Do Dust Mites Bite?
What are dust mites and can dust mites bite? There are many species of mites which live in the dust in our homes. Two of the most common are Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides farinae. Neither of these nor any of the other species of dust mites found in British homes bite, although there are many other mites which do.
Scabies mites bite, and they're highly contagious. There are also various outdoor mites, such as harvest or oak mites, which sometimes bite people. If an outdoor mite bites you, you might not notice any reaction or rash until you get indoors where it’s warm. This might cause you to believe that you've been bitten by something that lives indoors. But the bottom line is that if you have anything that you think is a dust mite bite, you need to look harder to find the real culprit.
If the answer to the question 'do dust mites bite?' is no, why are they regarded as a pest? Dust mite bites may be a myth and they don't carry any infectious or contagious diseases, but many people have had allergic reactions to these mites or their metabolic products.
Dust mites allergy
Allergic reactions to dust mites are very common. Many people who suffer from bronchial asthma have a dust mite allergy, and it's believed that in urban areas up to one in four people have some degree of an allergy to dust mites. These can vary from mild to severe.
It's not live mites themselves that cause the problem, but dead mite bodies, and the tiny particles of the waste materials they produce. These are protein-rich substances which can easily become airborne. When inhaled by people with a sensitivity to them, they trigger the production of immune proteins and cells, which leads to an allergic reaction. People with a strong level of sensitivity to dust mites can react to them even when they're present at relatively low levels.
Dust mites feed on dander (dead skin cells), so they're found in places where shed skin cells settle. This includes carpets, mattresses, rugs and upholstered furniture. The average person typically sheds around 1.5 grammes of dead skin cells a day. That's enough to feed an awful lot of dust mites.
Read more: What Bugs Cause Allergic Reactions
Dust mites allergy symptoms
Dust mite allergy symptoms can include watery or red eyes and itchiness of the nose or eyes, which looks much like an attack of hay fever. A differential diagnosis depends on observing when and in what environment the symptoms are triggered. Runny and itchy eyes and nose while outdoors during a time of high pollen count is probably hay fever. Meanwhile, identical symptoms experienced indoors, especially while vacuum cleaning, sweeping or dusting is much more likely to be an indication of a dust mites allergy. Many people, of course, might be sensitive to both dust mites and to pollen.
The majority of symptoms of sensitivity to dust mites are either respiratory or skin related. Respiratory reactions to dust mites include:
- Nasal congestion, coughing and sneezing without other symptoms of an infection
- Asthma symptoms including wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight chest
Dust mites rash
Dust mites don't bite, but reactions to them can include a skin rash. This most commonly presents as fine red patches. The inflamed area is usually itchy but won't bleed unless scratched. In contrast, a rash caused by the scabies mite is usually more scaly and raised and is typically found between the fingers and in the bends of elbows and knees. Bites from outdoor mites sometimes cause blistering. When comparing dust mite bites vs bed bug bites, anything that really is a bite rather than a rash is caused by bed bugs. Bed bug bites most often cause large, reddened hard bumps in the skin.
Read more: How to Get Rid of Dust Mites?
Dust Mites vs Bed Bugs
What you think is a dust mite bite may well be a sign that you have a bed bug problem. It's an understandable mistake. Dust mites can live in beds and bed bugs certainly don't confine themselves to the bedroom. Deciding if you have a bed bugs or a dust mites problem isn't as tricky as it sounds. For starters, you can see bed bugs, whereas dust mites are far too small to be observed by the naked eye. It's said you can balance 50 dust mites on the head of a pin, although why you would want to do so is another matter entirely.
Dust mites or bed bugs? There are a number of important differences between the two.
- Bed bugs bite, dust mites don't
- Bed bugs feed on human blood, dust mites feed on dead skin cells
- Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, dust mites are microscopic
- Bed bugs can be controlled by insecticides, while there is no known effective chemical control which will eliminate dust mites
- Severe reactions to dust mites, for example, the triggering of asthma attacks are much more common than systemic reactions to bed bugs
- If you have a bed bug problem, it is possible to eliminate it; it's not possible to totally eliminate dust mites from any indoor environment
Learn more about the difference between bed bug bites and dust mites allergy
There are also similarities between bed bugs and mites. The most important similarity for all practical purposes is that measures that will be needed to eliminate bed bugs are also useful in reducing the number of dust mites in your home. Measure to reduce dust mites include:
- Regular dusting, ideally with a damp cloth which will capture the dust and mites rather than a dry one which may just disperse them into the air
- Vacuuming after dusting and not before; this allows the dispersed dust to settle to the ground where it can be captured by the vacuum cleaner
- Using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency HEPA filter
- Washing sheets and blankets in hot water, 60°C or above, at least once a week
- Using a tightly woven, dust-proof cover over your mattresses and pillows
- Choosing tile, laminate or wooden flooring instead of carpets
- Controlling humidity in your home; dust mites thrive when humidity levels are above 50%
- Cleaning air conditioning filters regularly to prevent the build-up of dust and mites
If you've been asking yourself if you have dust mites or bed bug bites, you can be sure that the problem isn't dust mite bites. Dust mites don't bite and they don't carry diseases. They are, however, a potent trigger for asthma and as such, they can make life pretty uncomfortable for anyone who is sensitive to them.
It's impossible to totally eliminate dust mites but regular cleaning and measures to reduce their presence in beds, bedding and bedrooms can help alleviate symptoms of dust mite allergies. Regular cleaning can be helpful in preventing bed bugs from establishing a presence in your home but in the case of any severe bed bug invasion, you'll likely need to seek professional pest control.