Dust mites: Common cause of allergy symptoms
Dust mites: Common cause of allergy symptoms
Dust mites cause allergy symptoms all year long. Get dust mite allergy relief.
If you're sensitive to house dust, you know that even a single whiff of dusty air can trigger allergy symptoms and asthma. But dust itself probably isn't the cause of your misery. Instead, dust mites — microscopic creatures that live in dust — are the most likely culprits.
Dust mites inhabit even the cleanest homes. The residue dust mites leave behind — droppings and decaying carcasses — mixes with dust and becomes airborne. If you aren't allergic to dust mite residue, it's not harmful. But if you are, it can make you sneeze and wheeze year-round. Dust mites are one of the most common causes of perennial asthma and allergy symptoms.
Although you can't completely eliminate dust mites from your home, you can reduce their numbers and decrease the amount of residue that gets into your air, which may help you breathe easier.
Dust mites: A common, invisible nuisance
Too small to see with the naked eye, dust mites resemble their distant relatives, spiders and ticks. Unlike spiders and ticks, however, they don't bite. And unlike some other species of mites, they aren't parasites that live on plants, animals or people.
Dust mites live in houses for the same reasons you do: because houses provide all of their necessary creature comforts. They like warmth — ideally, a room temperature of 75 to 80 F. And they thrive in moist environments — preferably 70 percent to 80 percent humidity. Since they can't drink, they get the water they need by absorbing moisture from the air.
Even if you live in the mountains or desert — habitats usually unfriendly to dust mites — you may have dust mites in your home if you humidify your air. They're so adept at moving around, hitching rides on you, on your pets or in infested fabric, that they usually colonize new houses within a few years.
The typical home supplies dust mites with abundant food and shelter. They eat dead skin cells, and they nest in dust-collecting fabric and furnishings. Ideal habitats include mattresses, pillows, carpets, upholstered furniture, bed covers, clothes and stuffed toys.
Your bed is especially inviting to dust mites. To them, it's a warm, cozy, all-you-can-eat buffet that's restocked every night with yummy food. Without knowing it, you may be sharing your bed with anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million of these uninvited guests.
How dust mites cause allergies and asthma
As dust mites proliferate, so do concentrations of the residue from their feces and decaying bodies. If you're sensitive to this residue, you may develop signs and symptoms of hay fever, such as sneezing, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.
If you have asthma, high concentrations of dust mite residue can trigger frequent and severe asthma signs and symptoms such as lung congestion, wheezing and shortness of breath. You may be especially prone to asthma attacks at night, when you're lounging on a mite-infested sofa or sleeping in a mite-infested bed.
If you suspect you're allergic to dust mites, see your doctor for an evaluation. Allergy skin tests — which expose your skin to purified extracts of allergy-causing substances — can help your doctor determine whether you have a dust mite allergy.
Ridding your home of dust mites
Environmental control is the most effective way to treat a dust mite allergy. While it's impossible to rid your home of all dust mites, you can reduce their population by cutting off their sources of food, water and shelter. If you also adopt rigorous cleaning practices, especially in your bedroom, you can reduce dust mite residue to a level where it no longer causes symptoms of allergies and asthma.
To control dust mites:
Although air filters can effectively remove other allergy-producing substances such as pollen, mold and pet dander, they're not an effective tool for controlling dust mite residue. Unlike some other allergens, dust mite residue is relatively heavy, so it stays airborne for only about 15 minutes.
Medical treatments for dust mite allergy
If environmental control of dust mites doesn't relieve your symptoms of allergies or asthma, your doctor may recommend that you take certain allergy or asthma medications.
Nonprescription hay fever medications include short-acting antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, others), decongestants (Sudafed, Chlor-Trimeton, others) and a nasal spray containing cromolyn sodium (NasalCrom). Prescription hay fever medications include longer acting antihistamines (Zyrtec, Clarinex, others), nasal corticosteroid sprays (Flonase, Nasonex, others) and a leukotriene inhibitor montelukast (Singulair).
Prescription asthma medications include inhaled corticosteroids (Flovent, Pulmicort, others), long-acting beta-2 agonists (Serevent, Foradil, others) and short-acting beta-2 agonists (Proventil, Ventolin, others).
If your symptoms are especially difficult to control, your doctor may recommend allergy shots (immunotherapy) to desensitize you to dust mites.
Last Updated: 06/17/2005
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