Dust mites as the name suggests, are found in dust and are not visible to the naked eye. They are microscopic creatures and are related to the tick and spider family. They feed mainly on fallen human skin cells and are therefore found in most areas inhabited by people. The most common type of dust mite found in Australian homes is Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus. Although they are invisible to the naked eye, dust mites may become a problem as they can cause allergy symptoms similar to a pollen allergy or hayfever. Dust mite allergy symptoms may include itchy and watery eyes, a runny, itchy nose and sneezing.
Allergic reactions are dose related, therefore the less dust mites in your home environment, the less you are likely to experience an allergic reaction. The highest concentrations of dust mites are found in mattresses, pillows, linen, carpets and curtains, so they are usually the places that need the most attention when managing a dust mite allergy. While it is impossible to eliminate all dust mites in your home, there are several ways to minimise their numbers. These include:
- Covering pillows and mattresses with mite resistant covers.
- Washing linen weekly in water hotter than 55⁰C. The water needs to be this hot to kill dust mites.
- Removing rugs and carpets where possible.
- Reducing humidity by ensuring adequate ventilation.
- Weekly vacuuming, including mattresses and upholstery.
It is important to note that vacuuming disturbs allergenic mite material, which may remain in the air for approximately 20 minutes. If you are allergic to dust mites, consider having someone else do the vacuuming or wear a mask. If you have curtains, wash them in hot water each season or even better, replace them with roll up blinds. Remove any items that attract dust including soft toys.
If these measures do little to relieve your allergy symptoms, you may need to consider medical treatment. Over‐the‐counter or prescription medications, such as antihistamines may help to alleviate symptoms of itching, sneezing and watery eyes. Decongestant nasal sprays may also be helpful for quick relief of allergy symptoms. However, it is not recommended that these be used for longer than a few days, as long‐term use may damage the lining of the nose.
In certain cases your general practitioner may refer you to an allergy specialist who may discuss other treatment options with you.
For more information, ASCIA website.