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Today, we’re looking at 12 facts about dust mites. Dust mites are an arachnid, also known as bed mites and house mites, and are microscopic creatures that live inconspicuously in our homes.
They reside on the floor, in our beds, and other dark places like our closest and help break down the dust we produce when we shed dead skin.
The vast majority of dust in our home comes from our skin, as it slowly sheds off. While this revelation may sound disturbing, dust mites are generally not something to fret over.
They likely co-evolved with humans and because they are microscopic, we usually don’t know they exist.
For people who have allergies or show signs of dust mite allergy symptoms, the presence of dust mites is a constant concern. Some people are sensitive to dust mites and their feces, while others have full-blown allergies. Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- Fatigue (my worst)
- Congestion or Allergic Rhinitis
- Itchy skin or sinuses
- Post-nasal drip
- Sleeping problems
When I was growing up I had moderate allergies but I didn’t know it. I had rashes on my skin, irritated eyes, and a persistent stuffy nose. My worst symptom was fatigue.
I was always exhausted and I looked at other people and wondered how they had so much energy. Was I just born like this or was I sick?
Reluctantly I made an appointment with an allergist and was tested for a spectrum of environmental allergens.
I was surprised to see a big reaction to dust mites. I didn’t even know what dust mites were and I had no idea they lived in my bed.
Learning that I had an allergy to dust mites was the best thing that happened to me because I finally knew why I felt bad. I made simple changes like getting mattress and pillow covers for dust-mite protection.
I bought a small HEPA air purifier that I’ve used for the past 5 years. It works great and filters the allergy-causing dust mite protein from the air. Needless to say, I feel much better now because I learned about dust mites and how to protect myself.
The following are facts about dust mites that should help you understand the creature better. If you or a family member has allergies to dust mites these are things you should know. The more we know, the better we can manage their presence in our homes.
Fact 1: There Are 2 Two Types Of Dust Mites
There are 2 main species of dust mite, the American Dust Mite, and the European Dust Mite. Although named after geographical areas, dust mites live on virtually all continents feeding on dead skin cells from humans and animals.
They are usually found in homes where people and pets live in close proximity.
They are called the American and European Dust Mite because those were the locations they were initially discovered.
Fact 2: Dust Mites Can’t Be Seen With The Naked Eye
Dust mites are microscopic, blind, and contrary to popular belief cannot bite. Without a microscope, they are impossible to see. At home, you’ll certainly never see them unless you own a microscope.
Even with a microscope, they’re tough to see since they’re translucent in color. People often confuse dust mites with bed bugs which can be seen with the naked eye and do bite.
Bed bugs are not an allergy problem, however, they do suck blood and can leave bite marks. Bed bug infestations should be treated immediately as they can multiply quickly and spread through backpacks and clothes.
Dust mites, on the other hand, are an irritant to skin and your respiratory system and cause typical allergy symptoms like wheezing, rash, inflammation, and congestion. Many people overlook them as an allergy hazard because they aren’t seen.
Fact 3: Dust Mites Are Hungry for Human Skin
Dust mites feed almost entirely on human skin scales that have fallen off our bodies. If you have a pile of dust in the corner of your room, the majority of that dust is made up of human skin flakes.
Dust mites are recyclers and they are found primarily in places humans spend the most time or where dust collects. They are found on the floor, especially in carpets where there is warmth and they can hide, and in our beds (think pillows, blankets, and mattresses).
Our beds are full of dead skin flakes and there are plenty of places to hide inside our pillows and mattresses. Check out my article on dust mite proof covers.
Dust mites enjoy beds because they get warmth, moisture (sweat), and dead skin on a daily basis while we sleep. Dust mites do not drink water, rather, they simply absorb moisture needs from the air.
If you use dust mite pillow covers and mattress covers it will help in multiple ways.
- First, the cover will trap dust mites inside the mattress or pillow and not allow them to come out to feed.
- Second, the dust mite proof cover will keep dust mites from colonizing a new pillow or mattress.
- Third, it will prevent dust mite allergens from coming into contact with your skin and causing a rash.
- Fourth, it will keep your mattress and pillow looking new and last a long time.
You will need to wash your sheets regularly but dust mites in your mattress and pillow won’t be an issue!
Fact 4: Dust Mites Like Warm and Moist Weather
The preferred temperature for dust mites is 77-87 degree Fahrenheit with humidity. Researchers have found that in dry climates there are fewer dust mites.
Similarly, high altitudes also have fewer dust mites because there is less humidity in the air. Dust mites thrive where there is more humidity, especially in locations in the American Mid-West, East Coast, and South where there are hot, damp summers.
Dehumidifiers are a great option for people with dust mite allergy in humid regions. They come in various sizes (room to the whole house)!
While I was living on the East Coast my dust mite allergy symptoms increased dramatically in the summer. I invested in a dehumidifier (check out our blog post on dehumidifiers) and my symptoms improved within a month.
Fact 5: Dust Mites Can Cause Eczema Rash
If you have eczema it might be irritated by the presence of dust mites. For years I had eczema and didn’t understand why. I thought I was born with it (I was).
If you have sensitive skin it might be worsened from dust mites in your bed. It’s not uncommon for people to wake up in the morning with swollen eyes and a congested nose. While congestion isn’t eczema, swollen itchy eyelids could be eczema.
Eczema can also be on the inner arms, back of legs, neck, and behind the ears. I’ve made adjustments to my sleeping arrangements and significantly reduced my eczema.
Fact 6: Dust Mites Digest Food Quickly
Okay, this one is gross! Dust mites produce on average 20 fecal deposits daily. These are tiny deposits however they add up quickly.
Because they commonly live in our pillows and mattresses this means we are breathing dust mite feces constantly (I’m not exaggerating). A 2-year-old pillow can make up to 15% weight of the pillow in dust mites and their fecal matter.
I used the same pillow for my whole childhood and rarely washed it. I can’t believe I did that!
In addition to the bed, these fecal deposits end up all over our bedrooms. When we turn on the fan, heater, or air conditioning it stirs up the tiny dust mite particles, and they can remain airborne for hours because they are microscopic. The problems begin when we inhale them into our lungs.
Because they are so small and lightweight, just walking in or out of a room will stir up dust mites. Not only the mite but also its fecal pellets are flying around in your home!
Related: Best HEPA vacuums for Dust Mites.
Fact 7: No One Likes Breathing Dust Mite Poop
Dust mite fecal matter is actually the main cause of allergic symptoms. Their feces contain a protein that can cause allergic rhinitis, asthma, and act as a trigger for rashes such as eczema.
While it’s important to get rid of dust mites and their larvae, it’s just important to get rid of their waste.
Dust mite feces also become airborne easily because it’s lightweight. A falling down onto the couch or turning a fan on can send dust mites and their feces into the air where they are suspended for an hour.
Breathing invisible poop is disgusting! HEPA Air Purifier for Allergies work great to filter indoor air – I keep one in my bedroom and use it while I sleep at night
Fact 8: Dust Mites Reproduce Quickly
An adult female lays about 50 eggs in her 6-week lifespan and about 10,000 dust mites live in the average bed! As we mentioned above, National Geographic states that a 2-year-old pillow can be up to 10-15% of dust mites by weight.
Humidity increase reproduction rates because dust mites are able to move around easier. In drier climates, dust mites must huddle together to conserve moisture.
Make sure you change your pillows (or cover them) every 1-2 years. For people without dust mite allergy, it’s not essential but may give you peace of mind that you’re sleeping in a more hygienic way.
Fact 9: Dust Mites Love Carpets
If you have dust mite allergy symptoms or are concerned about dust mites in your home, consider getting rid of your carpets. It’s a big decision to get rid of your carpets and it can be an investment.
Dust mites like carpets because they appreciate the warmth, moisture (limited), hiding places, and food (plenty of dust).
Carpets are known to catch and hold onto dust, including dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and soil. Sure you can vacuum regularly but even the best vacuums have a hard time getting dust from deep inside carpets.
I grew up with carpeting throughout my house. After 15 years we removed the carpets and installed hardwood. I was astonished at the amount of dirt and dust UNDER the carpet.
Dust had made its way through the carpet and settled underneath. For most people, this isn’t a big problem but for others like me, it could make life miserable.
Rugs should be shaken out weekly and cleaning is much easier on hard flooring!
Fact 10: Dust Mites Are Getting The Better Of Us
Approximately 20,000,000 people are allergic to dust mites in the U.S.A. and the number is rising! Scientists understand the allergy but are still trying to figure out why human immune systems are malfunctioning and reacting to harmless things such as dust mite, pollen, animals etc.
One reason may be due to the hygiene hypothesis, which has to do with an overactive immune response due to living in a more sterile environment. When we live more cleanly, our immune system lacks substances to fight.
For some reason, our immune system can begin to attack harmless substances like dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander. When our immune system attacks it unleashes histamine that causes watery eyes, stuffy nose, and rashes.
This response is meant to protect our body but we don’t want this to happen on a daily basis when we encounter a harmless dust mite. Antihistamines can help reduce the histamine response.
Fact 11: Dust Mites Are An Arachnid
Dust mites are not insects, they are arachnids. Arachnids have eight legs and spiders are the most widely known arachnid but scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen, and solifuges are also part of the class.
Dust mites belong to the subclass Acarina that include ticks. But don’t worry, dust mites won’t bite you or suck your blood.
They only eat our dust with dead skin. They also enjoy pet dander so if you have pets inside it will create more food for these little arachnids!
Fact 12: You Can Protect Yourself From Dust Mites
For allergy sufferers, the bedroom is the most problematic place in the house. It’s where the highest concentration of dust mites are and most of them are in your bed (mattress, pillow, and blanket).
If you are experiencing dust mite allergy symptoms think about protecting your mattress and pillows with dust mite proof encasings.
This will prevent dust mites from making a home inside and kill the ones already inside. Covers will also minimize contact, both skin and breathing, with dust mites.
Protective products include:
- Air purifiers
- HVAC Allergy Filters – read our Filtrete Comparison
- HEPA Vacuum
- Anti Allergen Laundry Detergent
- Dust Mite Sprays
Dust mites are an interesting species and although we can’t see them we should be aware of them and the potential harm they cause. Dust mites often get confused with the bed bug however they are much different species.
Many people are unaware of dust mites and don’t realize they share a bed with. Learning facts about dust mites can help us understand their role in the home and how they cause allergies.
I was allergic to dust mites my whole life but I didn’t understand why. Isn’t it amazing that an invisible arachnid can cause us to have allergy symptoms?
I hope this article helped you learn about dust mites. If you have more facts that you think we should include, leave a note in the comments! Thanks for reading.