Is there a difference between a dust allergy and a dust mite allergy? Not exactly. It’s common to use the terms dust allergy and dust mite allergy interchangeably, but dust and dust mites aren’t the same thing.
Dust can be made up of dirt, pollen, skin cells, bacteria, and pet dander ranging from fine particles you breathe in or heavier particles that collect on surfaces. It can also include dust mites.
You can have an allergic reaction to any number of things that make up dust- including pollen, pet dander or dust mites. A single gram of dust can contain more than 100,000 waste particles from dust mites, making it a main cause of allergy symptoms for many.
You can’t see dust mites, but they’re there! All homes contain millions of these critters - no matter how clean you keep your home. And over 20 million Americans have a dust mite allergy.
While dust allergies are very common, symptoms can feel miserable when they're not kept under control. But what are dust mites and why are you allergic to them? Why do they cause nasal congestion or make you sneeze?
Once you know what a dust mite is and why it’s thriving in your home right now, you can take steps to reduce your dust mite allergies and control the symptoms.
But how can you tell if you or someone you know has a dust mite allergy?
Common Symptoms of Dust Mite Allergies
There’s no “cure” for a dust mite allergy, but you can manage your symptoms with natural or common OTC or prescription treatments and by controlling how many dust mites are living in your home.
Dust mite allergy symptoms are similar to hay fever or seasonal allergy symptoms. If you suffer from both hay fever and a dust allergy, you'll experience many of the same symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion
- Sneezing, coughing, or both
- Itchy or runny nose
- Red, itchy, or watery eyes— also known as allergic conjunctivitis
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pain or pressure
How are dust mite allergies treated?
Your doctor will recommend similar treatments for your dust mite allergy as seasonal allergies or pet allergies.
Common treatments include:
- Antihistamines, OTC or prescription, in sprays, tablets or liquids to relieve itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, runny nose or a congested and stuffed nose.
- Decongestants to improve nasal breathing by shrinking the swollen tissue in nasal passages.
- Nasal corticosteroids to block allergic reactions, reduce inflammation and swelling in your nose.
Although nasal decognestants are commonly used, there are potential side effects. If you have cardiovascular disease or severe high blood pressure, it’s best to avoid an oral decongestant. This is because oral decongestants can increase blood pressure.
If you choose an over-the-counter nasal spray decongestant, limit it’s use to three days. Nasal decongestant sprays can make your nasal congestion worse if you use the decongestant spray longer than three consecutive days.
Alternatives like nasal irrigation or SinuSonic can help reduce nasal congestion without side effects associated with decongestants.
Even though most of these symptoms are easily treated with various over-the-counter, prescription, or natural methods, prolonged exposure to dust mites can cause chronic inflammation. If you have a breathing disorder like asthma, your dust allergy could be more than uncomfortable allergy symptoms.
Dust Allergies and Asthma Symptoms
If you're one of the 25 million Americans that have asthma, then you may experience additional symptoms with your dust allergy that others will not. Some of these symptoms can include:
- Pain or tightness in your chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty sleeping caused by coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
- A distinct wheezing or whistling noise while you exhale
Keeping your symptoms under control is especially important when you have a dust allergy and asthma. Your allergy symptoms can potentially trigger an asthma attack if they are severe enough.
One thing that's important to remember is that dust allergies aren't actually caused by the dust itself. A dust allergy is really a dust mite allergy, and it’s an allergic reaction to the microscopic organisms’ waste and by-products that commonly live in house dust.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are the tiny, insect-like animals that live in the dust in your home. They're so tiny that you can't even see them without a microscope. The common house dust mite is also known by its scientific name, Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus— often abbreviated as d. pteronyssinus or “der p.” But to make things easier, we'll just keep calling them dust mites.
Unlike small pests like fleas or ticks, dust mites aren't parasites, and they won't bite or sting you. Instead, dust mites feed on organic matter in your home like dead skin cells. Instead of drinking water like other insects or animals do, dust mites absorb water from moisture and the humidity in the air.
Your allergies are caused by the dust mite directly. Instead, it’s caused a combination of decaying bodies of dust mites and their dead body fragments and dust mite feces. These particles are the dust mite allergens you and millions of other allergic people react to.
Although dust mites die within three months, their allergen particles “live on” long after the mite has died.
Dust mite particles aren't the only allergens in the dust either. The proteins in these by-products are another key factor of dust allergies. The inflammation of your nasal passages caused by dust mites— or what they leave behind— causes the dust allergy.
If you suffer from nighttime allergies as well as a dust mite allergy, these tiny critters may actually be ruining your sleep too!
How Dust Mites Can Ruin Your Sleep
Nighttime allergies ruin sleep. Dust mites irritate the respiratory system and sinuses, and are one of the biggest triggers of nighttime allergic rhinitis.
If your symptoms are worse when you go to bed, your doctor may suspect it’s a dust mite allergy. Dust mites thrive in your bed because they feed on dead skin cells, and we shed a lot of dead skin at night that ends up in your mattress, pillows and bedding material.
One study published by the Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology journal observed 1750 adults and children to find the connection between sleep problems and dust mite allergies. They found that dust mites caused significant sleep problems in both adults and children.
This is because dust mites are mainly found in soft furnishings, including mattresses, furniture, blankets, sheets, and curtains.
During the study period, many participants experienced the same sleep problems as a result of their allergic symptoms to dust mites. These included:
- Poor sleep quality
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Difficulty falling asleep
Not all participants had severe dust allergies, but those that did experienced significantly more sleep problems from dust mites than those who had more mild or occasional symptoms.
If your sleep is disturbed by nighttime allergies you can check out these tips for nighttime allergy relief and better sleep.
Is there a time of year dust mites are worse?
Similar to seasonal allergies, dust mite allergen levels are highest between May and October, their peak breeding season. But many people experience symptoms year-round, and even worsen during the winter, because heating systems stir up allergen-containing dust.
If these tiny critters are causing you misery day or night, seasonally or year-round, follow these tips to reduce your exposure and lessen your symptoms.
How to Control Your Dust Mite Allergy and Reduce Symptoms
You can’t completely eliminate dust mites or particles from your work or home, but you don’t have to let your dust mite allergy make you miserable either.
Here are a few of our suggestions to help you control your dust mite allergy and breathe freely!
Tip #1: Cut Off Dust Mite’s “Food Supply”
The best way to control your dust mite allergy is to keep your home's dust mite population to a minimum. The best way to do this is to create an inhospitable environment and cut off dust mite’s food supply - dead skin and dander.
Here are a few easy ways to get started:
- Invest in hypoallergenic bedding, specifically tightly-woven sheets, pillowcases and comforters that are less likely to accumulate dust mites. Wool and silk are also both fabrics that are inhospitable to dust mites.
- Add a protective barrier between you and your mattress with a dust mite cover. This prevents dust mites from penetrating your mattress and pillows which are common breeding grounds. It also cuts off their food source, dander and dead skin cells, for any dust mites that have already set up camp.
- Vacuum your floors and rugs often, at least once a week, and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. They are especially effective for removing allergens from surfaces, as well as from the air, and the HEPA filter will keep the dust mites in the vacuum and not released back into the air.
- Wash your bed sheets, blankets, et cetera, in hot water and dry in high heat. This kills the dust mites and removes other allergens that could also be triggering your allergic symptoms.
- Dust mites flourish on soft furnishings and fabrics so if you’re more sensitive consider replacing curtains with blinds, removing rugs and upholstered furniture (especially in the bedroom) and replacing carpet with hardwood or tile flooring.
- Decluttering your home of extra pillows and stuffed animals can be helpful too. You don't have to take the full Marie Kondo approach, but removing clutter and anything that allows dust mites to thrive can make a big difference with your allergies.
Related: How to Allergy-Proof Your Home
Tip #2: Use an Air Purifier and a Dehumidifier
Dust mites grow and thrive in warm and humid environments, generally between 70 and 80 percent humidity.
Humidity plays a crucial role in how quickly dust mites reproduce. This is why the bedroom, especially your bed, is a popular breeding ground with your mattress and bedding trapping your sweat.
If you live in a humid area— or if your home gets especially humid— consider using a dehumidifier. If you can maintain lower levels of humidity it can help reduce the number of dust mites living in your home.
An air purifier removes environmental irritants, including dust, from the air and helps ensure that your indoor air quality is at its best. Not all air purifiers are able to destroy biological contaminants like dust mite allergens, so when researching an air purifier, make sure it will do the job.
Check your air filters in your central air and heating system, and change them regularly as well.
Tip #3: Relieve Nasal Congestion with SinuSonic
When you’re already experiencing inflammation and allergy symptoms like congestion, you may need to do more than simply reducing your exposure to dust mite allergens. A natural and drug-free nasal congestion solution can help.
SinuSonic helps decongest your nasal passages naturally in under three minutes. Use it morning and night, and allow gentle acoustic vibrations and light pressure to open your nasal passages and encourage nasal drainage.
SinuSonic can help you improve your lung function! This is because of the positive expiratory pressure (PEP) the device provides. When you use SinuSonic, this gentle expiratory resistance can help you breathe better and may help improve symptoms of lung conditions.
Leave Your Allergy Symptoms In The Dust!
It may be tough to believe that something so tiny you can’t see without a microscope can have such a big impact on your sleep and day-to-day life. Follow our tips above and you’ll have your dust mites and your allergies under control in no time. All it takes is a little extra care.
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