the production of IgE antibodies, interferons, and interleukins, which are immune proteins, and T-cells and eosinophils, which are immune cells.

These immune proteins and cells promote inflammation in asthma and allergies, resulting in the symptoms of these conditions.

Research suggests that early exposure to dust mites at a young age might increase the risk of asthma in children, especially children who have a genetic predisposition to asthma.

Diagnosis

Identifying an allergy or asthmatic reaction to dust mites can take some time. This is because many other allergens in the environment that are just as prevalent as dust mites can trigger your symptoms, including fragrances, plants, and pets.

During your evaluation, you might also be tested for a diagnosis of allergies or asthma if your symptoms suggest these conditions but you haven't been diagnosed with them before.

History and Physical Examination

Your medical evaluation will include a medical history, physical examination, and possibly diagnostic tests as well. Your medical history includes an assessment of your symptoms and how often they occur, as well as how long it takes them to resolve. Your doctor will also take into account whether you have other triggers that precipitate the same symptoms.

Your physical examination can include an evaluation of your nasal passages and throat, as allergies tend to cause swelling or redness in these areas. Your doctor will also listen to your lungs. Many people with asthma have wheezing breath sounds that can be heard with a stethoscope, even when you're not having symptoms.

Allergy Testing

You might also have allergy testing to help identify the substance that is causing your allergy or asthma symptoms. Allergy testing includes skin testing, in which you would have exposure to common allergens on different areas of your skin so your allergy doctor can evaluate your response.

Blood tests may also be done as part of allergy testing. With this type of test, your inflammatory markers, like IgE antibodies, eosinophils and T-cells, would be measured before and after exposure to a possible allergen. And evaluation of asthma allergens may involve pulmonary function testing (PFT) before and after exposure to the allergen.

Keep in mind that allergy testing, while usually harmless, can result in a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction. These tests must be done under medical supervision so that you can receive prompt medical care with medication or respiratory assistance if exposure to an allergen causes you to have respiratory distress.

Treatment

Managing a dust mite allergy involves avoiding them and reducing dust mites and their debris in your surroundings. Treatment of dust mite-induced dermatitis (skin irritation), nasal allergies, or asthma involves taking medication that decreases the immune response.

Medical Treatment

Using your allergy medicine or maintenance asthma treatment will help modify your immune reaction to allergens. These medications work by reducing the body's overactive immune reactivity to triggers in general, but not specifically to dust mites.

Vitamin D and probiotics, which help maintain healthy immune function, may be helpful in reducing the effects of dust mite allergy as well.

Allergy Shots

In research trials, immunotherapy (allergy shots) administered sublingually (under the tongue) or subcutaneously (directly under the skin) has been found to reduce symptoms of dust mite allergy in children and adults, with improved quality of life measures.

Immunotherapy is more targeted in its action than the medications typically used for preventing symptoms of asthma and allergies in that it mediates the body's response to a specific allergen—like dust mites—rather than reducing the immune response in general, the way corticosteroids do.

Getting Rid of Dust Mites

There are a number of things you can do at home to get rid of dust mites that may be triggering your asthma.

  • Dust mites tend to thrive in high humidity environments, and maintaining low humidity, with temperature control and/or a dehumidifier has been shown to reduce dust mite density.
  • Making sure that you frequently wash bedding in hot (at least 130 degrees) water is another way to kill off the allergy and asthma-triggering bugs.
  • Additionally, it is a good idea to encase bedding, mattress, and pillows in impermeable covers that prevent dust mites from taking up residence in your bed.
  • Replacing carpet with wood or synthetic flooring is another mite controlling option.
  • When cleaning, use a damp cloth as opposed to a dry one that will stir up dust and other allergens.
  • Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter will decrease your risk of exposure while cleaning your house.

A Word From Verywell

Dust mites and their debris can't be seen without a microscope, but if you're allergic to them, you might know when they're around based on your symptoms. According to the American Lung Association, dust mites are among the major indoor triggers of asthma and allergies and they are present in about four out of five homes.

If you are allergic to dust mites, you can try to avoid them. But if that's not possible and you have a severe reaction to exposure, you can talk to your doctor about using medication to help prevent your symptoms.

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