After pollen, house dust mites are the second most frequent trigger of allergic respiratory illnesses. Nowadays, one in every ten people in Germany suffers from a house dust mite allergy. House dust is not an allergy-triggering substance (allergen) in itself, however. It consists of skin shed by animals and humans, mites, fibers and mold. In 1964, it was discovered that the most important allergen in ‘house dust allergy’ was the dust mite.
Dust mites exist everywhere, regardless of the cleanliness and overall state of the home. The mites only live for a few months – from the end of February to May, and being only visible with a microscope, are generally between 0.1 and 0.4 millimeters in size. Dust mites subsist on shed human skin (dermatophagoides = skin-eaters), of which each person sheds approx. 1.5 g per day – an amount that is enough to feed approximately 1.5 million dust mites!
These tiny spider-like creatures like to live in beds, blankets and pillows, as well as any place else where dust can gather: carpets, upholstered furniture, drapes or stuffed animals. The older the pillows, duvet covers or mattresses, the more likely they are to be affected by dust mites. Just one gram of mattress dust can contain up to 15,000 dust mites! During the course of its short life, a dust mite creates 200 times its body weight in droppings. A pillow that is two years old may be 15% dust mites and dust mite droppings. If the droppings enter the respiratory tract they can trigger allergies in certain people. A house dust mite allergy isn’t an allergic reaction to the dust mite itself, but a high-sensitivity reaction to the protein that the dust mites’ tiny droppings contain.
What symptoms should I look out for?
The symptoms of a dust mite allergy are comparable with those of a heavy cold. The nose is frequently blocked, tingly or running, and intense sneezing fits occur. The eyes are often affected as well, with symptoms typically being itching and redness. With a serious allergy the deeper respiratory tract also responds, which can mean breathing difficulties and coughing. An allergy to house dust mites is often accompanied by allergic reactions on the skin, such as rashes and extreme itching.
The time of the reaction is often key.
In contrast to pollen allergy sufferers, house dust mite allergy sufferers do not suffer on a seasonal basis, they suffer depending on the time of day. Their symptoms are usually worst at night and after getting up in the morning, as the bed and bedding contains a lot of dust mite droppings, and contact with the allergy-triggering substances is very intense over a protracted period of time. The allergy sufferer is also likely to experience the symptoms especially strongly when making their bed, as the dust mite droppings are whirled up and breathed in.
If you suspect you may have an allergy make sure you go to your doctor!
If you ascertain that you are suffering from the aforementioned symptoms, you should consult a doctor.
Your doctor can give you a secure diagnosis with a skin test, a blood test or a provocation test. In many cases, your local doctor will also be able to carry out a prick test.
What can I do? Avoiding contact with the allergens is important.
If an allergy to dust mites goes untreated it can lead to chronic illnesses, and after 7-8 years, to allergic asthma – with far-reaching limitations to your quality of life.
Your doctor may start by prescribing you with an antihistamine to counter your symptoms; in especially serious cases, asthma medication is also used. The most important step in treating a house dust mite allergy is preventing contact with the trigger of the allergy from occurring – the dust mite droppings. Although it is practically impossible to create a home that is completely free of house dust or dust mites, your primary goal should be to effectively remove house dust mites and house dust as far as possible, and to reduce it with the appropriate steps, to make sure your living space is as low in allergens as possible. In this sense, an effective and time-proven treatment to prevent house dust mite allergy is in taking action with your bed. This is where the concentration of allergens is especially high.
My bed is free of dust mites
To turn your bed into a dust mite and allergen free zone, covering all mattresses, duvet covers and pillows with an allergen-proof cover, known as an encasing, is recommended.
Due to their allergen-impermeable effect, encasings lead to an improvement in the typical allergy symptoms and allow you to enjoy a more peaceful sleep. If you suffer from a house dust mite allergy, encasings are indispensable to you, not only to ensure that you are as free of symptoms as possible and you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed again, but also to prevent the development of long-term effects – such as chronic bronchial asthma. Therefore, if a doctor diagnoses a house dust mite allergy, most health insurers will support the purchasing of encasings. Avoidance of allergens with encasings is the first and most important therapy component in the treatment of a house dust mite allergy. All other measures represent a supplementation to the therapy.
Thoroughly airing your bedding on a regular basis is also a good idea, and washing your duvet covers as well as pillows and blankets at 60 degrees is also recommended, as dust mites only die at temperatures starting from 60 degrees. Also make sure that your bed frame enables air to reach your mattress, and that your mattress is dry-cleaned once a year. House dust mites also like to live in your carpets, drapes and upholstered furniture. Depending on the type of floor covering, regular cleaning is also recommended – ideally every day. Smooth floors should ideally be mopped. For the further reduction of allergen levels in your home and your bedroom, dust mite sprays and dust mite foggers are also available which can fight the dust mites with an active biological agent. Make sure that you also avoid a damp, warm room atmosphere, and comply with our additional tips.
If the stated measures for treating a house dust mite allergy are not sufficient, a specific immunotherapy may be of help to you. A hyposensitization that is carried out under the supervision of a doctor aims to make the body get used to the allergens on a step-by-step basis, and prevent the excessive reaction of the immune system from occurring on a long term basis. Upon completion of the immunotherapy, which lasts approximately three years, the attenuation of the house dust allergy can last for several years.