Dust Mite Allergy
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What is a dust mite allergy?
A dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to dust mites. Dust mites are tiny, eight-legged relatives of spiders. They’re too small to see with your eyes. An allergic reaction is your body’s response to an allergen.
Dust mites live on bedding, mattresses, carpets, curtains and upholstered (fabric). They feed on the dead skin cells that you and your pets shed.
Dust mites have proteins in their feces (poop) and dead bodies. Usually, these substances — called allergens — are harmless. However, your immune system views them as harmful “invaders,” like bacteria or viruses, and responds to get them out of your body.
Who does a dust mite allergy affect?
Anyone can have a dust mite allergy.
You’re more likely to develop a dust mite allergy if you have asthma, eczema, hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or a biological family history of atopy. Atopy is a genetic (inherited) likelihood to develop allergies.
How common is a dust mite allergy?
Dust mite allergies are common. Approximately 20 million people in the United States have a dust mite allergy.
How does a dust mite allergy affect my body?
If you have a dust mite allergy, the first time you encounter dust mite proteins, your body responds by creating immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is antibodies that your immune system makes to “attack” allergens, even though these allergens might not be harmful. Once you encounter dust mite proteins again, your immune system has a greater response. This response causes allergy symptoms.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a dust mite allergy?
Dust mite allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy mouth, nose or throat.
- Postnasal drip (mucus that drips into your throat).
- Red, itchy and watery eyes.
- Runny nose.
- Wheezing (breathing difficulty, usually with a whistling or gasping sound).
- Worsening asthma symptoms, including difficulty breathing and chest-tightening).
You may confuse a dust mite allergy with upper respiratory viral illnesses, such as influenza (flu) and the common cold. If you’re not sure whether your symptoms result from a dust mite allergy or an illness, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you determine the cause of your symptoms.
Is a dust mite allergy contagious?
No, a dust mite allergy isn’t contagious. You can’t spread a dust mite allergy to another person.
Diagnosis and Tests
How can you tell if you’re allergic to dust mites?
If you have dust mite allergy symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider. They may refer you to an allergist. An allergist is a healthcare provider who specializes in allergies. They can help diagnose your dust mite allergy through tests.
Before conducting dust mite allergy tests, they may ask you questions, including:
- Do you have a family history of dust mite allergies?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with other allergies before?
- What are your symptoms?
- Do you take any over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat your symptoms?
- Do you spend a lot of time in dusty areas?
- How often do you vacuum your carpets, wash your bedding and clean other surface areas?
What tests will be done to diagnose a dust mite allergy?
Your healthcare provider may use different allergy tests to help diagnose a dust mite allergy. These tests may include:
Skin prick (scratch) test
This test exposes your body to small amounts of dust mite proteins.
Your healthcare provider will first clean a test area of your skin with iodine or alcohol. The test area is usually on your forearm or upper back.
Your allergist will use a thin needle (lancet) to prick the surface of your skin with dust mite proteins. The lancet won’t go deep into your skin. You’ll only feel a tiny pinch, and you won’t bleed.
Allergists may place droplets of dust mite allergens on your skin. They then use a lancet to scratch your skin lightly. The droplets will enter your skin through the scratch. You’ll only feel slight discomfort, and you won’t bleed.
Allergic reactions typically occur within 15 minutes of exposure to dust mite proteins. Reactions may include skin discoloration (red, gray or white) or raised, round spots called wheals that look like bug bites.
Your allergist will measure the size of your wheal and flare (discolored area of skin around the wheal). The size helps determine if you are sensitive to dust mite allergens.
A skin prick test takes less than an hour.
Blood (IgE) test
During a blood test, your healthcare provider will use a thin needle (21 gauge, slightly smaller than the size of a standard earring) to withdraw a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. The blood sample goes to a laboratory. The lab adds dust mite proteins to your blood sample and measures the levels of IgE antibodies in it. High levels of IgE antibodies indicate a dust mite allergy.
It may take a week or longer to get the results from a blood test sent to a lab.
Management and Treatment
How do I stop being allergic to dust mites?
You can’t stop being allergic to dust mites or cure dust mite allergies. However, your healthcare provider can help treat your dust mite allergy symptoms.
What medications are used to treat a dust mite allergy?
Your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe medications to treat your dust mite allergy symptoms. These include:
- Oral antihistamines: Oral antihistamines block histamine. Your allergy cells release histamine, which causes itchiness, sneezing and runny nose. They start to work about 30 minutes after you take them.
- Antihistamine nasal sprays: You spray antihistamine nasal sprays into your nose through your nostrils to block histamine.
- Nasal corticosteroids: Nasal corticosteroids are the most effective single therapy for people with hay fever. You spray nasal corticosteroids into your nose through your nostrils.
- Leukotriene modifiers: Leukotriene (loo-ko-try-een) modifiers help reduce allergy symptoms. They may take 4 to 6 weeks to start working.
- Decongestants: Oral or nasal decongestants provide temporary relief for a stuffy nose when you use them over a short period. You shouldn’t use decongestants long-term.
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Allergy shots “teach” your immune system how to tolerate dust mite allergens. However, it isn’t a cure for dust mite allergies. It may take between 6 and 12 months of regular allergy shots before your symptoms start to improve. It’s a 3- to 5-year commitment to allergy shots to get the most out of this treatment.
- Dust mite sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops): Your healthcare provider prescribes small doses of dust mite protein drops that you place under your tongue every day. Your body eventually develops a tolerance to the dust mite proteins, which decreases your allergy symptoms. Your symptoms should start to improve after about six months.
How long does a dust mite allergy last?
Once you’re no longer around dust mite allergens, your symptoms usually go away after a few hours. If you have severe dust mite allergies, your symptoms may last for several days.
How do humans get rid of dust mites?
The following tips can help reduce dust mite exposure in your home:
- Use allergy-proof bedding covers: Tightly woven allergy-proof bedding covers help prevent dust mites from getting into and accumulating in your pillows, mattresses and box springs. Plastic covers can also help prevent dust mites on your bedding.
- Regularly wash your bedding: Wash your bedding once a week in hot water, at least 130 degrees F (60 degrees C). After you’ve washed your clothes, put them in a clothes dryer set to the hottest setting for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have access to a washer and dryer, put your bedding in a plastic bag and seal the bag tightly. Store the bag in a freezer for at least 24 hours.
- Reduce the humidity in your home: Keep the humidity in your home below 50% to prevent dust mite reproduction. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help keep the humidity in your home low.
- Filter the air in your home: Dust mite allergens can easily enter the air, especially if you use fans. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter (HEPA) to help remove dust allergens from the air. Clean the air filters regularly.
- Vacuum rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture and other surfaces regularly: It’s a good idea to vacuum at least twice a week. Use a microfilter vacuum bag to help prevent dust mite allergens from escaping. If possible, remove rugs and carpets from your home. Consider wearing a mask while you’re vacuuming.
- Wipe down hard surfaces regularly: Use a microfiber cloth or a wet cloth to wipe down surfaces, so dust mite allergens don’t enter the air.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a dust mite allergy?
You can’t cure a dust mite allergy. However, you can control the symptoms by avoiding dust mite allergens and taking medications.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
See your healthcare provider if you regularly have dust mite allergy symptoms, especially if they affect your day-to-day quality of life.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- How can you tell that I have a dust mite allergy?
- What allergy medications do you recommend?
- Is your recommended dust mite allergy medication available over-the-counter, or do I need a prescription?
- What are the side effects of your recommended allergy medication?
- Should I take dust mite allergy medications every day or only when I develop symptoms?
- How do I know when I have dust mite allergy symptoms or cold and flu symptoms?
- Should I see an allergist?
- Is there an allergist that you recommend?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A dust mite allergy can be frustrating. If you have a dust mite allergy, your immune system thinks dust mite proteins are harmful invaders. It tries to get them out of your body by releasing histamine, which causes dust mite allergy symptoms. You might have symptoms until you reduce or get rid of dust mites.
If you have dust mite allergy symptoms, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can conduct tests to determine if dust mites are causing your symptoms. They can also recommend or prescribe medications to improve control over your symptoms.
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