WHAT IS A DUST MITE?
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed mainly on fallen human skin cells and thrive in environments that are warm and humid. For those reasons, the highest concentrations of dust mites are found in areas inhabited by people, such as mattresses, pillows, linen, carpets and curtains. The most common type of dust mite found in Australian homes is Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus.
WHAT IS A DUST MITE ALLERGY?
A dust mite allergy occurs when a person has an allergic reaction whenever they come into contact with dust mites. Their immune system identifies dust mites as a harmful foreign allergen, and in doing so triggers their body to produce an inflammatory reaction in their nasal passages or skin. This inflammatory response can cause symptoms similar to those of other allergies, such as pollen, pet or hayfever allergies.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A DUST MITE ALLERGY?
Signs and symptoms of a dust mite allergy include:
- Runny, itchy or stuffy nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Itchy mouth
- Itchy throat
- Itchy skin
HOW IS A DUST MITE ALLERGY DIAGNOSED?
An allergy test will help you to find out if dust mites or another allergen is causing your symptoms. Your doctor will first take a detailed history about your allergy symptoms. Then they may suggest for you to have an allergy test. These tests include:
- Skin prick testing is the most common allergy test, as it’s quick, convenient and less expensive than the other methods of testing. The results are available within 20 minutes, so you can discuss the outcome with your doctor on the same day as the test. The test is usually performed on the forearm, which is cleaned with alcohol. Drops of commercially produced allergens are placed on marked areas and a sterile lancet is used to make a slight prick in the skin. This ensures that a small amount of the substance enters the skin. The area is then observed for redness and swelling for 15 to 20 minutes. This test is most often used to detect allergies to mould, pollen, pet dander, dust mites and insect venom.
- Intradermal tests are most often performed when insect venom is the suspected allergen. The allergen extract is injected under the skin and the area is then observed for 15 to 20 minutes. Intradermal testing is more accurate and is usually used when the results of a skin prick test are inconclusive.
- Patch testing is used for allergic skin irritation and detects delayed allergic reactions. This form of testing does not require any needles. The allergen is placed on a patch, that is then applied to the skin for up to 48 hours. A patch test allows for up to 30 allergens to be tested at once, including fragrances, latex, hair dyes, metals and preservatives. After the allotted time, the person being tested returns to the doctor and the patches are removed. Skin irritation at the patch site may indicate an allergy.
HOW CAN I PREVENT 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.
- Removing any items that attract dust including soft toys.
- Washing curtains in hot water each season or even better, replacing them with roll up blinds.
- 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 cleaning or wear a mask.
HOW DO YOU TREAT A DUST MITE ALLERGY? Dust mite allergy treatment
The best defence against the allergen is to reduce exposure to dust mites, i.e. the less dust mites your home, the less likely you are going to experience an allergic reaction. However, your doctor or allergy specialist may suggest one of the following common treatments to relieve your symptoms:
- Antihistamines may help to alleviate symptoms of itching, sneezing and watery eyes.
- Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays decrease swelling and mucus in the nasal passages by reducing the inflammatory response caused by the allergen.
- Although these are the most common treatments, other treatments are available. Talk to your healthcare professional to help decide what would be best for you.
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For more information, ASCIA website.
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