Halloween may be over, but there are certain creepy creatures that diligently remain year-round and commonly trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. Dust mites are eight-legged relatives ticks and spiders, have no eyes, have translucent bodies, and are microscopic, or too small to see with the unaided eye. These tiny creatures love to make their home on human and pet bedding, mattresses, carpets, curtains, toys and upholstered furniture. They love to choose these locations for their homes because of the plentiful food supply. Dust mites regularly feed on the dead flakes of skin that people and pets shed daily and gain their water from moisture found in their environment (think humidity and sweat!). They live somewhere between 60 and 100 days.

Dust mites are well adapted, and currently inhabit every continent except Antarctica. There are two main species of dust mites, the American house dust mite (Dermatophagoides farinae) and the European House dust mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus). Providers utilizing United Allergy Services for their patients’ allergy needs can safely test and treat their patients to both species of mite. Dust mites, as opposed to bed bugs or other parasites, will not and cannot bite you. Dust mites are extremely lightweight and cannot be felt crawling on the skin. They can cause allergic or asthma symptoms in some when those sensitive to them inhale the microscopic fecal matter and shed skins of the mite.

As with any allergen, the goal is to first identify the allergen as troublesome to the individual person and develop a treatment plan. A treatment plan should always include how to reduce the exposures to the offending allergen. However, if your home has humans or pets living in it, there are dust mites present, and it is impossible to avoid them completely. There are several things that can help diminish their food supply and create less of a welcoming environment. The best approach with dust mites is trying to convince them that their current environment will be too much work to maintain their existence. Trying to kill them is almost impossible, there is no spray or pesticide currently labeled in the United States for the destruction of dust mites, and dead dust mites still shed the problem causing protein that triggers allergy and asthma symptoms.

Hard surfaces such as vinyl, wood, or tile, and other hard surface blinds instead of curtains or draperies are helpful in decreasing the dust mite colonization in a home. It is also beneficial to select leather furniture as opposed to upholstered and remove things like books, lamps, knick-knacks, and dust catching items from a room. These steps, although beneficial to a home, can be challenging if home renovations are not in the budget. And who plans to live in a home without any type of lamp, picture frames, or other décor? There are other steps to reduce the dust mite colonization of a home.

First and foremost, a regular and thorough cleaning of the surfaces and regions that dust mites are most likely to dwell is an easy front-line approach to sending dust mites searching for another place to call home. It is especially important to focus on where someone will sleep as this is when a person can spend upwards of 8 hours a day breathing in potential allergens. Cleaning and washing all bedding such as sheets, blankets, and pillowcases in a hot, sanitary cycle is recommended once weekly. Sleeping quarters can further be protected from dust mites by using special covers and encasements to keep out these unwanted visitors. An encasement should be placed on each mattress and sleeping pillow in the home. As well as cleaning and covering areas in which sleeping occurs, it can be beneficial to keep pets and copious amounts of dust collecting stuffed toys out of sleeping areas and off beds as well.

Dust mite body casings are lightweight and can easily become airborne and travel through the air. Ceiling fan blades can harbor dust and dust mites and allow dust to become easily airborne. It is imperative to regularly dust fans, especially before turning on.  Air quality can also be improved by using a high-energy particulate absorption (HEPA) air purifiers on the air conditioning and heating units, as well as the vacuum to remove many allergens, especially dust mites, from the air. A dehumidifier can also be helpful as it helps to create a less favorable environment for the dust mites to survive. Remember, dust mites get their water supply from the humidity in the air as well as human and pet moisture, aka sweat, left behind! Just make sure to regularly clean the dehumidifier unit to prevent mold growth. And finally, wearing a mask can be beneficial to allergy and asthma sufferers when cleaning the home, removing bedding or drapery for washing, or taking out and putting away things from storage spaces like holiday decorations.