Although not commonly regarded as pests, dust mites are health-threatening arachnids found in every home. They are closely related to ticks and chiggers. The most common dust mite is Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus but the term loosely describes different types of arachnids that feed on dust.
Image by: Gabriel Escobedo
Habitat and Diet
Dust mites are cosmopolitan and can be found in every continent of the world—including the Antarctic due to the presence of human activity there. However, their numbers are reduced in high altitude areas and arid climates. They favour homes with high humidity. They prefer high traffic areas such as carpets, bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture and chairs.
In a single mattress, there can be up to 10,000,000 specimens of all dust mites species. They dislike strong light and will actively seek shelter if illuminated. Dust mites feed on: shed human skins, secretions, house dust, plant pollens, skin scales, fungal spores, other types of detritus.
Dust mites are one of the most, if not the most, common allergen. Many scientific studies have shown a link between allergic reaction and exposure to dust mites and dust mites secretions. The first such studies were conducted in the 1960s.
Dust mites do not bite nor sting. They are not known to be a vector to any pathogen. However, they can still cause serious respiratory and dermatological complaints such as eczema, irritation and asthma. 70%-80% of the population in warmer climates is allergic to dust mites.
Dust mites are difficult to see as they reach only up to 0,5mm. Dust mites have white, oval-shaped bodies with eight legs. Throughout most of their lives, they remain invisible to the naked eye and can be observed only through microscopes. Few laboratories possess the knowledge and equipment required for the proper identification of those arachnids.
Asthma sufferers must limit the surfaces which provide suitable habitat for dust mites. Carpets, upholstered furniture and cotton draperies are not advised for the home of asthma patients. Leather is usually used as an alternative to textiles. Asthma sufferers also sleep on special mattresses which do not provide suitable conditions for dust mites.
What to do in case of dust mites infestation
Unfortunately, dust mites are almost impossible to exterminate. Over-the-counter insecticides don’t have any effect on them as dust mites are not insects. Specialised equipment is required for a drastic reduction of their numbers. The most common method is to use special UV vacuum cleaners which both kill the mites and remove them from the surface. They also prevent the bodies of the mites from becoming airborne.