Most people think of pollen when they hear the term “environmental allergies” but did you know indoor allergens can cause health problems year round?
Indoor allergies caused by dust mites and pet dander can be major culprits of symptoms like itchy skin, stuffy nose, and sinus problems. There are plenty of other symptoms, one being chronic fatigue, that may be subtle yet seriously affect your quality of life.
As the prevalence of dust mite and pet dander allergies continue to rise, it’s important to be aware of their potential effects on our health. In this article we’ll discuss what dust mites and pet dander are, share methods to protect yourself, and ways to prevent the allergies.
Why My Allergies Are Worse Indoors
I grew up with 3 dogs. Our dogs spent their days outside but mind you, this was the 1990s before indoor dogs were commonplace.
Still, many of my friends had indoor pets like cats and dogs and whenever I visited their house I’d spend time with their pets. I’ve always liked cats and dogs and miss days spent on the couch or grass petting man’s best friend.
At a young age I experienced allergy symptoms although I didn’t know they were allergies at the time. I’d run around with my dogs in the backyard then come indoors and feel itchy, or I’d go over to a friends house and sit on their cat’s favorite couch then wonder why my eyes watered.
In those days I was young and my body bounced back quickly. A day later I’d be fine and I’d forget about the symptoms. In hindsight I was lucky that our dog wasn’t allowed inside otherwise my symptoms could have been worse.
My dust mite allergy was even more inconspicuous. In fact I had never seen them nor had I heard of them.
When I learned about dust mites I realized I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. Dust mites are invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen under a microscope.
They do however, live in close proximity to us. Their favorite places are our beds, carpets, and couches.
In hindsight I always experienced symptoms after waking up the morning. I usually woke up tired even though I’d been in bed for 8 hours. I had a congested nose and itchy skin, especially my eye lids.
I was a kid and thought it was natural. It took me years to realize that something serious might be wrong and although I visited doctors and dermatologists they never mentioned allergy or referred me to an allergist.
Eventually though, my symptoms became overwhelming and I made an appointment on my own. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made because I finally understood why I was feeling so bad.
The main culprits work dust mites, cats, and dogs (pollens were also problematic but didn’t account for my indoor allergies). I began to study dust mites and pet dander.
A few years later I began this website to encourage other people like me to get their allergies under control. Let’s take a closer look at dust mite and pet dander then discuss ways to reduce our symptoms indoors.
The Indoor Dust Mite Allergy
We touched on dust mite allergy above, but let’s look at the arachnid a little closer. Dust mites are not bed bugs – these two arachnids often get confused however they can’t be more different.
If you see tiny bugs in your bed it can’t be dust mites (remember we can’t see dust mites).
Bed bugs however, can be seen and they leave welts on our skin (similar to fleas) because they suck our blood at night. Bed bugs are a serious issue and difficult to get rid of (learn more about bed bugs here).
Dust mites aren’t a problem unless we’re allergic to them. They don’t bite and are have a natural presence inside our homes.
They survive on dust, made up primarily of our skin flakes, and pet dander. They need hiding places that have warmth and moisture so this makes beds, pillows, and carpets perfect places.
Because they’re found our beds, allergic individuals usually lack quality sleep, have congested noses, and irritated eyes. Some people will even experience dust mite rash (eczema).
Management of dust mites includes regular cleaning, reducing humidity (dust mites thrive on humidity, getting rid of carpets, using high quality HVAC filters, HEPA air purifiers, and especially pillow and mattress covers that block dust mites from entering or exiting.
It’s disconcerting to think about but they do serve a valuable purpose. They recycle our waste (dead skin flakes) and our pet’s wastes (dander).
Dust mites and pet dander are closely tied to each other because pet dander feeds dust mites. Let’s take a closer look at pet dander below.
The Indoor Pet Dander Allergy
So, what exactly is pet “dander”? Dander is the combination of animal hair and fur.
Animals, more specifically our pets, have a thick coat of hair that constantly sheds. Pet hair, along with skin flakes, naturally fall off a dog or cat on a daily basis.
If we keep pets indoors the dander will accumulate in the corners of the floor. We’ll also find pet dander on couches and in beds.
Most people think hair is the biggest problem with pets because it’s easy to see. But skin flakes in the form of fine dust can be the main instigators of allergy symptoms.
In the section above we discussed the size of dust mites (invisible). Cat dander is even smaller than a dust mite (around 6 microns) and is so small it can be suspended in the air for hours just from walking through your home.
Once allergens are airborne there’s a chance we breathe them into our lungs and our symptoms begin. It’s the things we can’t see in the air that really give us problems!
This is why maintaining a clean house is so important if you have allergies or asthma. In the next section we’ll discuss a few tips to keep your house clean and reduce allergy symptoms caused by pet dander and dust mites.
How To Protect Against Pet Dander Allergy and Dust Mites (Indoor Allergy Solutions)
Now that we know what pet dander and dust mites are let’s discuss a few ways to limit them in our house. Using simple logic we can deduce that keeping pets outside and cleaning regularly will help.
But is keeping dogs and cats outside realistic? Maybe not.
Below are a few strategies, however unlikely, that we can implement to reduce allergy symptoms.
Keep pets outside (or none at all)
Here’s an interesting fact: Young children with pets are less likely to develop allergies to them.
This is part of the “hygiene hypothesis” that demonstrates a more sterile upbringing can result in the immune system misfiring at harmless substances like dust mites and dander. Early childhood exposure to pets might actually protect them from developing allergies.
If children develop allergies to their pets when they are teenagers, then it’s wise to evaluate the positives and negatives of having a pet.
Keeping a clean house is something we all want. As the saying goes “cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Once allergies have developed (teenagers and adults) get in the habit of routine cleaning.
If you have hard flooring the act of sweeping pushes allergens into the air. Dust mite and pet dander allergens are so small they can remain in the air for hours – this is why some people experience more allergy symptoms when a fan is blowing. Instead use a Swiffer or mop that captures dust as it moves on the floor’s surface.
Cleaning for carpeting is even more important because carpets attract dust and hold onto it. Regular vacuuming won’t be good enough – you’ll need a HEPA filter vacuum that captures the smallest allergens from the carpet. Your best option is to totally get rid of the carpeting but that’s not possible for everyone and can be expensive.
Utilize Allergy Covers On The Bed
Most people think of mattress covers only for dust mites, but did you know pet dander often becomes buried in our mattresses and pillows. Dogs and cats love relaxing on our beds – some of us even sleep with our pets.
My favorite allergy covers are made by Mission Allergy – their reviews are amazing.
Using a mattress allergy cover can prevent pet dander from getting into our mattress where they can irritate us long after our pets are gone. A mattress cover for pet dander allergy will also keep the mattress looking new (some are waterproof while others aren’t).
Upgrade Your HVAC Intake Filter (Allergy Filter)
You won’t find high-quality HVAC filters at the hardware store. The best place is to find them online.
You’ll need to search online for those. 3M and Nordic Pure make filters that are thick enough to capture everything including dust mites, pet dander, smoke, odors, and even bacteria. I switched out my old filters years ago and the allergy HVAC filters work great!
Try A HEPA Air Purifier In The Bedroom
HEPA air purifiers work similar to a HEPA vacuum except they clean the air rather than the floor. HEPA air purifiers are meant to run 24 hours a day and vary in size.
Some clean air in the whole house and smaller purifiers are better for rooms. If you have indoor dogs or cats, using an air purifier can really help.
Any pet dander or dust mites that become airborne will circulate back in the air purifier and be filtered out. You’re left with pure air while you sleep.
Reduce Humidity In The Home
This tip is specifically for dust mites as they thrive in humidity. In certain parts of the U.S. there is a lot of summer humidity.
Dust mites receive all their moisture needs through absorption (they don’t drink). If there is a lot of moisture in the air it means dust mites can move freely without worry.
When humidity is low dust mites huddle together in warm moist hiding places to conserve moisture. A dehumidifier in the home can pay big dividends.
This is especially true if you have a basement that gets moist in summer. Dehumidifiers also help reduce mold growth, another indoor allergen.
Indoor allergies can come from a variety of things, however dust mites and pet dander are the major culprits. Dust mites are our unseen roommates and usually exist without problem.
Problems do arise when we experience allergy symptoms such as stuffy nose, itchy skin, persistent cough, and red eyes. My biggest symptom of dust mite allergy was fatigue.
Once I was allergy tested and discover my sensitivity, I made a number of adjustments in my home. The number one things I’d recommend is allergy covers for the mattress and pillow.
If you have pets in the home it’s important to be aware of pet dander. Pet dander is made up of shed hair and skin and can bury into our carpets, couches, and beds. When pets are kept inside it’s easy to see their hair on the floor, but what’s more dangerous is pet dust (shed skin).
Just because you don’t see an allergen doesn’t mean it’s not there. Cat dander is smaller than dust mites and once airborne it can linger in the air for hours. Using HEPA air purifiers and allergen grade HVAC filter can help catch these harmful particulates from the air.
Carpets can harbor pet dander and dust mites for years, even with routine vacuuming. If you or someone in your family has severe allergies or asthma consider removing the carpets and opt for hard wood, tile, or linoleum.
A hard surface is much easier to clean and won’t give dust mites a place to hide. My family removed carpeting and I felt better immediately.
We hope this article brings more clarity to indoor allergens like dust mites and pet dander. We discuss dust mites at length on this website but don’t ignore your pets if you suspect indoor allergies.
Monitor where your dogs and cats spend time (couch, carpet, bed) and write down your symptoms to see if there are parallels. Remember that dust mites love eating pet dander so pets indoors will provide plenty of food for dust mites!