What Is Dust Mite Allergy?

  • Suad Mussa BSc, Biology. Queen Mary University of London, UK

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Overview

Research shows that allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe. An allergy is the body’s response to normally harmless substances such as foods, pollen, and house dust mites.

Dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to dust mite allergens commonly found in household dust. Dust mites are tiny, eight-legged relatives of ticks and spiders that are too small to be seen by our eyes. They live on bedding, mattresses, carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture. They eat dead skin cells shed by people and pets and thrive in warm, humid environments.1

Dust mite allergy develops in childhood or adolescence, with most symptoms showing before the age of 20.1

This article will explore the signs, symptoms, and causes of dust mite allergy as well as explain the diagnostic process, possible treatment options, and what you can do to reduce dust mites in your home.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a dust mite allergy are caused by inflammation of nasal passages. Symptoms are more likely to occur while sleeping at night and when waking up due to dust mites living in pillows, mattresses, and bed covers.1

Dust mite allergy symptoms include:

  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Itchy mouth, nose, or throat
  • Postnasal drip (when excess music builds up and drips down the back of your throat)
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Worsening asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and wheezing

Dust mite allergy symptoms are commonly confused with upper respiratory viral illnesses such as influenza (flu) and the common cold. If you are unsure whether you have a cold or an allergy, you should contact a healthcare provider to help you determine the cause of your symptoms.1

Causes

An allergy is your immune system’s reaction to a foreign substance such as pollen, dust mites, or animal fur.

Dust mites have proteins, known as allergens, in their faeces and dead bodies. These allergens are usually harmless. However, if you have a dust mite allergy, your immune system sees them as harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, and creates a response to get them out of the body.1

The first time your body encounters dust mite proteins, your body responds by creating specific antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). Your immune system makes these antibodies to attack allergens, even though they may not be harmful. Your immune system creates an inflammatory response in your nasal passages and your lungs. Your immune system will create a greater response once you encounter dust mite proteins again, which causes allergy symptoms. Prolonged exposure to dust mite proteins can cause chronic inflammation associated with asthma.1

Complications

A dust mite allergy can cause several complications, such as:

  • Asthma - a dust mite allergy can contribute to the development of asthma. People with asthma and a dust mite allergy may find it difficult to manage their asthma symptoms. They may experience worsening asthma symptoms and be at risk of asthma attacks that require emergency care.1,2
  • Sinus infection - a dust mite allergy can cause ongoing (chronic) inflammation of tissues in the nasal passages, which can obstruct your sinuses. This increases your risk of developing infections of the sinuses (sinusitis).1
  • Chronic inflammation - this can make the nasal and respiratory passages over-sensitive, which can lead to sensitive reactions to irritants such as pollution, cigarette smoke, and dry air in heated rooms.1
  • Atopic dermatitis - house dust mite allergens are the most important triggers for atopic dermatitis.3
  • Decreased quality of life - severe symptoms of a dust mite allergy can decrease daily productivity, concentration, and driving performance as well as disturb personal relationships and sleep.1,2

Diagnosis

You may be diagnosed with a dust mite allergy based on your symptoms, test results, and answers to questions about your home. Your doctor may arrange some allergy tests to diagnose you or you may be referred to a specialist allergy clinic to have them.

These tests may include:

  • Skin prick or patch test - this involves using a thin needle to prick the surface of your skin with an extract of dust mite proteins and testing your reaction. Reactions usually occur within 15 minutes of exposure to the allergen and may include skin discolouration or raised round spots.2
  • Blood (IgE) test - involves screening your blood for IgE antibodies, which may indicate a dust mite allergy.2

Management and treatment 

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to treat your dust mite allergy. These include:1

  • Antihistamines - work by blocking histamine released by your allergy cells. This relieves sneezing, itching, and a runny nose. This can be taken orally or as a nasal spray. Most antihistamines can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy but some are only available on prescription.
  • Corticosteroids - work by reducing inflammation and controlling symptoms. It is taken as a nasal spray and is the most effective treatment for people with hay fever.
  • Decongestants - oral or nasal decongestants work by shrinking swollen tissue in your nasal passages and making breathing easier through your nose. This provides temporary relief and should only be used for a short period.
  • Leukotriene modifiers - work to reduce allergy symptoms by blocking the action of certain immune system chemicals.

Your doctor may also recommend specific therapies to help control your symptoms, such as immunotherapy and nasal irrigation.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy involves exposing your body to what you are allergic to overtime to train your immune system not to be sensitive to the allergen. This can be delivered through a series of allergy shots or allergy drops taken under your tongue.4 Immunotherapy can take up to 3-5 years and is usually recommended when other treatment options are not as effective.1

Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation is an at-home treatment that involves using a neti pot or a specifically designed bottle to flush mucus and irritants from your nasal passages using a saltwater rinse.

Self and home care

The most effective way of treating a dust mite allergy is allergen avoidance. You can do this by reducing the population of dust mites in your home:1

  • Use dust-proof or allergen-proof bed covers
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water
  • Remove carpets and drapes
  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep humidity low (below 50%) 
  • Remove dust and wipe down hard surfaces regularly
  • Vacuum regularly
  • Reduce clutter
  • Buy washable stuffed toys
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to filter the air in your home.

FAQs

Who does a dust mite allergy affect?

Anyone can have a dust mite allergy, but you are at an increased risk of developing the allergy if:

  • You have asthma, hay fever, or eczema
  • You have a family history of allergies
  • You are exposed to high levels of dust mites, especially early in life
  • You are a child or young adult

Is a dust mite allergy contagious?

No, a dust mite allergy is not contagious and cannot be spread to another person.

How common is a dust mite allergy?

Dust mite allergies are very common. Around 10% of the world’s population is allergic to dust mites.

Summary

In summary, a dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to tiny bugs that live in house dust. Symptoms of a dust mite allergy can include symptoms similar to hay fever, such as sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy, red or watery eyes. Some people may also experience symptoms of asthma, including wheezing and difficulty breathing. If you think you have a dust mite allergy, you should contact your doctor so they can conduct tests to see if dust mites are causing your symptoms. If you have a dust mite allergy, you may be prescribed certain medications, such as antihistamines and corticosteroids, to control your symptoms. However, the best way to control your symptoms is to reduce dust mite exposure in your home. You can do this by dusting and vacuuming regularly, using allergen-proof bed sheets, regularly washing your bedding, and filtering the air in your home.

References

  1. Aggarwal P, Senthilkumaran S. Dust mite allergy. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560718/
  2. Brehler R. Clinic and diagnostics of house dust mite allergy. Allergo J Int [Internet]. 2023 Feb 1 [cited 2023 Sep 8];32(1):1–4. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40629-022-00232-7 
  3. Bumbacea RS, Corcea SL, Ali S, Dinica LC, Fanfaret IS, Boda D. Mite allergy and atopic dermatitis: Is there a clear link? (Review). Exp Ther Med [Internet]. 2020 Oct [cited 2024 Jan 30];20(4):3554–60. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7465295
  4. Dust mite allergies: Allergen-specific immunotherapy (Desensitization) in the treatment of allergies. In: InformedHealth.org [Internet] [Internet]. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2020 [cited 2024 Jan 30]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447111/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Suad Mussa

Bachelor of Science – BSc, Biology. Queen Mary University of London

Suad Mussa is a biology graduate with a strong passion for medical writing and educating the public about health and wellbeing.

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