Dust Mites and the Allergies They Cause

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Dust mites are tiny, insect-like creatures that feed on dead human skin and pet dander. Dust mites are a common cause of indoor allergies because they thrive in indoor settings. Many people have an allergic reaction to proteins in their waste and carcasses. Dust mites can also trigger asthma and eczema flares.

Like spiders, dust mites are in the arthropod family. Less than a millimeter in size, these microscopic pests are too small for the naked human eye to see. Up close, they look like eight-legged white bugs. 

Learn more about dust mites, including where they live, common allergy symptoms, and effective options for prevention and treatment.

Where Dust Mites Live

Dust mites thrive in warm, humid indoor environments: at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 75% to 85% humidity. Though they typically don't like dry climates, they are very common and can be found in four out of five homes in the United States.

Dust mites flock to areas of your home where you spend a lot of time. They often settle in soft fabrics and dusty areas where they can feed on moisture and dry skin flakes that humans shed throughout the day. 

The most common areas where you can expect to find dust mites include:

  • Bedding, including pillows, blankets, mattresses, and box springs
  • Stuffed furniture
  • Carpets
  • Curtains
  • Drapes
  • Cushions
  • Rugs
  • Stuffed toys

Dust Mite Allergy

Dust mite allergies are often triggered in your home or in someone else's home. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe.

Many people have an allergic reaction known as allergic rhinitis. After inhaling proteins in dust mites’ wastes or dead body parts, people with dust mite allergies may experience symptoms like inflammation of the nasal passages, sneezing, and coughing. These symptoms often get worse when dust particles are released into the air after doing household chores like dusting or vacuuming. 

Dust mites can also trigger flare-ups of the following conditions:

  • Asthma: Dust mite exposure can cause asthma attacks in people with asthma. It can also increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
  • Eczema: If you have eczema—a condition that causes itchy, dry skin—dust mite exposure can trigger a flare-up of symptoms.


Dust mite allergies can lead to a number of symptoms, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Irritated, red, watery, or itchy eyes
  • Itchy skin, throat, nose, or mouth
  • Sore throat from post-nasal drip
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Facial pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping due to any of the above symptoms

These symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on how often you’re exposed to dust mites and whether you have a skin, allergic, or respiratory condition. 


The best way to treat dust mite allergies is to reduce your exposure to them. However, there are several possible over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments for dust mite allergy symptoms, including:

  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays, such as Flonase (fluticasone nasal), Nasacort (triamcinolone), or Nasonex (mometasone), and NasalCrom (cromolyn sodium) to block allergic reactions and reduce swelling.
  • Decongestants, like Sudafed (phenylephrine) or Afrin (oxymetazoline), to treat nasal inflammation and stuffy nose.
  • Antihistamines, like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratadine), or Allegra (fexofenadine), to reduce itching and sneezing.
  • Leukotriene receptor antagonists, like Singulair (montelukast) or Accolate (zafirlukast), to treat allergy and asthma-related respiratory symptoms.

Editor's Note: Talk to your healthcare provider about other medications you may be taking before starting Singulair, as this drug can have serious mental health side effects.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which option may work for you based on your symptoms, as well as potential side effects. If medications don’t relieve your symptoms, you may need to visit an allergist for ongoing immunotherapy. This may include allergy shots or sublingual (under-the-tongue) immunotherapy, also known as SLIT.

To manage flare-ups of comorbid medical conditions caused by dust mites, follow the treatment plan recommended by your healthcare provider. For example, your healthcare provider may recommend using topical corticosteroids to treat an eczema flare or using your inhaler in the event of an asthma attack.

Again, the best treatment for dust mite allergies is reducing exposure to dust mites.

How to Remove Dust Mites

Dust mites live in most homes and can’t be completely removed. However, you can reduce your exposure to them by taking certain preventative steps. 

Here are some ways you can protect against dust mites in your home:

  • Remove areas where dust mites often nest, such as wall-to-wall carpets, heavy drapes, thick rugs, and upholstered furniture.
  • Use “mite-proof” pillowcases and cushion covers.
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter on your vacuum.
  • Keep your house well-ventilated by opening windows frequently. 
  • Dust with a wet cloth and vacuum on a regular basis.

A Quick Review

Dust mites are very small, insect-like creatures that thrive in indoor settings. Found in most homes—often burrowing into carpets, bedding, and curtains—these pests can cause allergy symptoms like sneezing, coughing, swelling of the nasal passages, and watery, itchy eyes. Exposure to dust mites can also cause asthma attacks and eczema flare-ups. 

Treatment for dust mite allergies typically involves treating symptoms with medicines like decongestants, antihistamines, or nasal corticosteroids. You can also take steps to limit your exposure to dust mites, such as removing wall-to-wall carpets and heavy drapes, covering your pillows with “mite-proof” pillowcases, vacuuming and dusting regularly, and using a HEPA filter to clean the air in your home.

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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Lung Association. Dust mites.

  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Dust allergies.

  4. Aggarwal P, Senthilkumaran S. Dust mite allergy. In StatPearls. StatPearls publishing; 2022.

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