What Are Dust Mites?

Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that feed on dead human skin cells and thrive in warm, humid environments. They are not parasites that bite, sting or burrow into our bodies. Instead, people who are allergic to dust or dust mites are reacting to inhaling proteins in dust that comes from dust mite feces, urine or decaying bodies. Any inflammation of the nasal passages caused by dust mites is considered a dust allergy.

Dust mites can live in the bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains in your home. Dust mites are nearly everywhere; roughly four out of five homes in the United States have detectable levels of dust mite allergen in at least one bed.

Dust Mite Sources

Dust mites occur naturally and can appear in nearly all homes. Humidity is the most important factor in determining whether a house has high concentrations of dust mites because dust mites do not drink water like we do; they absorb moisture from the air. In areas with low humidity, like deserts, dust mites cannot survive.

Unlike pet allergens, dust mite allergens do not usually stay airborne but instead settle within minutes into dust or fabrics. These allergens commonly cling to bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains, which also serve as nests. Most exposure to dust mite allergens occurs while sleeping and when dust is disturbed during bed-making or other movements.

How Dust Mite Allergens Affect Health

Dust Mites are one of the major indoor triggers for people with allergies and asthma.

Chronic, ongoing exposure to dust mites at home can dramatically impact the health of people with asthma and those who are allergic or sensitive to mites. These allergens can trigger mild to severe allergic symptoms in sensitized individuals and can be responsible for asthma attacks. A mild case may cause an occasional runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In severe cases, the condition is ongoing, or chronic, resulting in persistent sneezing, cough, congestion, facial pressure or even a severe asthma attack. People with asthma who are sensitive to mites face an increased risk of flare-ups or asthma attacks.

How to Protect Against Dust Mites

You can take action to reduce or eliminate dust mites in your home.

  • Reduce humidity. To minimize the growth of dust mites, keep your home below 50 percent humidity. In humid areas, air conditioning and dehumidifiers can help.
  • Reduce the places where dust mites can live. Remove some of the furniture or use furniture with smooth surfaces, eliminate drapes and curtains, and cover mattresses and pillows with allergen encasements to reduce dust mites. Wash bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees F) once a week. Minimize clutter, stuffed animals, and other places where dust mites and live. If that’s not possible, wash stuffed animals weekly in hot water (at least 130 degrees) or freeze them overnight to kill dust mites.
  • Replace carpets. Carpeting should be removed from the home, especially if occupants are allergic to dust mites. If you must retain the carpet, use a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency filter. Damp clean floors often, focusing on capturing dirt and dust without wet mopping.
  • Dust regularly. Incorporating dusting into your regular cleaning routine can reduce the amount of dust and improve overall indoor air quality in your home. When dusting, use something that can trap and lock dust (like a wet washcloth or microfiber cloth) dust to reduce the amount of it that is stirred up when cleaning.

People with allergies to dust mites or with asthma triggered by dust mite allergies need to reduce dust mites in their homes. Older homes, homes located in regions with humid climates, lower income residences and homes where there is more likely to have high concentrations of dust mites.

Page last updated: February 8, 2022

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