Allergy to dust mites: causes, symptoms and how to recognize it

Dust mite allergy is a very common but also very annoying condition. Let's find out together the causes, symptoms, treatments and tips to reduce the number of dust mites in our homes.

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Dust mite allergy is an immune system reaction caused by small insects that usually live in house dust. Dust mite allergy symptoms include those of normal hay fever, which is a runny nose and sneezing. Other people experience more severe symptoms, such as asthma, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.

Getting rid of dust mites completely from our homes is next to impossible, because these tiny insects are not visible to the naked eye. Mites, very similar to spiders and ticks, tend to settle in hot and humid environments such as bedding, mattresses or sofas. (Read also: Mites: natural remedies to prevent dust allergies)



Le allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, house dust mites, or pet hair. The immune system produces proteins, known as antibodies, which protect us from external agents, also called antigens, which could cause us infections. In the case of allergies, the immune system reacts by producing antibodies called immunoglobulins (E or IgE) which attack the allergen, which is identified as harmful by our immune system.

The moment we come into contact with the allergen, the immune system produces an immediate inflammatory response, concentrated mainly in the respiratory tract, as in the case of mites. So prolonged exposure to these pesky, tiny insects can lead to chronic inflammation.

Dust mite allergy is linked to inhaling a protein found in the remains of dust mites, such as their feces and decaying bodies. Mites survive in the environment by feeding on organic matter, such as cells emanating from the skin, and absorb water from the moisture present in the atmosphere.

The following factors can increase the risk of dust mite allergy:

  • If several family members have allergies, a sensitivity to dust mites is very likely to develop.
  • Being exposed to high levels of dust mites, especially during the first few years of life, increases the risk of developing dust mite allergies.
  • The chance of developing a dust mite allergy is greatest in childhood or early adulthood.


The ailments caused by this allergy can be milder or more severe and can differ according to the area in which they affect.

Symptoms associated with inflammation of the nasal passages include:

  • Repeated sneezing and runny nose
  • Nasal obstruction (rhinitis)
  • Itchy nose, palate or throat
  • Itching, redness, tearing, irritation and swelling of the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Cough

Symptoms associated with asthma include:

  • Feeling of chest tightness and pain
  • Difficult breathing, especially during physical exertion
  • Noisy breathing when exhaling
  • Poor sleep quality caused by breathing problems

How to recognize it

The allergy can have symptoms very similar to those of a common cold, but if the symptoms persist for more than a week it is good to do thorough checks, to understand if it is allergies. How can we do to recognize it?

  • Through a specification allergological visit in which the doctor will examine your nasal mucosa which, if affected by an allergy, will be swollen and appear pale, tending to bluish.
  • Through a skin test (Prick test): In this test, a drop of purified allergen extracts, including dust mite extract, is applied with a needle to the skin of the forearm or upper back. In case of allergy to one of the tested substances, after about 15 minutes, the development of a raised, red and itchy swelling will be observed. The side effects of this test disappear within 30 minutes (
  • Means blood tests: Alternatively or in addition to the Prick test, your doctor may order a blood test to screen for specific antibodies (IgE) that cause allergies to various common allergens, including pollen and dust mites.

How to prevent the appearance of dust mites

No matter how long you spend cleaning your home from top to bottom, dust mites cannot be completely eliminated, because being tiny they are not visible to the naked eye.

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However, the number of insects present inside our home can be reduced through these simple tips:

  • Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels at or below 50%
  • Cover the mattress and pillows with dust covers
  • Wash the sheets and blankets at least once a week in 50-60 degrees hot water to kill the mites
  • Replace wool or down products with synthetic materials
  • Use a damp rag to remove dust. Never use a dry cloth as it may raise more dust and give the green light to the mites
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a sanitizing filter
  • Wear a mask when cleaning and leaving the room to allow dust and allergens to settle

However, being a nearly impossible mission to permanently eliminate dust mites from your surroundings, you may also need medications to control ailments and relieve symptoms, such as:

  • Antihistamines that lower the immune system's production of histamine which activates the allergic reaction. These medications relieve itching, sneezing, and a runny nose.
  • Corticosteroids, given as a nasal spray, can reduce inflammation and control complaints.
  • Decongestants in nasal sprays, which can help reduce swelling of the mucosa and facilitate breathing but for more than three consecutive days, could worsen nasal congestion. Some tablet medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant.

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Sources: Istituto Superiore di Sanita/ Mayo Clinic

To learn more, read also: 

  • How often to wash windows, sheets, carpets and more ...
  • Natural remedies to keep insects away: the guide
  • Allergies: how to keep pollen out of the house
  • Natural antihistamines: the 10 most effective foods and remedies for allergies



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