Are many individuals allergic to dust mites?
The allergens originating from dust mites are probably the world’s greatest cause of allergies and are significant triggers of asthma attacks. Estimates are as high as fifteen to twenty percent of the earth’s total population is allergic to the allergens produced by dust mites. In the United States alone, more than 20 percent of the general population is estimated to be allergic to these unwelcome guests. Among asthmatics and individuals with multiple allergies, the figure rises to around 40 percent.
What are the symptoms of dust mite allergy?
Symptoms vary in severity from person to person, and can include:
Red, itchy, watery eyes
Difficulty in breathing
Nasal congestion and coughing
Burning feeling in the throat
Atopic Dermatitis (skin contact)
What is dust?
Plain ordinary dust is a mixture of various potentially allergenic materials. A mere speck of house dust may contain fibers from different types of fabrics, feathers and other stuffing materials, hair, pollen, assorted molds and fungi, animal dander, hair, human skin scales, bits of plants and insect particles, fingernail filings, tobacco, and other allergens in a particular home, such as hair and dander from pets, but the major allergen in house dust is the dust mite.
What are dust mites?
Dust mites are tiny, eight-legged, creamy-colored translucent creatures with exceptionally sticky feet that allow them to latch onto surfaces such as bedding, carpets, upholstery, clothing and other items made from textured fabrics. They are members of the arachnid family. In most homes with dust mites, the most prevalent are Dermatophagoides farinae and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, Latin names meaning “skin eaters.” Invisible to the naked eye, they range in size between 0.1 to 0.3 millimeters long, which is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. See a video of live dust mites by clicking here
‘Skin eaters’ sounds frightening…do dust mites eat living skin?
No, dust mites absolutely do not eat living skin. They are not capable of biting or stinging humans or burrowing under the skin. They are strictly scavengers whose primary food source are the microscopic flakes of skin, or dander, that people and pets continuously shed. And due to the large amount of the skin scales shed daily by both pets and people, mites have an abundant food supply. It’s been written that a family of four could fill a quart container in one month!
Do dust mites bite?
Unlike their cousins … spiders, scorpions and ticks … dust mites are not capable of biting or stinging humans or even burrowing under the skin. They are strictly scavengers, whose primary food sources are the microscopic skin flakes, or dander, that people and pets continuously shed.
If dust mites don’t bite, what causes the allergic reaction?
The allergic potential of dust mites is caused by the powerful proteins contained primarily in their fecal matter and also in bits of their decomposing body parts. We inhale and become allergic to them. Each dust mite ingests enough to produce from 10 to 20 fecal pellets each day. Hannah Holmes explains in The Secret Life of Dust (John Wiley & Sons) that the fecal matter “exits the mite as brown balls one-sixth of a hair’s width in diameter. The balls consist of digestive enzymes plus digested remnants of all the things a mite might eat. About 20 times a day, a mite excretes a package holding three to five of these balls. The proteins in these packages are the source of much human misery.” When we inhale these proteins, they attack the respiratory passages and produce the symptoms listed below.
According to Thomas Platts-Mills, M.D., Ph.D, head of the University of Virginia’s division of allergy and clinical immunology, “the membrane that covers the outside of the pellet is so strong that you could soak it in salt water for 16 hours without harming it in the least.” They keep their allergy potential for months. Once they do break down, the tiny particles circulate through the air, and are inhaled into the nose and lungs where they produce the symptoms listed below.
If they don’t bite or sting, how do I know they are present in my home?
You may never know you have dust mites in your home unless you suspect them from your symptoms.
Where are dust mites found?
Dust mites exist throughout the world, mostly in warm, moist, humid environments. They prefer relative humidities of 70-80 percent and temperatures of 75-80 degrees F. They do not survive well in low humidity, dry climates and high altitudes, in fact they die when the relative humidity drops below 50 percent. Mites have a poor mechanism for retaining water, thus they absorb moisture from the air and the environment. Studies indicate that in humid north-and southeastern cities like Cleveland, Memphis or Houston, nearly all homes are dust mite positive, as compared to less than 10 percent of homes in drier and higher elevated climates like Denver. But even if you live in the mountains or desert – climates usually unfriendly to dust mites – you can have them in your home if you humidify your air, so mite-allergic individuals should not run a humidifier in their homes.
Where do dust mites live in your home?
Dust mites live in mattresses, carpets (especially those with loose or long pile), overstuffed furniture (especially upholstered with textured fabrics), dusty bookcases, clothing, curtains, drapes, bedding, towels and even stuffed toys. What’s more, once dust mite allergens settle into the various reservoirs previously mentioned, they can be set afloat into the air again and again when someone changes the bedding, walks across a rug, sits down on an upholstered sofa or chair, fluffs a pillow or shakes the bed clothes, giving asthma and allergy sufferers immediate symptoms.
Just how many dust mites can be present in a mattress or a carpet?
A typical mattress can contain tens of thousands to millions of dust mites. Many millions of them can live in one square yard of carpeting! Don’t forget the draperies or curtains!
Is there one area of the house that is the worst?
The highest concentration of dust mites in a typical home is found in the bedroom. Beds are a prime habitat. Mites inhabit warm and human places like mattresses, box springs, pillows, sheet, blankets and towels where your dead ski8n cells collect and serve as their food source. As most individuals normally spend about a third of their day in bed, mites live off the scales that we shed each night when our skin rubs against our bedding. The temperature and humidity of our bodies provide ideal conditions for mites to reproduce. Pets that sleep on the bed contribute even more food when they shed dander. The temperature and humidity of our bodies provide idea conditions for mites to reproduce. According to the Mayo Clinic, without knowing it, you may be sharing your bed with anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million of these uninvited guests. And each time you breathe, you inhale their allergens deeply into your lungs. Virtually every breath you take is saturated with them.
Does good or bad housekeeping make a difference whether you have dust mites or not?
Dust mites multiply rapidly in houses because homes provide all of their necessary creature comforts. Cleanliness of the home or its occupants, or the presence of pets has nothing to do with the presence of mites in the home. It’s the humidity and temperature of the home, the amount of food (shed human/pet skin flakes) and the number of nesting areas in the home that are most important from an allergy perspective.
How do dust mites cause allergies?
Actually, it’s not house dust mites themselves that causes an individual’s sneezing and runny nose, but the proteins in both their fecal pellets (which they excrete after feeding on flakes of dead skin that that people and pets are constantly shedding), as well as their exoskeletons, or disintegrating body parts. For allergy sufferers, inhaling dust mite allergens can trigger perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis or bronchial asthma. High levels of dust mite allergens are also associated with atopic dermatitis – an allergic skin condition frequently referred to as eczema, characterized by itchy, dry, reddened and scaly skin.
Are dust mites and bedbugs the same?
No, they are not the same. You previously read that dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed on dead skin cells and trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. Remember, you can’t see them, but can only suspect their presence from your symptoms. Bedbugs, on the other hand, can be seen. They are reddish-brown in color, have 6 legs, are about the size of an apple seed, and feed on your blood. Like mosquitos, they use their sharp beaks to pierce their host’s skin and inject their saliva, which contains an anesthetic agent that keeps their victim from feeling the bite. Humans rarely feel any sensation of being bitten while they sleep, but only realize they have a problem when they wake up with itchy bites on their necks, arms and legs. They may also notice tiny blood spots on their bedding.