How to Get Rid of Dust Mites, According to Allergists

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites, According to Allergists

Dust mites are public enemy No. 1 for many people with indoor allergies. These microscopic pests can cause intense allergy symptoms as you hang out in your home, a place that’s supposed to be a sanctuary.

Dust mites are insect-like pests that usually live in house dust, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “Dust mites are tiny and cannot be seen by the naked eye,” allergist-immunologist Priya Patel, MD, assistant professor in clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, tells Health. Dust mites like to eat flakes of dead skin (aka dander) shed by people and pets.

If you’re not allergic to dust mites, they won’t be an issue for you. But they are one of the most common airborne allergens, Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network in New York, tells Health, so for many people they can spark an allergy attack and make allergy and asthma symptoms worse.

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What are dust mites?

Dust mites don’t bite—instead, you get sick from being exposed to dust mite feces, aka poop. “The proteins in the fecal particles are perfectly sized to cause allergy symptoms in those who are dust mite-allergic,” Dr. Patel explains.

How much of these pesky mites you’re exposed to matters, David Corry, MD, a professor of medicine in the section of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, tells Health. “Dust mite allergens are among the most abundant foreign substances people are exposed to, depending on the exact house,” he says. And if your home is particularly packed with dust mites, it raises the odds you’ll have symptoms.

Dust mites can technically live anywhere there’s dust, but you can usually find them in the following spots, per the NIEHS:

It’s extremely common to have dust mites in your bed: 84% of homes in the US have detectable levels of dust mites in at least one bed, according to a survey published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Why dust mites make you sick

Per Dr. Corry, dust mite allergy symptoms can include:

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Why dust mites make you sick

That means knowing the conditions that can increase your risk of having a thriving dust mite population in your home in the first place, according to Dr. Corry. Some of the big risk factors include humidity, large areas of fixed carpeting, and lots of dust mite food depositing into the same space (like several people and pets shedding dander in one area). Not changing your bedding or cleaning often enough can help create an environment that dust mites love. Once you know the risk factors, you can better target the elimination and prevention of dust mites.

The NIEHS specifically recommends taking the following steps:

How long it takes to get rid of dust mites “depends on the intervention and the specific environment,” Dr. Corry says. But “you can achieve dramatic reductions in mite allergens by removing all carpets, old mattresses, old pillows and cloth furniture, and doing a thorough cleaning,” he adds.

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They can help come up with a comprehensive plan that may include allergy medications, like nasal sprays and oral antihistamines, to help reduce the symptoms you’re experiencing. Your allergist may even recommend that you undergo immunotherapy treatments through the use of allergy shots that expose you to tiny amounts of dust mite proteins, building up your exposure over time. The ultimate goal: to help reduce or stop your dust mite allergies. “We can lessen your dust mite allergy over time,” Dr. Parikh says.

Again, dust mites will be lurking around your home in some capacity, no matter how much and how intensely you clean. But if you do regular cleanings and take other steps to take out those pesky dust mites, the odds are high that you’ll be able to breathe easier at home in the future.

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