Dust mite allergy: what can you do?

What can you do if you have a dust mite allergy? Can a dust mite allergy just go away? Learn all about this mite allergy, possible symptoms and how to get a dust mite allergy diagnosed.

22.02.2024 Imke Schmitz 4 minutes

What is a dust mite allergy?

A dust mite allergy is a type I allergy. This means that it is when your immune system responds immediately to substances that are actually harmless. In this case, the body is reacting to dust mites, which are tiny arachnids invisible to the naked eye. Mites feed on flakes of human skin and are found mainly in bed linen, mattresses and upholstered furniture.

What triggers the allergy (allergen) is not the mite itself, but its faeces and bodily remains. These fine particles become mixed with household dust and enter your airways, where they trigger an allergic reaction (inhalation-based allergy). With a dust mite allergy, the immune system identifies these particles as a threat and produces antibodies that cause certain symptoms. Many sufferers don’t realise that their day-to-day symptoms are caused by a dust mite allergy. Correct diagnosis by a doctor is therefore crucial.

In addition, people with a dust mite allergy are sometimes also more sensitive to certain foods, especially shellfish and crustaceans. In this case, the dust mite allergy is associated with a cross-allergy – certain proteins (tropomyosin) found in dust mites are also present in seafood.

Dust mite allergy: what are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a dust mite allergy can vary in how acute they are, depending on how severe the allergy is. Common signs of a dust mite allergy are:

  • Swollen mucous membranes: the nasal mucosa often reacts sensitively to the allergens and swells up.
  • Sneezing: frequent sneezing is a typical reaction to the irritant allergens.
  • Runny or blocked nose: a runny or blocked nose, similar to a cold, is a classic symptom.
  • Dry and itchy eyes: eyes can become irritated, tired and dry due to conjunctivitis.
  • Fatigue: the allergic reaction can lead to you having a prolonged feeling of exhaustion, despite getting enough sleep.
  • Skin rash: in rare cases, you can also experience a reaction on your skin, especially if you suffer from neurodermatitis.

Important: severe cases of dust mite allergy can lead to asthma. This manifests in symptoms such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath and a feeling of tightness in your chest. Take these symptoms seriously and talk to your doctor about them.

Dust mite allergies: what is the cause?

It is not fully clear why some people develop a mite allergy and others not. Doctors believe that the following factors play a role:

  • Genetic predisposition: if your family has a history of allergies or asthma, there is an increased risk of you developing allergies yourself.
  • Different lifestyle: our modern lifestyle could also be contributing to the development of allergies. It is possible that improved hygiene standards are making our immune system less robust and therefore more susceptible to allergies.

Dust allergies in children

Dust mite allergies do not only affect adults: they are also very common in children. Dust mite allergies usually occur in small children under the age of seven and are rare in babies. If you notice that your child has any of the above symptoms, you should consult a doctor. This also enables you to rule out other childhood illnesses with similar characteristics.

Diagnosing a dust mite allergy in your child is crucial in order to treat and prevent it correctly. It is especially important to have an open discussion with your paediatrician and to have regular check-ups.

Diagnosing dust mite allergies

Reliable diagnostics are essential for a dust mite allergy. Your doctor will decide which diagnostic procedure is most suitable. Common dust mite allergy tests are:

  • Skin prick test: the prick test is used by doctors particularly frequently. This involves them applying small amounts of various allergens to your skin, usually on the inside of the forearm. The skin in these areas is then pricked lightly in order to get the allergen into the uppermost layer of your skin. If your skin reacts by developing a rash or itching, this indicates hypersensitivity. However, this does not mean that you suffer from symptoms.
  • Laboratory test: detection of allergy antibodies (IgE) to dust mites or their components in the blood. This is a key part of the examination carried out by your family doctor, pharmacist or an allergy specialist.
  • Nasal provocation test: when performing this test, the doctor brings the nasal mucosa into direct contact with the allergen to trigger a reaction. The doctor then observes the reaction of the mucous membrane to determine whether and to what extent allergic symptoms occur. This test is particularly helpful in assessing the reaction of the airways to the allergens.

What should you do if you are allergic to dust mites?

If you are allergic to dust mites, the most important first step is to avoid contact with the allergen as much as possible. There are various ways to do this:

Mattress covers for dust mite allergies

If you have a dust mite allergy, encasements can protect you from the allergens by preventing dust mite allergens from leaving the mattress and entering the air you breathe. These covers are also available for pillows and duvets. Remember to wash them regularly.

Air filters for dust mite allergies

Air purifiers with special filters can remove allergens from the air in a room. They are especially useful in bedrooms and living rooms where you spend lots of time.

Good air circulation

Having good air circulation in your home reduces humidity and creates an unwelcoming environment for mites. Airing rooms out regularly is therefore a simple and effective method.

Clean bed linen

Even if you use an encasement, you should change your pillowcases, duvet covers and mattress covers once a week and wash them at 60 °C. If you are allergic to dust mites, you should also wash your pillows and blankets at 60 °C every three months as well as your bed linen.

Avoid dust traps

Avoid dust traps, especially where you sleep. This includes open shelves and soft toys. If you don’t want to remove them, clean them regularly.

Dust mite allergy: medical treatment?

Alongside the importance of avoiding allergens, there are other ways of treating mite allergies: antihistamines are commonly taken to assist with dust mite allergies. These active ingredients can relieve common symptoms. However, these medications don’t change the root cause of your allergy – the hypersensitivity of your immune system.

Desensitisation treats the causes of a dust mite allergy. The aim is to progressively reduce the hypersensitivity of your immune system to the allergen by administering the allergen to you in controlled, gradually increasing doses. This can be done in two ways: through weekly injections or through taking lozenges containing mite allergens on a daily basis. Over longer periods of time, your immune system learns to react more tolerantly to the allergen. This method requires patience and regular medical supervision.

Treating a dust mite allergy often requires a combination of preventing allergens and providing medical therapies. By working closely with your doctor, you can work out a personalised treatment strategy.

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