As many as 90% of people with asthma are sensitive to dust mites. Often people talk about being 'allergic to dust' or dust triggering their asthma symptoms.
In fact, it's the droppings of house dust mites which cause the problems. These tiny creatures are too small to see. They live in the dust that builds up around homes in carpets, soft toys, bedding, cushions and furniture.
If you have a dust mite allergy you're allergic to a substance in the dust mite droppings. If you also have asthma, your dust allergy can trigger asthma symptoms.
How do you know you're sensitive to dust mites?
You might notice these symptoms when you've been exposed to dust:
- itchy runny or blocked nose
- itchy eyes
- tight chest
- shortness of breath
You might notice these symptoms more when dust is disturbed - for example, when you're cleaning, moving furniture or making a bed.
Or you might simply find your asthma symptoms are often worse indoors.
You could keep a diary of symptoms to help you know if dust is a trigger for you.
What's the best way to cut the risk from dust mites?
You can cut your risk of dust mites triggering asthma symptoms by taking your preventer medicine every day as prescribed, even when you feel well. If you do this your airways will be less inflamed, and less likely to react to any of your asthma triggers, including dust mites.
Use a written asthma action plan to help you work out if your symptoms are getting worse, and what to do if they are. And if you do notice symptoms getting worse, book an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse to talk about the best way to manage your asthma triggers.
"If your asthma is triggered by dust mites, the best way to reduce asthma symptoms is to look after your asthma and make sure it's well managed, as this reduces the likelihood of you reacting to the dust mite droppings when you come into contact with them - they are impossible to avoid." Dr Samantha Walker, Asthma UK's Research Director.
Does cleaning get rid of dust mites?
Maybe you've wondered if cleaning more often could make a difference to asthma symptoms. But there's very little evidence to say cleaning more than you normally do can make a useful difference to the number of dust mites in your home.
People with asthma often tell us how they've tried to reduce the number of house dust mites in their homes. For example:
- regular vacuuming
- airing rooms
- freezing soft toys
- 60 degree washes
- air filters and purifiers.
Some people have told us these methods have helped them or their children, but unfortunately, there’s no consistent evidence they work. If you do want to try some of these things to see if they make a difference concentrate on rooms where you and your child spend the most time. And remember that you won't ever get rid of dust mites altogether.
Is it worth buying mite-proof covers?
One recent study found that children using mite-proof covers on their mattress, duvet and pillowcases were less likely to be hospitalised with an asthma attack.
However, the study only looked at children between the ages of three and ten, living in non-smoking households. The children were also only allergic to dust mites (not pets or pollen, for example).
More research is needed before we know for sure whether mite-proof covers for bedding can really make a difference.
So before you spend a lot of money or commit to time-consuming new habits, why not speak to your GP or asthma nurse to help you work out if it’s worth trying.
What about ionisers?
Asthma UK does not recommend ionisers. Ionisers give out electrostatic charges to clean the air but there's no evidence that they improve asthma symptoms. Asthma UK doesn't recommend using an ioniser because some research shows that they increase night time cough in children.
If you're worried about asthma symptoms speak to one of our asthma nurses by calling the Helpline on 0300 222 5800, 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri.
Last updated March 2018
Next review due March 2020