How To Get Rid of Dust Mites, According to Allergists

It's all about preventing the situations these pests thrive in.

Dust mites are a pain for many people with indoor allergies. Those microscopic pests can cause intense flare-ups of allergies as you hang out in your home, a place that's supposed to be a sanctuary.

One of the best ways to get rid of dust mites is to wash all of your bedding—including sheets, blankets, pillowcases, and duvet covers—on a hot cycle of at least 130 degrees. If your bedding does not permit a hot wash, you can also place them in the dryer for 15 minutes at 130 degrees.

Still, it's hard to fight a villain you can't see, and that makes it frustrating to try to get rid of dust mites. Luckily, some allergists have advice. But before you learn more about eradicating them from your home, you must know more about the critters and what makes them thrive.

What Are Dust Mites?

Dust mites are insect-like pests that usually live in house dust, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS). Dust mites like to eat flakes of dead skin, also known as dander, that people and pets shed.

"Dust mites are tiny and cannot be seen by the naked eye," allergist and immunologist Priya Patel, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Health.

If you're not allergic to dust mites, they probably will not cause any issues for you. But they are one of the most common airborne allergens, allergist and immunologist Purvi S. Parikh, MD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York, told Health.

So, for many people, dust mites can spark an allergic reaction and make symptoms of allergies and asthma worse.

Why Dust Mites Make You Sick

Dust mites don't bite. Instead, you get sick from being exposed to dust mite feces.

"The proteins in the fecal particles are perfectly sized to cause allergy symptoms in those who are dust mite-allergic," explained Dr. Patel.

Also, how many of those pesky mites you come into contact with matters, David Corry, MD, a professor of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Health.

"Dust mite allergens are among the most abundant foreign substances people are exposed to, depending on the exact house," explained Dr. Corry. And if your home packs a lot of dust mites, you're more likely to express allergy symptoms.

Where Do Dust Mites Live?

Dust mites can technically live anywhere there's dust. But you can usually find them in the following spots, per the NIEHS:

  • Mattresses
  • Bedding
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Carpets
  • Curtains

Symptoms

Dr. Corry reported that there are a number of dust mite allergy symptoms—often including:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • A drippy nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Cough
  • Itching in your ear canal
  • Asthma
  • Skin itching
  • Worsening eczema

If you're experiencing any of those symptoms, make sure to document when they began and how severe they are, as well as your family history regarding allergies, and any medications that you're currently taking.

A healthcare professional can use that information to determine whether you may have a dust mite allergy. For instance, if you notice that your allergies become worse while you're lying in bed, where dust mites often live, a healthcare professional may suspect an allergy to those pesky creatures.

There are a few different ways that a healthcare professional can confirm a suspected dust mite allergy. Those include examining the lining of your nasal passages, performing an allergy skin test, and taking a blood sample, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

How To Get Rid of Dust Mites

Here's the thing: You can't completely eliminate dust mites.

"It is almost impossible to completely get rid of dust mites in the home," said Dr. Patel. Still, there are "some things that you can do in the home to help decrease dust mite load without needing a professional."

However, knowing the conditions that can increase your risk of having a thriving dust mite population in your home in the first place, according to Dr. Corry, is essential to decreasing allergy symptoms.

How long it takes to get rid of dust mites "depends on the intervention and the specific environment," explained Dr. Corry.

"You can achieve dramatic reductions in mite allergens by removing all carpets, old mattresses, old pillows, and cloth furniture, and doing a thorough cleaning," added Dr. Corry.

Unfortunately, getting rid of dust mites isn't a one-and-done treatment. They come back, which is why regular cleanings are important. Think of the fight against dust mites as an ongoing war rather than one battle. Here are a few ways you can get rid of dust mites, per the NIEHS.

Washing Your Bedding

Dust mites thrive in your bedding, where you shed flakes of dead skin that dust mites use as their food. So, it's important to frequently change and wash your bedding.

You can quickly get rid of dust mites by washing all of your bedding on a hot cycle of at least 130 degrees. If you are unable to wash your sheets, blankets, pillowcases, or duvet covers in hot water, place them in the dryer for 15 minutes at 130 degrees.

If you cannot wash or dry your bedding, try freezing any unwashable items for 24 hours. Although freezing your bedding will not get rid of the allergens, it kills dust mites.

Using Allergen-Proof Mattress and Pillow Covers

Allergen-proof covers can protect your mattress and pillows from a dust mite infestation, according to the AAAAI. Covers that have zippers to keep them tightly shut around your bedding trap dust mites and prevent them from multiplying. The dust mites inside of the covers will eventually die, while others will be unable to enter.

If you use allergen-proof covers, keep in mind that it is still important to clean your bedding. Wash your covers frequently.

Maintaining Low Humidity

Humid environments (like a steamy bathroom) attract dust mites, so make sure that the humidity inside of your home is lower than 50%, per the AAAAI.

Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to ensure that the humidity inside of your home is low. Also, you can purchase a hygrometer to keep track of humidity levels.

Choosing New Bedding

Although you can regularly clean your bedding, some bedding may be difficult to keep clear of dust mites. For example, large, bulky duvet covers are often hard to wash. So, think about swapping that duvet cover for a washable blanket or quilt.

Decorative bedding, such as bed skirts, throw pillows, and throw blankets, provide additional environments for dust mites to settle, so you may want to skip those while making your bed.

Buying Toys That You Can Easily Wash

If you have children that play with toys, think about only keeping ones that you can throw in the washer and dryer, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Using a Damp Mop To Remove Dust

Using a damp cloth to clean your house can help efficiently remove dust by preventing it from escaping into the air and resettling in a different area.

Use water or disinfectant to wet your cloth. While cleaning, once your cloth becomes dirty, toss it in the washer or shake out the collected dust outside of your house.

Vacuuming

You should also regularly vacuum your carpet and upholstered furniture to get rid of dust. Although it is not the most effective method of removing dust, vacuuming can decrease your risk of developing dust allergy symptoms.

Add double-layered microfilter bags or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to your vacuum to efficiently clean the dust off of your carpet and upholstered furniture.

For instance, you should vacuum upholstered furniture once per week. However, consider replacing your upholstered furniture, which attracts dust mites, with washable covers, per the National Library of Medicine.

Steam cleaning can also kill dust mites at 200 degrees, so try using a steam cleaner on your carpet and upholstered furniture once per season.

Removing Carpeting

Carpeting is a breeding ground for dust mites because carpet tends to catch and trap flakes of dead skin cells. Specifically, wall-to-wall carpeting attracts dust mites and is particularly difficult to clean, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with hard surface floors—including tile or wood.

What To Do if You Still Have Allergy Symptoms

If you've followed all the steps to dramatically reduce the dust mite population and you're still struggling with indoor allergy symptoms, Dr. Patel explained that it's time to talk to an allergist.

Allergists can help come up with a comprehensive plan that may include allergy medications—including nasal sprays and oral antihistamines—to help reduce your symptoms.

Your allergist may even recommend that you undergo immunotherapy treatments through the use of allergy shots that expose you to tiny amounts of dust mite proteins, which build up your exposure over time.

Leukotriene modifiers, like Singulair (montelukast), help keep your body from producing leukotrienes, or chemicals found in your immune system. If your body produces too many leukotrienes, you may experience inflammation related to asthma or allergies.

Flushing mucus out of your nasal passages using a neti pot and salt water may also help lessen symptoms.

"We can lessen your dust mite allergy over time," explained Dr. Parikh. The ultimate goal is to help reduce or stop your dust mite allergies.

Dust mites will be lurking around your home in some capacity, no matter how much and how intensely you clean. But if you do regular cleanings and take other steps to take out those pesky dust mites, the odds are high that you'll be able to breathe easier at home in the future.

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