Home is supposed to be a comforting oasis, but for people with dust allergies the home can trigger uncomfortable symptoms. Oddly enough, allergy symptoms often worsen during or immediately after vacuuming, sweeping and dusting. The process of cleaning can stir up dust particles, making them easier to inhale.
People with dust mite allergies often suffer the most inside their homes or in other people’s homes. Dust mites are tiny organisms that can barely be seen by the naked eye. They feed off house dust and the moisture in the air. They are one of the most common indoor allergens, and symptoms can be present year-round. In addition to allergic rhinitis, dust mite allergy can also trigger asthma and cause eczema to flare.
Do dust and mites have you itching, sneezing and wheezing?
It’s time for an allergist.
Dust Allergy Symptoms
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Red, itchy or teary eyes
- Wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath
Dust Allergy Triggers
- Dust mites
- Pet hair, fur or feathers
Dust Mite Allergy Management and Treatment
Make changes to your home and to your routine:
- Remove wall-to-wall carpets, curtains, and drapes particularly in the bedroom.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom, and preferably out of the house.
- Minimize household humidity.
- Use “mite-proof” cases on mattresses and pillows; wash bed linens frequently in hot water.
- Wear a mask when cleaning
- Keep the relative humidity in your home less than 50%
Dust mites – sometimes called bed mites – are the most common cause of allergy from house dust. Dust mites live and multiply easily in warm, humid places. They prefer temperatures at or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 75 to 80 percent. They die when the humidity falls below 50 percent. They are not usually found in dry climates.
Dust mite particles are often found in pillows, mattresses, carpeting and upholstered furniture. They float into the air when anyone vacuums, walks on a carpet or disturbs bedding and they settle once the disturbance is over.
Dust mites are a common cause of asthma in children.
A house does not need to be visibly dirty to trigger a dust mite allergy reaction. The particles are too tiny to be seen and often cannot be removed using normal cleaning procedures. In fact, a vigorous cleaning can make an allergic person’s symptoms worse.
Cockroaches live in all types of buildings and neighborhoods. Some people develop allergy symptoms when they are around cockroaches. Tiny particles from the cockroach are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Mold is a fungus that makes spores that float in the air. When people with a mold allergy inhale the spores, they get allergy symptoms. There are many different kinds of mold—some kinds you can see, others you can’t.
Molds live everywhere—on logs and on fallen leaves, and in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens. Tiny mold particles and spores are a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Pollen comes from trees, grasses, flowers and weeds. People can be allergic to different types of pollen. For instance, some people are allergic to pollen from only beech trees; others are allergic to pollen from only certain kinds of grasses. Pollen is a common component of household dust and may be the true cause of a dust allergy.
Animal hair, fur and feathers
Pets can cause problems for allergic patients in several ways. Their dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction, especially when combined with household dust. In households with birds, feathers and bird droppings can also become embedded in household dust and cause problems for people who are allergic to them.
If you think you may have an allergy to any of the components of house dust, see an allergist. To pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, the allergist will ask detailed questions about your work and home environments, family medical history, frequency and severity of symptoms and exposure to pets and other possible triggers.
Sometimes the medical interview will reveal a likely culprit—for instance, a girl who gets a stuffy nose every time she plays with a friend’s cat might have an allergy to cats or to the dust infused with cat hair in her friend’s house.
Often an allergist will need to conduct a skin test to determine exactly what is triggering an allergic reaction.
Skin tests involve using a small, sterile probe to prick the skin with extracts from common allergens, such as tree pollen and pet dander, and observing the reaction. A positive reaction (a raised welt with redness around it) may indicate that you are allergic to that substance. Occasionally, your allergist may order a blood test and a skin test to confirm an allergy.
After a dust allergy is identified, your allergist will recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy)
- Tablets (oral immunotherapy)
- Changes to your household routine
To manage a dust allergy, it’s best to avoid the things most likely to cause an allergic reaction. Here are some simple steps to reduce exposure to indoor dust:
- Opt for wood flooring over wall-to-wall carpets when possible, especially in bedrooms.
- Clean your house regularly, using a central vacuum or a vacuum with a HEPA filter. If you are allergic, wear an N95 filter mask while dusting, sweeping or vacuuming. (It can take more than two hours for the dust to settle after a thorough cleaning—so, if possible, clean when the allergic patient is away, and avoid cleaning the bedroom of an allergic person at night.)
- Use “mite-proof” cases on your mattresses and pillows. Wash all bed linens regularly, using hot water.
- Keep a HEPA air cleaner running in the allergic person’s bedroom.
- Keep pets out of the allergic person’s bedroom at all times.
- Keep all unrefrigerated food covered; dispose of food waste in a tightly sealed garbage can.
- If cockroaches are a known problem, use roach traps and schedule regular visits by a professional pest control service.
- Install a high-efficiency media filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in the furnace and the air conditioning unit. Leave the fan on to create a “whole house” air filter that removes particulates. Change the filter at least every three months (with the change of the seasons) to keep the air clean year-round. Have your heating and air conditioning units inspected and serviced every six months.
- Get in the habit of using a hygrometer to measure the humidity in your home; keep the humidity level below 55 percent. If you live in a humid or sticky climate, you may find it helpful to use a dehumidifier. You may use a vent fan for removing moisture in bathrooms and the kitchen. Repairing all water leaks will also help keep moisture away.
- If your efforts to reduce exposure to indoor dust don’t provide adequate relief, your allergist may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter medication. Decongestants and antihistamines are the most common allergy medications. They help to reduce a stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing and itching. Other medications work by preventing the release of the chemicals that cause allergic reactions. Corticosteroid sprays are effective in treating inflammation in your nose. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) work by gradually increasing a person’s tolerance to allergy triggers. Oral immunotherapy – tablets dissolved under the tongue – is also an option. The first dose is given in a supervised fashion in an allergist’s office, and can then be taken at home daily. Duration of treatment is typically one year.
An allergist will work with you to determine which medications are best for you and how often and how much of them you should take.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that frequently make their home in places like furniture, carpets, and bedding. They are too small to be seen without a microscope or magnifying glass. They have eight legs and are not true insects, but relatives of spiders.
Dust mites feed on the flakes of skin shed by humans (and animals) every day. They prefer environments with 70 to 80% humidity, and temperatures of 68 to 77°F.
In most parts of the world, it’s impossible to completely eliminate dust mites from your home. However, you can take steps to minimize your exposure to dust mite allergens by keeping your home as dust-free as possible.
Vacuuming and dusting are not enough to remove dust mites, because these creatures can live deep inside your upholstery, mattresses, carpets, etc. You can cover mattresses, pillows, and upholstered furniture with zippered dust-proof covers – the material of these covers is designed with pores that are too small for dust mites to pass through. Wash sheets, blankets and other bedding every week in hot water (no more than 120°F) to kill dust mites. Replace carpeting with hard flooring and avoid plush rugs, fabric draperies, and anything else that cannot easily be washed regularly.
Use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in your home below 50%, making it a less suitable environment for dust mites.
Clean hard surfaces with a wet mop or cloth to avoid stirring dry allergens up into the air.
Use HEPA filters to trap dust mites and other allergens. Change the filters every three months to ensure they remain effective.
This page was reviewed for accuracy 2/2/2018.