Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

What Is Dust Mite Allergy?

Household dust is not a single substance but rather a mixture of many materials. Dust may contain tiny fibers shed from different kinds of fabric, as well as tiny particles of feathers, dander from pet dogs or cats, bacteria, food, plant and insect parts, and mold and fungus spores. It also contains many microscopic mites and their waste products.

These waste products, not the mites themselves, are what cause allergic reactions. Dust mite waste contains a protein that is an allergen—a substance that provokes an allergic immune reaction—for many people. Throughout its life a single dust mite may produce as much as 200 times its body weight in waste.

Most dust mites die when exposed to low humidity levels or extreme temperatures. But they leave their waste behind, which continues to cause allergic reactions. In a warm, humid house, dust mites can easily survive year round.

What Can I Do?.

Having dust mites doesn't mean that your house isn't clean. In most areas of the world, these creatures are in every house, no matter how immaculate. But it is true that keeping your home as free of dust as possible can lessen dust mite allergy.

Studies show that more dust mites live in the bedroom than anywhere else in the home. So to attack the problem of dust mite allergy, the bedroom is the best place to start.

Unfortunately, vacuuming is not enough to remove mites and mite waste. Up to 95 percent of mites may remain after vacuuming, because they live deep inside the stuffing of sofas, chairs, mattresses, pillows and carpeting.

The first and most important step to reduce dust mites is to cover mattresses and pillows in zippered dust-proof covers. These covers are made of a material with pores too small to let dust mites and their waste product through and are called allergen-impermeable. Plastic or vinyl covers are the least expensive but some people find them uncomfortable. Other fabric allergen impermeable covers can be purchased from allergy supply companies as well as many regular bedding stores.

Special filters for vacuum cleaners can help to keep mites and mite waste from circulating back into the air. These filters can be bought from an allergy supply company or in some specialty vacuum stores.

Reduce the humidity in your home to less than 50 percent by using a dehumidifier. If you have taken as many of these actions as practically possible and are still having allergic reactions to house dust mites, allergy shots may help. A dust mite extract can be formulated to boost your immune system's response specifically to dust mite allergen. Shots for this purpose have been shown to be very effective.

Dust mites are probably impossible to avoid completely. Still, they don't have to make your life miserable. There are many ways you can change the environment inside your home to reduce the numbers of these unwanted "guests."


SOURCE: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care. First created 1995; fully updated 1998; most recently updated 2005.
© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) Editorial Board


* All information and source are for reference only.

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