Dust mites

How to deal with this common asthma trigger

Health advice > Asthma triggers

Find out more about dust mites, how you know if you’re sensitive to them, and what you can do to lower the risk of them affecting you.

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Are you sensitive to dust mites?

In our Annual Asthma Survey 60% of you told us dust triggers your asthma symptoms.

In fact, the problem is dust mites which are tiny insects that live in dust. They’re too small to see and very difficult to get rid of altogether.

It’s a substance in dust mite droppings that some people are sensitive to, giving them symptoms like itchy eyes, sneezing, or a runny nose.

Not everyone with asthma is sensitive to dust mites. Other triggers, like pollen, can cause these symptoms too, so check with your GP or asthma nurse first.

They can:

  • talk about the symptoms you’re getting and when you get them for example if symptoms are worse when dust has been disturbed
  • arrange a skin prick test or blood test to test if you're allergic to dust mites. 

“Once you’ve had a positive allergy test and a consultation with your GP or asthma nurse, start thinking about ways to reduce dust and dust mites at home,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

Defend yourself against dust mites with a good asthma routine

No one can ever be completely free of dust and dust mites at home, work or school.

So, alongside any steps you take to try and reduce dust mites, you can cut your risk of asthma symptoms by sticking to a good routine of looking after your asthma well:

  • Take your preventer medicine every day as prescribed so you won’t react so badly to dust mites or any of your other asthma triggers.
  • Use your asthma action plan so you know what to do if dust triggers your asthma symptoms.
  • See your GP or asthma nurse if you’re getting symptoms three or more times a week to talk about the best ways to manage your asthma triggers.

Treat your rhinitis too: “Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about any nose symptoms you’re getting too, like sneezing, or a blocked or runny nose. They may suggest you add in a steroid nasal spray, or an antihistamine,” suggests Dr Andy. “This calms any inflammation in your nose, and along with your preventer inhaler, will help with symptoms in your airways too.”

How to reduce dust mites at home

It’s impossible to get rid of dust mites completely. But there are some things you can do to try and reduce their numbers.

Some of the ways to reduce dust mites take effort or cost money, and you need to do several things routinely to reduce dust mites enough to notice a difference to your symptoms.

It might help to start with things you can do easily and cheaply:

  • Think about giving away some cushions, soft toys, rugs, or other things which gather dust.
  • Wash bedding, like sheets and blankets, once a week at 60 degrees to kill dust mites.
  • Wash soft toys regularly at 60 degrees. Put soft toys that can't be washed at 60 degrees in a plastic bag in the freezer first (for at least 12 hours) and then wash them at the recommended temperature. 
  • Use a damp cloth when you’re dusting, which stops the dust from getting into the air. 
  • Clean and vacuum regularly to keep dust levels down.
  • Keep windows and doors open when you can, and if possible avoid drying lots of washing indoors – dust mites like damp, humid environments.
  • Focus your efforts on the rooms where you or your child spend the most time, like bedrooms and the living room.

If you can, you could also:

  • Avoid secondhand mattresses that have higher dust mite levels.
  • Use allergy covers on your mattress and bedding. There’s evidence these can reduce the risk of needing to go to hospital with an asthma attack for children sensitised to dust mites.
  • Invest in a new vacuum cleaner. Choose one that retains dust well and that’s easy to empty frequently. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters can trap more house dust mites than normal vacuum cleaners.
  • Swap carpets for hard flooring which is easier to clean.
  • Address issues like damp and mould which encourage dust mites.
  • Buy an air filter or air purifier.

Asthma guidelines do not recommend ionisers

Ionisers (a type of air filter) give out electrostatic charges to clean the air, but there's no evidence that they improve asthma symptoms.

Latest guidelines do not recommend using an ioniser because some research shows that they increase night time cough in children.

Call our Helpline for more support

If you're worried about asthma symptoms speak to one of our respiratory nurse specialists by calling the Helpline on 0300 222 5800, 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.


Last updated August 2020

Next review due August 2023

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Asthma action plans keep all your personal triggers and medicines tips in one place. Download one now to fill in with your doctor or nurse.