Information and facts about dust mites


If you are reading this page, it is likely that you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with a dust mite allergy. Allergens from dust mites are the second leading cause of allergies worldwide, after pollen, and are major triggers of asthma attacks.

It is estimated that fifteen to twenty percent of the world's total population is allergic to dust mite allergens.

Why do allergies occur?

What are dust mites?

What is the difference between dust mites and bed bugs?

What do dust mites look like and can you see them?

Can you feel dust mites crawling on your skin?

Where do mites come from?

Where do mites live?

Do mites bite and what do they eat? Do dust mites cause allergies?

What are the symptoms of dust mite allergies?

How do you test for dust mite allergy?

How do you kill dust mites?

How to prevent and get rid of dust mites in your home?

How do you treat dust mite allergies?

Why do allergies happen?

A short crash course on the human immune system helps us understand the how and why of an allergic reaction.

The immune system is what our bodies rely on to protect us. It has natural barriers that keep offensive particles out. These barriers include our skin, the hairs in our nostrils, the thin membrane of the eye and the mucus in our throat and airways. Actions that clear the body of any foreign bodies present may include sneezing or coughing to clear the airways, while crying or urinating clears our eyes and urinary tract.

However, if a foreign object manages to enter our bloodstream or come in contact with our internal organs, it is usually subjected to scrutiny by some form of cellular border patrol. This defense mechanism is our immune system.

It is a combination of cells and proteins that assess the nature of the foreign body present. They do this by using the proteins on the surface of the foreign object to decide if the protein pattern is unfamiliar (antigen) and should be picked up and destroyed or if it is recognized as their own and left alone. Assessing these antigens is another group of proteins known as antibodies.

When they recognize an antigen, antibodies initiate a series of events designed to destroy the antigen and its source, if present. The result of the cascade includes inflammation (fever, swelling and redness of the skin) and engagement of the adaptive immune system. These usually end up destroying the foreign material. Such reactions occur when the foreign material appears to be pathogenic.

These responses can be disconcerting, so the immune system performs checks to ensure that the response is appropriate. Nevertheless, some harmless foreign materials that enter the system can cause an overreaction.

Some materials such as pollen, dust mite feces and excrement, and proteins in foods such as peanuts, milk and seafood are known as allergens. Allergens are essentially antigens.

The immune system recognizes these allergens and, in response to their presence, causes symptoms in the body that are common to all allergies, such as a runny nose, red and blotchy skin rashes (hives), swelling of parts of the body such as the tongue, lips, eyes and face, and itching of the eyes, throat and ears.

Some reactions can be life-threatening, known as anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock). This reaction requires epinephrine (adrenaline) to suppress the immune response long enough for the person to get to the nearest medical facility.

The most common allergens are pollen and dust mite waste. Pollen is generally preventable, as it is related to the outdoors and is relatively seasonal. Dust mites, on the other hand, are a year-round problem because we have to deal with them in our living spaces.

Some research indicates that as many as one in five people are allergic to dust mites and suffer from disorders related to an allergic reaction. Since dust mites are found all over the world, this can be a recurring problem.

What are dust mites?

Since the chances of being allergic or knowing someone personally allergic to dust mites are high, their characteristics deserve to be discussed.

Dust mites, according to their taxonomic identification (biological naming system), are arachnids. They are related to spiders and ticks. As arthropods, they are distantly related to every creature on the planet with an exoskeleton.

There are two well-known species of mites:

The American mite (Dermatophagoides farinae).

The European mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus).

Other lesser known species are Dermatophagoides microceras and Euroglyphus maynei (Mayne's house dust mite).

They are not parasitic, unlike the scabies or skin follicle mites. Their livelihood exists in the name of their genus. Dermatophagoides can be broken down into dermato (scales) and phagoides (feeder), indicating that these organisms feed on dead skin scales and micro-bites of food.

They also take water from the atmosphere through their exoskeleton. This process occurs because of the small constitution of these mites. This characteristic negates the need for a water supply, but it does dictate that the mite inhabit a sufficiently humid area. Think of the bed!

The typical life cycle of a mite is 65 to 100 days. (

What is the difference between mites and bed bugs?

Very quickly, there is confusion between bed bugs and mites. This confusion stems from the similar habitat of these two creatures - they both like damp, dark spaces in our homes. They also cause an allergic reaction through their feeding behavior. But the similarity ends there.

For one thing, bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, with the average adult measuring up to 5 mm. Also, they are insects, not arachnids, and are easily distinguished by their six jointed limbs instead of eight.

Back to more information on mites.

What does a mite look like and can we see it?

Mites are closely related to spiders and ticks. They have eight hairy legs, no eyes, no antennae, a mouth part at the front of the body and a hard, translucent shell.

Mites can be difficult to detect because of their small size. Mites, unlike their congeners, are not visible to the naked eye. Some estimates put their size at 0.2 to 0.3 mm. To put that in perspective, about 33 to 50 of them would fit on a centimeter.

The fact that they are translucent does not help us see them either. They only look like small white spider-like creatures.

Adult mites live about a month and female mites live about 8 to 10 weeks. The female lays eggs singly or in small groups. The transition from egg to adult takes about 3 to 4 weeks. If humans or pets live in your home, you have mites. No special tests are needed to verify this, it is a fact.

Can you feel the mites crawling on your skin?

The quick answer is no, and here's the explanation. Dust mites are so light that there is evidence that they can remain airborne, on room air currents, without being felt on the skin. They have the family resemblance of having a hairy exoskeleton, a complex group of mouth parts and eight jointed legs. However, they do not have eyes or an antenna.

Where do mites come from?

If humans or pets live in your home, you have dust mites. No special test is needed to verify this, it is a fact.

Adult male mites live about a month and female mites live about 8 to 10 weeks. The female lays eggs, singly or in small groups. Over the course of about a month, the mite grows from an egg to an adult. The average adult male lives another month and reproduces.

The adult female, on the other hand, lives relatively longer - up to 70 days. During this time, she can lay an average of 80 eggs. Throughout their lifetime, dust mites can produce large amounts of allergens in the form of fecal particles and dust particles coated with their digestive enzymes.

Dust mites are also distributed throughout the world. Work by Trees et al. 2003 indicated that of 736 randomly surveyed US homes, 84% had dust mite allergens, at concentrations ranging from 2.0 to 10.0 µg/g of mattress in these homes.

According to the Der f 1 and Der p1 groups, these allergens came from 68% of European homes. These bugs take up residence in our bed. This is because when we sleep, we release moisture in the form of sweat and feed on the dead skin that is shed.

Thus, our sleeping spaces offer a perfect combination of their existence. Again, since most of our bedding items are fibrous and stuffed (to keep warm), they tend to trap moisture and dander. Bedding materials, including blankets, bedspreads and pillows, all harbor dust mites.

Where do dust mites live?

Outside of our sleeping spaces, dust mites thrive on surfaces and fabrics that are fibrous or porous enough to hold moisture and their food. Their biological characteristics mean that they prefer to be close to humans. Mites congregate, live and reproduce where food is readily available.

Since fiber-filled surfaces collect the most food for mites, they have the highest concentrations of mites and their waste products.

Dust mites are most comfortable in mattresses (both conventional and special foam mattresses), pillows, box springs, blankets, sheets, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals and toys, carpets, rugs, draperies, curtains, sheets, decorative fabric panels and wall hangings, pet beds, and in the interiors of cars. They like dark, warm and humid places.

During its life, the mite produces hundreds of fecal pellets. It is a protein contained in these fecal pellets that causes allergic reactions in humans. In addition, as the mite grows, it sheds its exoskeleton, which also contains the protein that causes the allergy.

Ohio State University reports that a typical used mattress can contain 100,000 to 10 million mites. The accumulation of dust mites and all their baggage in our sleeping space can increase the weight of a pillow by 10% in two years. Disgusting!

Do dust mites bite and what do they eat?

Dust mites can't bite you. You can't feel the mites crawling on your skin. Allergic symptoms are caused by inhaling microscopic feces and dead skin. Mites feed on human and animal skin cells. However, if necessary, mites will eat fish flakes, pet food crumbs, mushrooms and grain crumbs.

Do dust mites cause allergies?

Yes, they do. This is called dust mite allergy. It results from sensitization and reaction to the droppings and other protein waste products of dust mites. No one is born with an allergic reaction to dust mites. However, continued exposure to allergens at a young age, while the immune system is still developing, causes the immune system to overreact - this is called sensitization.

Once the immune system becomes sensitive to the presence of these dust mite allergens, even the smallest concentrations can be enough to put the immune system into overdrive, resulting in an allergic reaction.

The two most studied groups of mite allergens are Der f 1 and Der p 1. These groups of proteins are found in their feces. They are usually remnants of the mite's digestive enzymes, which persist in their feces. The mite secretes these enzymes onto partially digested dust particles.

In addition, the mite's exoskeleton, which also consists in part of proteins from these allergen groups, can also trigger the allergic response. Regardless of their form, these groups of proteins elicit the same hyperreaction from the immune system.

What are the symptoms of dust mite allergies?

Every person is different. Symptoms of dust mite allergy include, but are not limited to, the following:

Coughing: Long coughing fits are experienced, especially in cases where the allergy contributes to asthma.

Facial pressure and pain: Congestion of the airways from mucus production in response to an allergen can lead to a feeling of pressure in the face that can be painful (the mucus traps the foreign object and carries it to the intestine where hydrochloric acid secretions remain to remove it).

Itching: Reactions to dust mite allergens usually result in itching that can occur in the nose, eyes, palate and throat.

Skin reactions such as dermatitis may also occur.

Nasal congestion: This is also due to the overproduction of mucus in the airways. This mucus is usually accompanied by post-nasal drip, which is an involuntary discharge from the back of the mouth into the throat.

Pockets of blue-colored skin under the eyes; this may also coincide with red, watery eyes.

Difficulty breathing: when contributing to asthma, these allergens add fuel to the fire because the mucus that clogs the airways can restrict breathing. Sometimes this can lead to death.

Painful tightness in the chest.

Audible wheezing on exhalation, which worsens when a seasonal flu virus causes an infection.

In addition, skin symptoms such as eczema and dermatitis may occur. Rashes and hives are rarely a symptom of dust mite allergy.

How do you test for dust mite allergy?

A visit to an allergist is all it takes to find the root cause of your allergic symptom. The answers you give to questions such as "when do you have allergic reactions" can help the allergist understand what is going on.

Two main tests can be used to determine if a person's discomfort is due to dust mites.

Allergic skin test: In this test, extracts of the allergen in its pure form are injected into the skin. This test is performed on the back of the forearm. Once done, it takes about 15 minutes to get a verdict. If you are allergic, you will begin to notice redness of the stung skin or itching in the same area. Although uncomfortable, these signs do not last long.

Allergic blood test: The skin test is easy to perform and gives quick results. However, it can be difficult to conclude when there are already certain skin conditions. The alternative is the blood test, where your blood is drawn and tested with the allergen.

This test specifically detects the antibodies that trigger the allergic response when they interact with these allergens. In addition, this test allows the doctor to know your level of sensitivity to dust mite allergens. This test estimates the abundance of these antibodies; a higher amount indicates a higher sensitivity.

How do you kill dust mites?

Reducing the number of dust mites means reducing the number of allergens in our homes. Please note that there are currently no pesticides labeled in the United States for the treatment of dust mites.

In fact, there is little point in killing the mites because the bodies of dead mites still contain the protein that causes the problem and killing the mites does nothing to eliminate the fecal matter. Killing them may be a futile effort.

Knowing that the arachnid's exoskeleton remains an allergen, we conclude that the abundance of allergens in the system would remain unchanged with their death.

One might even say that killing them would be like shooting ourselves in the foot. We are doing ourselves a disservice because their envelopes would be very light when they die, so this could mean that these envelopes can remain airborne longer when disturbed.

While not completely eliminating allergens, the use of chemicals such as benzyl benzoate and tannic acid has proven effective in laboratory and field tests. Benzyl benzoate is one of the active ingredients in De-Mite laundry additive and tannic acid is the active ingredient in ADS X-Mite carpet powder and spray.

Remember, dust mite control is all about controlling where they congregate. The fewer fiber-filled surfaces in a room or home, the fewer places dust mites can settle.

The most common recommendations are to use vinyl, wood or other hard surface blinds instead of curtains or drapes; remove all carpeting and rugs and use wood, vinyl or tile flooring; replace all fabric upholstered furniture with leather upholstered furniture; and remove all books, lamps, knick-knacks and objects that attract dust from a room.

However, no one wants to live in an empty bubble. So what can be done?

How can you prevent and get rid of dust mites in your home?

The key to controlling dust mites lies in our ability to expel them from our living spaces. The solution is to properly maintain and clean the surfaces and areas where dust mites are most likely to reside and thrive - preventing them from taking hold!

Here are some practices that are sure to reduce their numbers.

Dust mites are a real threat to our bodies, so we need to become extermination pros. The number of beds in your home makes a difference. If you need multiple beds in a room, you may want to reconsider. It is essential to protect all of your bedding from dust mites by using covers and cases to keep them out. If you must have more than one bed in a room (e.g., a bunk bed, etc.), protect it properly as well. Protect your family's sleep at all costs.

Use only washable materials on the bed. Wash sheets, blankets and other bedding items in hot or warm water weekly. Ideally, set the water temperature at least 130 F to eliminate dust mites. It is important to note that this is the minimum temperature to eliminate dust mites.

Treat items with allergen control products such as De-Mite or Allersearch Allergenwash, products specifically designed to kill dust mite allergens in hot and cold water.

Keep all furry or feathered animals out of the room. People with dust mite allergies are often allergic to cats, dogs or other animals. If you can't keep pets away, treat them with pet-friendly allergy products like Allerpet Pet Solution.

If the dust-sensitive person is a child, remove dust-accumulating toys from the room. Use washable, non-allergenic plush toys or toys made of wood, rubber, metal or plastic whenever possible, and store them in a closed toy box or chest.

Wash curtains regularly with De-Mite. If you must have curtains, treat them regularly with an anti-allergen denaturant spray such as Protech Allergy Spray.

Carpets make it impossible to control dust. All carpets trap dust, but the biggest offenders are deep-pile carpets. For allergy sufferers, carpeting can be a nightmare.

Whenever possible, choose hardwood, tile or linoleum floors when you furnish your home. Let's say you have no choice but to have carpeting. In this case, an excellent product to use on carpets to eliminate dust mite allergens is Allersearch X-Mite carpet treatment (a tannic acid product). However, we believe that tannic acid is not as effective as carpet removal. Tannic acid can be irritating to some people, and you should reapply every 90 days.

Do you have household fans? There's another culprit that attracts dust mites. If possible, minimize the use of fans. Fans allow dust to be airborne.

The best way to reduce the incidence of dust mites is to use cloths treated with Allersearch AllerDust dusting aid or damp cloths.

Also, use a high-energy particle absorption (HEPA) air purifier like the Austin Air Healthmate that can effectively remove many allergens from the air.

When cleaning, start rooms early in the day and stay out of the room for one to two hours after cleaning.

Vacuum with a sealed canister vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.

Given the biology of dust mites, "a dehumidifier can be helpful because, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University, dust mites need humidity levels above 50 percent to thrive." Be sure to clean the unit frequently to prevent mold growth. However, while low humidity can reduce the number of dust mites, it can also irritate the nose and lungs of some people.

Given the biology of dust mites, "a dehumidifier can be helpful because, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University, dust mites need humidity levels above 50 percent to thrive." Be sure to clean the unit frequently to prevent mold growth. However, while low humidity can reduce the number of dust mites, it can also irritate the nose and lungs of some people.

Wear a dust mask when cleaning if you are the one who is allergic.

How do you treat dust mite allergies?

As described, these concessions are guaranteed to reduce the number of dust mites and, therefore, the allergens they produce. However, it is impossible to eliminate them: they will always be with us. People who are extremely sensitive to allergens need treatment to relieve their discomfort.

Some of these treatments include

Decongestants: This category of treatment is particularly useful for people with asthma symptoms. As the name implies, they relieve congestion by removing accumulated mucus and reducing swelling of the tissues lining the airways.

However, people with a history of glaucoma, blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases should consult a physician before using them. Examples of decongestants include oxymetazoline, pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.

Antihistamines: The mainstay of treatment for all allergic symptoms. They are suppressors of histamine, a chemical released by the allergen that triggers the immune system.

This treatment relieves symptoms such as sneezing, itching and runny nose. Antihistamines are usually available in over-the-counter tablet form, with syrups available for children. Examples are cetirizine and loratadine.

Corticosteroids: These chemicals are naturally produced by the body to stop certain immune reactions. Chemicals of similar nature and function can be ingested to stop reactions such as inflammation and fever (hay fever). They are also administered in tablet form but can also be delivered as a nasal spray. Examples are triamcinolone, mometasone furoate and ciclesonide.

Leukotriene modifiers: Leukotrienes are chemicals in the body that act as signals. They are recognized by the cell by a system much like the immune system recognizes allergens. Therefore, any change in their structure would mean that the pattern would not be recognized and the signal would not be sent.

Nasal Irrigation: When things get bad, you can push them out by removing the mucus that clogs the airways. You can wash your sinuses with a neti pot and saline solution.

The only primary precaution in using this treatment method is the sterility of the saline solution. You can easily buy it over the counter. If you decide to prepare the solution yourself, you must ensure its sterility by boiling it or filtering it through a filter.

To conclude about dust mites.

You are not alone. People all over the world are struggling with allergies, especially those caused by dust mites. It is impossible to rid your home of dust mites, but by taking these steps, you can reduce your exposure and therefore your allergic reactions.

Also keep in mind that the incidence of dust mites does not correlate with home maintenance. Dust mites do not discriminate, they are found in the best homes and hotels in the world. The key is to know they exist, contain them and do your best to keep them at bay.

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