The Relationship Between Dust Mites and Eczema
Last updated: March 2023
Dust mites are insects in the spider family. They are so tiny they are invisible to humans. They feed on the skin flakes that people naturally shed. Dust mites are a common trigger of atopic dermatitis (eczema) flares. Even if they do not cause a flare, dust mites can cause increased skin shedding in people who are allergic to them.1
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Do dust mites trigger eczema flares?
People with certain conditions may react when they come in contact with dust mite allergens (substances that trigger an allergic reaction). People with eczema, allergies (allergic rhinitis), and allergic asthma are most sensitive to dust mites.1,2
People who are allergic to dust mites are actually reacting to the proteins in the mites' droppings. These proteins commonly get on a person’s skin or are inhaled when the person:1
- Makes a bed
- Sleeps on contaminated bedding
- Sits on furniture
- Touches soft toys
Doctors do not know for certain, but they believe dust mites cause eczema flares for a combination of reasons. These reasons may include:3
- Genetic sensitivity to dust mites
- Breaks in the surface of the skin (skin barrier) that allow allergens easier entry into the body
- A more severe immune system response to exposure
- Abnormal colonies of microbes on the skin
Eczema flares may occur after a person comes in contact with dust mite droppings. For example, it may happen in the morning after their skin has touched the bedsheets overnight. Flares can also be seasonal, especially in the spring and summer when it is warmer.1
Complications of eczema flares caused by dust mites
Sensitivity to dust mites in people with eczema can lead to complications like:1
- Bacterial infections of the skin caused by scratching
- Eczema that becomes resistant to common treatments
- Additional sensitivity to other insects (like roaches) and foods (like crab and shrimp)
- Poor quality of life for the person and their loved ones
Diagnosing a dust mite allergy
Dust mite allergies are diagnosed the same way other allergies are diagnosed. Doctors may use the following tests to diagnose allergies:1
- Skin patch test
- Skin prick test
- IgB antibody test (immunoglobulin E test)
Tips to control dust mites
Dust mites like warm, humid climates. This is why they are most often found in old buildings and rooms with carpet, upholstered furniture, beds, curtains, soft toys, and clothing. They do not live in cold places like the Arctic or at high altitudes with low humidity.1,3
One of the most common ways to try to reduce flares triggered by dust mites is to try to get rid of the dust mites in your home. But keep in mind that some doctors actually believe that avoiding dust mites does not work.3
You can control your exposure to dust mites with these cleaning tips:1-3
- Vacuum at least once a week, especially along seams where they gather.
- Remove carpet and rugs if possible.
- Mop or steam clean wood, vinyl, and laminated floors.
- Use mattress and pillow covers designed to keep out allergens.
- Wash and dry clothing, cushions, curtains, and bedding in hot water (140 degrees F or 60 C).
- Use a dehumidifier if you live in a damp building or part of the country.
- Consider buying furniture that can be wiped down, such as vinyl or leather.
- Wipe down hard surfaces with a damp cloth or mop.
- If soft toys are not washable, put them in a plastic bag in the freezer for 24 hours, then brush the toys.
You cannot avoid dust mites completely. This is why managing this trigger is only one part of treating your eczema. Treatments for eczema triggered by dust mites overlap with treatments for allergies and asthma. These treatments include:1,3
- Prescription and over-the-counter drugs and creams
- Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT)
- Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)
The link between eczema and dust mites needs more scientific study. It remains unclear who benefits most from the cleaning tips above and when those steps are expensive and unhelpful. More high-quality studies are also needed to find immunotherapies that work best in children and those with severe dust mite allergies.1,3
Dust mites can be a real problem. How do they affect you?
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