A dust mite allergy occurs as a reaction to nearly microscopic bugs that live in common house dust, mattresses, blankets and other fabrics. Dust mites live by eating tiny flakes of skin and pet dander, which comprise a large portion of house dust. Symptoms of dust mite allergies are commonly confused with other allergies, so dust mites are often overlooked as a cause. However, a campaign of dust mite awareness has begun in order to educate the public about this unseen danger.
What are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are arachnids and, as such, are closely related to spiders and ticks. They have eight legs and a two-part body consisting of a small cephalothorax and a much larger abdomen. The average dust mite is only 0.4 millimeters in length by 0.28 millimeters in width. Small to average-size dust mites are invisible to the naked eye, but large dust mites can be seen as tiny black specks, even though their true color is a creamy translucent blue. To positively identify dust mites, they have to be viewed through a minimum 10x magnification.
Dust mites feed on dead skin, which flakes off people and animals at a surprising rate. One study reported by the Boston Globe estimates that people lose from 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per hour, which comes out to nearly one million per day. If you have pets, the number of dead skin cells in your home is even greater. These skin cells collect in the dust in your house, in your clothes, in the carpet, in your sheets and in your mattress, all of which are potential habitats for dust mites.
Although it sounds alarming, you probably have hundreds of thousands or even millions of dust mites in your home right now. They are very prolific little bugs, and they love warm, moist places such as mattresses and bed sheets in regular use. Experts estimate the average used mattress is home to somewhere between 100,000 and 10 million dust mites, and 100,000 dust mites can easily inhabit one square yard of carpet or rug.
A dust mite infestation can grow rapidly. Adult female dust mites lay up to 40 to 80 eggs at a time. The dust mites remain in their larval and nymph stages for the first month, and then they live as adults for one to three months. While their primary food is dead skin, they are not averse to eating small particles from pet food, cereal, breadcrumbs or other food. Food availability and moisture levels are the two greatest factors in dust mite proliferation.
Do Dust Mites Bite?
Dust mites can be a nuisance to some people, but most do not even notice them. Most people are completely unaware that they are probably surrounded by thousands of dust mites in their own home and the homes of their friends. Dust mites, themselves, are not dangerous. They do not bite people or pets. They bite only what they are going to eat. The problem some people have with dust mites is that they are allergic to dust mite wastes.
Like most members of the animal kingdom, dust mites have a digestive system to process food. What their body does not use is excreted. Dust mite excretions, sometimes called castings, build up in their habitat until they reach levels that can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.
The chemical that is responsible for causing the allergic reaction is a protein created inside the dust mite’s digestive system. The protein becomes mixed into the food matter during digestion and is excreted with the waste.