Dust Mite Allergy

What Is a Dust Mite Allergy?

A dust-mite allergy is your body’s immune response to dust mites, which are tiny, insect-like creatures that inhabit our homes, often in the millions. Dust mites are extremely small, about a third of a millimeter in length, and require magnification to be seen by the human eye. They are non-parasitic, feeding mostly on dead human skin. Both their body parts and their excrement can be allergens, that is, a source of allergic reactions in some people. Their ideal living conditions are similar to ours: a temperature range of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 70 to 80 percent.

Dust-mite allergies are a common form of illness. It is estimated that as many as 20 million Americans may suffer from this type of allergy. Dust-mite allergies have also been linked to the development of asthma and sinusitis. If you or a loved one are dealing with a possible dust-mite allergy, see your Baptist Health physician for consultation and treatment.

What Are Dust Mite Allergy Symptoms?

Dust mite allergy symptoms include:

  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Itchiness in the nose, mouth, or throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Swollen sinuses and facial pressure or pain
  • Rashes (eczema)

Dust-mite allergies can also trigger asthmatic symptoms, such as chest tightness, labored breathing, wheezing outbreaths, and difficulty sleeping.

How Is a Dust Mite Allergy Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a dust-mite allergy is a multi-step process. Your physician or allergist will start by giving a you a physical exam, asking questions about your symptoms, and recording your medical history. He or she may then test for a dust-mite allergy using one of these methods:

  • Skin prick test: For a skin prick test, a small amount of an allergen is placed on your skin. If your skin responds by developing redness, itchiness, or a hive-like swelling called a wheal, then you may be sensitive to the allergen. False positives are possible, so additional analysis is often required.
  • Specific IgE blood test: Blood tests are sometime utilized instead of skin prick tests. Your physician collects a blood sample, which is sent to a medical lab. The allergen is added to your sample, with a measurement taken of the number of antibodies produced in reaction. (IgE is short for immunoglobulin E, a type of antibody.) The greater the number of antibodies, the more likely your immune system is sensitive to the allergen. As with skin prick tests, a positive response isn’t definitive proof of an allergy.

Allergy tests typically involve a large number of potential allergens. This is the most feasible way of determining which allergen, or group of allergens, your immune system reacts to.

How Is a Dust Mite Allergy Treated?

Treatment of dust mite allergies focuses on suppressing or controlling symptoms. Primary modes of treatment are:

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications: Included are antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and corticosteroid and cromolyn sodium nose sprays. These medicines relieve the symptoms of nasal inflammation and, in some instances, block the chemical messengers that trigger allergy symptoms.
  • Allergy shots: Allergy shots build the body’s tolerance to certain allergens by increasing exposure to them gradually over time. Increased tolerance means reduced symptoms. Allergy shots often prove to be an effective long-term solution for controlling allergies.
  • Under-the-tongue immunotherapy: Under-the-tongue immunotherapy works on the same basis as allergy shots, without subcutaneous injections (needles). Small amounts of the allergen enter the body as a tablet placed under the tongue. The tablet dissolves, releasing allergens to the bloodstream, where they serve to build up immune-system tolerance over time.

How Do I Prevent a Dust Mite Allergy?

Allergic reactions to dust mites can also be prevented by reducing the number of mites in the home. It’s important to remember that dust mites are present, not because your home is unsanitary, but because they’ve adapted extremely well to the same kinds of environments in which many of us live. Dust mites are particularly fond of fabrics, including bedding, pillows, drapes, rugs, carpeting, and fabric-covered furniture, such as sofas.

Here are some steps you can take to lessen the impact of dust mites on your immune system:

  • Wash blankets and other bedding regularly in hot water.
  • Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers.
  • Use vacuum cleaners that have been certified allergy and asthma friendly, because they prevent dust-mite waste from returning to the air.
  • Use similarly certified filters with your central air and heating units.
  • Replace wall-to-wall carpeting with washable rugs or bare wood or tile.
  • Keep humidity levels in your home under 50 percent.

Dust-mite allergies are generally more unpleasant than medically serious, though they can lead to asthma or a worsening of respiratory conditions. It is possible, however, to control a dust-mite allergy, with a combination of treatment and prevention.

Learn More About Dust Mite Allergies from Baptist Health

Dust mites are among the most common of all allergens. If you develop the symptoms of a dust mite allergy, take the first step by seeing a Baptist Health physician.

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