What Are Dust Mite Bites?

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

Dust mite on human skin

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In This Article

Many don't pay dust mites—which live in household items like bedding and carpets—much mind until they have a reaction to them. Dust mite "bites" are probably the most well-known one. While these microscopic pests don't actually bite, dust mites can cause an itchy skin rash in allergic individuals. But such instances are, in fact, less common than respiratory symptoms that can result from exposure, including those related to an allergic reaction or symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Symptoms of Dust Mite Exposure

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

Allergies may be nasal in nature or involve the skin. 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 (what most are referring to when they say "dust mite bites")
  • Itchy areas on the skin
  • Red and/or watery eyes
  • Itchy nose or eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion and/or runny nose
  • Coughing

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.

Causes

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 can become airborne and are easily inhaled into the lungs. This material isn't actually harmful; many people don't experience any adverse effects from the exposure at all. But, because dust mites leave behind allergens and can act as triggers, they can be problematic 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 touching the dust mite material is what causes the dermatitis (skin irritation). While that is possible, so-called dust mite bites 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.

Diagnosis

If you are having persistent nasal congestion, trouble breathing, or a rash that lasts for more than a few days, you should see your doctor to explore a possible diagnosis of a dust mite reaction.

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 doctor will ask about exposure to such allergens, and you might also be tested to confirm a diagnosis of 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 doctor will assess your symptoms and ask how often they occur, as well as 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 doctor 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.

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. Your inflammatory markers—like IgE antibodies, eosinophils, and T-cells—would be measured before and after exposure to a possible allergen.

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

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 doctor 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
•Sneezing
•Congestion
None None None •Red/itchy eyes & nose
•Sneezing
•Congestion
Respiratory symptoms Coughing None None None •Coughing
•Wheezing

Treatment

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 physician.

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 reduce dust mites, although your allergies and asthma can flare up even with minimal exposure. Generally, consistency is the key to preventing excessive dust mite accumulation.

Keep these strategies in mind:

  • 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 mite density.
  • Make sure that you frequently wash bedding 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 compound a dust mite reaction if you're 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 doctor about using medication to help prevent your symptoms.

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