A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Put dust allergies to bed with home environment changes

Young woman doing laundry - Dust allergies

Wash and dry bedding on the hot or warm setting once a week to control dust allergy symptoms.

A big cloud of dust makes most people sneeze. Other people have much stronger reactions to house dust that’s barely noticeable.

Sneezing, stuffy or runny nose and itchy throat, eyes and ears are common symptoms of dust and other indoor allergies. Dust allergens can trigger asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

If you have a dust allergy, you know that a change of seasons doesn’t bring relief. However, there are ways to control your symptoms.

Find out what you’re allergic to

“Allergy testing is the only way to know for sure what you’re allergic to,” said Dr. Mark Huftel, a Marshfield Clinic allergist. “It makes sense to find out what triggers your allergy symptoms before making environmental changes to control something that isn’t the problem.”

A dust allergy means you are allergic to the waste products and body parts of dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic members of the spider family that thrive in warm, humid environments. They feed on flakes of skin that we shed every day.

Some people assume they’re allergic to dust mites when they’re actually allergic to different components of house dust, like pet dander or mold.

Make environmental changes to control your dust allergy

Dust mites live in mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture and carpeting. Dust allergy symptoms usually are more intense at night because most people spend a significant amount of their time at home in bed, sleeping.

“The bedroom is a big problem area for dust mites, so it makes sense to focus your efforts there,” Huftel said.

He recommended these steps for reducing dust mite allergens in bedrooms:

  • Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in allergen-proof covers. If more than one person sleeps in the bedroom, cover each bed, even if only one person has allergies.
  • Wash and dry bedding weekly on the warm or hot setting.
  • Limit stuffed animals in the bedroom or keep them in an airtight container when not in use.
  • Replace carpeting with smooth-surface flooring like wood, vinyl or linoleum if possible.

Not all products and services marketed to improve allergy symptoms work well, Huftel said. Room air filtration units, duct cleaning and carpet treatments aren’t especially helpful in decreasing dust mites. Getting carpets cleaned frequently also isn’t recommended because it adds moisture to the carpet, and dust mites like humidity.

Talk to your doctor if allergies aren’t well controlled

Over-the-counter nasal sprays and antihistamines can help if environmental changes aren’t enough to control allergies. If those don’t do the trick, an allergist may be able to help you overcome your symptoms using desensitization.

You’ll receive a series of shots with a controlled dose of your allergen. The goal is to help you build a tolerance. Shots are most successful for treating pollen and dust mite allergies. The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved a tablet version of the desensitization medication for dust mites, but the medication isn’t on the market yet.

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