What is a House Dust Mite?

S. Ashraf

A house dust mite is a minute insect that is an eight-legged relative of ticks and spiders. Its habitat is the warm and humid environment present in homes. The indoor environment provided by a home allows house dust mites to thrive. Regardless of cleanliness, house dust mites are found in the bedding, pillows, carpeting, and upholstered furniture of every home. Dust mites live in all climates and at all altitudes.

Dead skin cells from animals can create dust in a home, attracting dust mites.
Dead skin cells from animals can create dust in a home, attracting dust mites.

Since it is a microscopic insect, a house dust mite isn’t visible to the eye. Instead of an insect, the eye sees dust. House dust is composed of many things, from bits of soil and food to spores from mold and fungus. The major component in house dust, though, is the millions of dead skin cells that both humans and pets shed daily. These dead skin cells are the only food that a house dust mite consumes.

Regular cleaning can help deter dust mite infestations.
Regular cleaning can help deter dust mite infestations.

It is beneficial to humans for dust mites to eat and remove dead skin cell debris from the home environment. A problem arises, though, when the cells pass through the house dust mite and are excreted as waste. Millions of dust mites may be present in a house. It is the accumulation of their waste residue that triggers allergies in some people. In short, house dust mites are harmless, but their excrement, specifically a protein it contains, is an allergen.

Having a hardwood floor can help prevent dust accumulation.
Having a hardwood floor can help prevent dust accumulation.

Approximately one person in ten has a house dust mite allergy. Some of the main symptoms of having this allergy are sneezing, a runny nose, red or watery eyes, a scratchy throat, or shortness of breath. In addition, house dust mite allergens are one of the most common triggers of asthma attacks.

A house dust mite.
A house dust mite.

One way to deal with either allergy symptoms or asthma attacks is to avoid exposure, as much as possible, to house dust mites. Since carpeting, bedding, and upholstered furniture provide the perfect environment for the mites to thrive, taking special care with these items is recommended. Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water to kill the dust mites. Dust-proof or allergen-proof coverings over mattresses or pillows will help prevent exposure to dust mites while sleeping.

Allergies to dust mites can cause sneezing and a runny nose.
Allergies to dust mites can cause sneezing and a runny nose.

Vacuuming is another way to minimize exposure to dust. Upholstered furniture, carpets, and draperies should be thoroughly vacuumed at regular intervals. Some vacuums are more effective than others: vacuums with either a water filter or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter are made to be used by people allergic to dust.

Dust mites are often found in pillows and bedding.
Dust mites are often found in pillows and bedding.
A lint roller might be useful in getting rid of dust mites.
A lint roller might be useful in getting rid of dust mites.

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