What Are Dust Mite Bites?

While dust mites don't actually bite, reactions to them are common

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Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live in household items like bedding and carpets. Although these tiny pests do not bite, sting, or take up residence on the human body, they sometimes can cause an itchy skin rash in some people who are allergic to them. More often, however, dust mites can exacerbate symptoms related to an allergic reaction or asthma such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Dust mites are ubiquitous in most households, but are not always problematic. When they are, there are measures you can take to decrease exposure to them.

Dust Mite Exposure Symptoms

Laura Porter / Verywell

Symptoms of Dust Mite Exposure

Symptoms can be mild to moderately bothersome, but they can also severely interfere with comfort and quality of life.

Generally, the more dust mite exposure you have (number of mites, time exposed, or both), the more severe your symptoms will be. That said, some people have very powerful allergic or asthmatic reactions even with minimal contact.

Allergies may be limited to nasal congestion or can involve the skin or lungs. You can have all or some of these reactions immediately upon exposure to dust mites, and your symptoms will likely be similar each time:

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

The skin reaction is what most people are referring to when they say "dust mite bites," although the mites don't actually bite. The rash shouldn't hurt or bleed unless you scratch it excessively.

While asthma symptoms may also start soon after contact with dust mites, these reactions may take longer to develop than allergic effects.

Asthma symptoms may involve any of the following:

Generally, you will only have this set of 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 bronchospasm (sudden narrowing of the airways) with extreme shortness of breath and chest tightness resulting in an asthma attack.


Dust mites, the most common of which are Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae, tend to live indoors and thrive in humidity.

They are highly prevalent in places like homes and hotels because they reside in fabrics and dust. Dust mites feed on pet dander and dead human skin, which tends to accumulate in mattresses, carpet, and upholstered furniture, especially in areas that are not frequently cleaned.

The tiny particles of waste material and decomposed dust mite bodies are not typically airborne unless the room is disturbed. Dust mite exposure generally occurs when a person is lying in bed with their face in their pillow or on the mattress. This material isn't actually harmful; many people don't experience adverse effects from exposure at all. But, because dust mites leave behind allergens and can act as triggers, they can be problematic for some individuals.

More specifically, dust mites can stimulate the production of:

  • Immune proteins: IgE antibodies, interferons, and interleukins
  • Immune cells: T-cells and eosinophils

These immune proteins and cells promote inflammation, causing or worsening symptoms in those with pre-existing allergies or asthma.

Many think that touching the dust mite material is what causes dermatitis (skin irritation). While that is possible, dust mite skin reactions usually develop in response to inhaling the allergens as well.

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 the condition.

Dust mites are ubiquitous, so some level of exposure is guaranteed. However, they are not visible to the naked eye like bedbugs are, so the possibility that dust mites are causing your symptoms may not immediately come to mind.


If you are having persistent nasal congestion, trouble breathing, or a rash that lasts for more than a few days, you should see your healthcare provider.

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

Your healthcare provider will ask about exposure to such allergens, and you might also be tested for allergies or asthma if your symptoms suggest these conditions (and you have not yet been diagnosed already).

History and Physical Examination

Your evaluation will include a medical history, physical examination, and possibly diagnostic tests as well. Your healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and ask how often they occur and how long it takes for them to resolve. They will also take into account whether you have other triggers that prompt 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 healthcare provider will also listen to your lungs. Many people with asthma have wheezing sounds that can be heard with a stethoscope, even when they're not having noticeable symptoms.

Evaluation of asthma may also involve pulmonary function testing (PFT) before and after exposure to an allergen.

Allergy Testing

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

Specialized blood tests may also be done as part of allergy testing, which could include measuring IgE antibodies to dust mites.

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 close 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.

Differential Diagnoses

The distinction between dust mite reactions, mold allergies, bed bugs, scabies, and chigger bites isn't always clear-cut, but there are some distinctive features that set these apart. Your healthcare provider may consider these possibilities when working to reach your diagnosis.

  Dust Mites  Scabies Chiggers Bedbugs Mold
Allergic in nature Yes No No No Yes
Visible organism? No No No Yes Yes
Exposure Indoor dust and fabric Person-to-person contact Outdoors, esp. wooded areas Indoor fabric Indoor or outdoor
Rash Fine, red, itchy patches Scaly red bumps Blistering bumps Large, hard, red bumps Patchy, red welts
Allergy symptoms  •Red/itchy eyes & nose
None None None •Red/itchy eyes & nose
Respiratory symptoms Coughing None None None •Coughing


Managing an allergy to dust mites involves avoiding them as much as possible, reducing their numbers, and minimizing their debris in your surroundings.

Treatment of dust mite-induced dermatitis, nasal allergies, or asthma involves taking medication that decreases the immune response. This can include an over-the-counter (OTC) medication like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Flonase (fluticasone), which is available in OTC and prescription formulations. Discuss proper dosing with your healthcare provider.

Topical products like hydrocortisone or calamine lotion can relieve itching and redness, but they don't help reduce the systemic inflammatory response that causes dust mite skin reactions. If you have frequent or near-constant dust mite exposure, you might never experience full relief with creams/lotions alone.

Medical Treatment

Using your regularly prescribed allergy medicine or maintenance asthma treatment (e.g., a corticosteroid) will help modify your immune reaction to allergens. These medications work by reducing the body's immune reactivity to triggers in general, not just 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 eliminate or reduce your exposure to dust mites. Note, however, that if you are allergic to the critters or they trigger asthma symptoms in you or a family member, these interventions alone will not be sufficient to prevent allergic reactions, according to updated recommendations for asthma management issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in December 2020.

Likewise, if you are not sensitive to dust mites, the NIH doesn't advise taking measures to decrease exposure to them (or any other indoor allergens).

That said, talk to your healthcare provider about whether any of these strategies might be appropriate for your household:

  • Dust mites tend to thrive in high-humidity environments. Maintaining low humidity with temperature control and/or a dehumidifier has been shown to reduce dust mites.
  • Wash bedding frequently in hot water (at least 130 degrees F) to kill off any mites/particles that have collected.
  • Encase bedding, mattresses, and pillows in impermeable covers that prevent dust mites from taking up residence in your bed.
  • Replace carpet with wood or synthetic flooring.
  • When cleaning, use a damp cloth as opposed to a dry one that will stir up dust and other allergens.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to decrease your risk of exposure while cleaning your house.

Using harsh chemicals can cause symptoms like red, watery eyes—which may only add to the effects of a dust mite reaction if you already experience one—so make sure you stick to cleaning products that don't cause irritation.

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 that they're around simply 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 your best to minimize exposure. But if that's not possible or enough, and you have a severe reaction to exposure, you can talk to your healthcare provider about using medication to help prevent your symptoms.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.