What Is a Dust Mite Allergy?

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Dust mites are microscopic arthropods that live in furniture, bedding, carpets, and stuffed animals. Some people are allergic to the body parts and excrement of dust mites. A dust mite allergy often causes respiratory allergy symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

This article explains dust mite allergies, their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

White pillow with a zippered allergy cover partially open

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Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms

Dust mite allergies result in allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever). These symptoms affect the respiratory system. They include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Congestion (stuffiness when breathing through the nose)
  • Itchiness
  • Postnasal drip (which may cause a sore throat)
  • Cough

Additionally, for people with asthma, an allergy to dust mites can trigger an attack. If you have asthma, dust mite allergy symptoms may also include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing (a whistling or rattling when breathing)
  • Chest pain

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that causes the airway to close. It comes on suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Rash
  • Swollen throat
  • Wheezing
  • Fainting
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Panic

Causes

Like other allergies, dust mite allergies occur when your body mistakes an allergen for a dangerous object. When this happens, your immune system makes antibodies to fight them off. As a result, you experience allergy symptoms. 

Scientists don’t fully understand why some people develop allergies and others don’t. However, some known risk factors increase your chances of developing allergies. These include:

  • A family history of allergies
  • Having asthma (chronic lung disease making breathing difficult)
  • Having eczema (a group of conditions causing itchy, red skin)

How Common Are Allergies?

Nasal allergies are common, affecting over 40 million Americans.

Some researchers believe that the increasing prevalence may be due to better hygiene and fewer infections that result in a less-trained immune system.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a dust mite allergy, your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and take a detailed medical history. It's important to share as many details as you can with your healthcare provider to help them pin down what may be causing your symptoms. Try to prepare the following answers before going to your appointment:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • How often do they bother you?
  • Do you notice them at a particular time of the day?
  • Do you see them after certain activities (sleeping, being in a specific room, for example)?

In addition, your healthcare provider may perform allergy tests. Testing is especially likely if the cause of your symptoms isn't apparent. These tests might include:

  • Skin test: This test is the gold standard for allergy testing. It involves pricking (skin prick test) or injecting (intradermal test) the skin with a small amount of an allergen and observing a reaction. 
  • Blood test: Doctors rely on these tests less commonly. They're not as reliable as skin tests, but they may be used in children who can’t tolerate skin tests or if you take medications that interfere with skin testing. Blood tests measure allergen-specific antibodies in your blood.

Treatment

As with other allergies, the primary treatment is avoiding exposure to the allergen. Avoidance can be particularly tricky with dust mites since they exist in so many places in your home. However, there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure, including:

  • Cover mattresses and pillows: Allergy cases that zip closed can encapsulate dust mites and keep them from bothering you while you sleep.
  • Wash your bedding: Use hot water and wash frequently.
  • Replace wall-to-wall carpeting: Install hard flooring instead.
  • Limit fabrics: Stuffed animals, curtains, and upholstered furniture all harbor dust mites.
  • Wear a mask while cleaning: This will limit your exposure to the allergens that get stirred up in the process. Or better yet, have someone without an allergy clean.
  • Use HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters: Use filters in your vacuum and in appliances like air purifiers and humidifiers to limit cycling dust back into the air.
  • Keep humidity low: Humidity below 50% creates a less ideal environment for dust mites.

If avoiding allergens isn’t entirely possible or doesn’t offer enough relief, there are other options for managing your symptoms. These treatment options include:

Allergy Shots

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy. They involve regularly injecting increasing doses of allergens over time so that you become desensitized and less affected by the allergen. Immunotherapy is more of a cure than symptom management. It's a long-term investment, usually lasting three to five years. 

Prognosis

There's no cure for allergies.

Most of the time, you will live with allergies your entire life. Some people, though, will get over their sensitivity to allergens.

The good news is that allergies are manageable. It may take some time to figure out what treatments work for you. You'll be able to determine a treatment plan with help from your healthcare provider.

It's common for people to become immune to (resistant to) specific treatments after being on them for a while. You may have to change up your treatment plan periodically. It's also possible to develop additional allergies over time. Regularly following up with your allergist or healthcare provider can keep you on the right track.

Coping

Allergies can range from a minor nuisance to interfering with your life and everyday activities. To cope with a dust mite allergy, you may want to:

  • Avoid dust mites by keeping mattresses and pillowcases clean and covered and removing as many carpets and other fabrics as possible from your home.
  • Take your prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication consistently.
  • Consider allergy shots.

Summary

Dust mite allergies occur when your body mistakes dust mites for a dangerous foreign object and makes antibodies against them. This response results in respiratory allergy symptoms like a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and congestion. 

To diagnose a dust mite allergy, your doctor may perform allergy tests to determine if you react to dust mite allergens. Testing may involve a skin prick test or a blood test. The critical way to manage a dust mite allergy is to avoid the allergen. You can also take various OTC or prescription medications or allergy shots.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect you have a dust mite allergy, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. They can help you pinpoint the allergy and provide treatment options that will offer you relief. While there's no cure for allergies, most people learn how to manage their allergies so that they don't significantly impact their lives.

However, some people with allergies also develop asthma or, more rarely, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Be on the lookout for warning signs and seek medical attention if you notice wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.

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8 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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