Dust mite allergy can lead to year-round sniffles and sneezes. Here's how to find relief.
Dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to tiny bugs that commonly live in house dust. Signs of dust mite allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Many people with dust mite allergy also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Dust mites, close relatives of ticks and spiders, are too small to see without a microscope. Dust mites eat skin cells shed by people, and they thrive in warm, humid environments. In most homes, such items as bedding, upholstered furniture and carpeting provide an ideal environment for dust mites.
By taking steps to reduce the number of dust mites in your home, you may get control of dust mite allergy. Medications or other treatments are sometimes necessary to relieve symptoms and manage asthma.
Dust mite allergy symptoms caused by inflammation of nasal passages include:
If your dust mite allergy contributes to asthma, you may also experience:
A dust mite allergy can range from mild to severe. A mild case of dust mite allergy may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In severe cases, the condition may be ongoing (chronic), resulting in persistent sneezing, cough, congestion, facial pressure, an eczema flare-up or severe asthma attack.
Some signs and symptoms of dust mite allergy, such as a runny nose or sneezing, are similar to those of the common cold. Sometimes it's difficult to know whether you have a cold or an allergy. If symptoms persist for longer than one week, you might have an allergy.
If your signs and symptoms are severe — such as severe nasal congestion, wheezing or difficulty sleeping — call your doctor. Seek emergency care if wheezing or shortness of breath rapidly worsens or if you are short of breath with minimal activity.
Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, pet dander or dust mites. Your immune system produces proteins known as antibodies that protect you from unwanted invaders that could make you sick or cause an infection.
When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify your particular allergen as something harmful, even though it isn't. When you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system produces an inflammatory response in your nasal passages or lungs. Prolonged or regular exposure to the allergen can cause the ongoing (chronic) inflammation associated with asthma.
Dust mites eat organic matter such as skin cells people have shed, and rather than drinking water, they absorb water from humidity in the atmosphere.
Dust also contains the feces and decaying bodies of dust mites, and it's the proteins present in this dust mite "debris" that are the culprit in dust mite allergy.
The following factors increase your risk of developing a dust mite allergy:
If you have a dust mite allergy, exposure to the mites and their debris can cause complications.
Your doctor may suspect dust mite allergy based on symptoms and your answers to questions about your home.
To confirm that you're allergic to some airborne substance, your doctor may use a lighted instrument to look at the condition of the lining of your nose. If you have an allergy to something airborne, the lining of the nasal passage will be swollen and may appear pale or bluish.
Your doctor may suspect a dust mite allergy if your symptoms are worse when you go to bed or while cleaning — when dust mite allergens would be temporarily airborne. If you have a pet, it may be more difficult to determine the cause of the allergy, particularly if your pet sleeps in your bedroom.
Allergy skin test. Your doctor may suggest an allergy skin test to determine what you're allergic to. You may be referred to an allergy specialist (allergist) for this test.
In this test, tiny amounts of purified allergen extracts — including an extract for dust mites — are pricked onto your skin's surface. This is usually carried out on the forearm, but it may be done on the upper back.
Your doctor or nurse observes your skin for signs of allergic reactions after 15 minutes. If you're allergic to dust mites, you'll develop a red, itchy bump where the dust mite extract was pricked onto your skin. The most common side effects of these skin tests are itching and redness. These side effects usually go away within 30 minutes.
The first treatment for controlling dust mite allergy is avoiding dust mites as much as possible. When you minimize your exposure to dust mites, you can expect fewer or less severe allergic reactions. However, it's impossible to completely eliminate dust mites from your environment. You may also need medications to control symptoms.
Your doctor may direct you to take one of the following medications to improve nasal allergy symptoms:
Decongestants can help shrink swollen tissues in your nasal passages and make it easier to breathe through your nose. Some over-the-counter allergy tablets combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. Oral decongestants can increase blood pressure and shouldn't be taken if you have severe high blood pressure, glaucoma or cardiovascular disease. In men with an enlarged prostate, the drug can worsen the condition. Talk to your doctor about whether you can safely take a decongestant.
Over-the-counter decongestants taken as a nasal spray may briefly reduce allergy symptoms. If you use a decongestant spray for more than three days in a row, however, it can actually make nasal congestion worse.
Avoiding exposure to dust mites is the best strategy for controlling dust mite allergy. While you can't completely eliminate dust mites from your home, you can significantly reduce their number. Here's how:
If you have what seems like a constant runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath or other symptoms that may be related to an allergy, you'll probably start by seeing your family doctor or general practitioner. Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to prepare before you go.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. For symptoms that may be related to dust mite allergy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
The impact of a pollen allergy may be noticeable because the allergy is seasonal. For example, you may have more difficulty managing your asthma for a short time during the summer. Dust mite allergy, on the other hand, is due to something to which you're constantly exposed to some degree. Therefore, you may not recognize it as a factor complicating your asthma when, in fact, it may be a primary cause.
If you suspect that you may have dust mite allergy, take steps to reduce house dust, particularly in your bedroom. Keep your bedroom clean, remove dust-collecting clutter and wash bedding in hot water that is at least 130 F (54.4 C).