For those who suffer from seasonal allergies, the start of spring can also mean the onset of sneezing, running noses, and puffy eyes. And while seasonal snifflers are quick to blame pollen and grasses (and for good reason), there may be another factor affecting their allergies year-round: dust mites. To learn more about the potential link between year-round allergens like dust mites and seaonal allergies, we chatted with Jacqueline S. Eghrari-Sabet, MD, FAAAAI, an allergy and asthma specialist based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. As it turns out, making some small changes to your bedroom may help you manage your sneezes and sniffles.
RELATED: Seasonal Allergies Are At an All-Time High—End the Suffering with These Tricks
What Is a Dust Mite Allergy?
Dust mites are microscopic critters that live inside pillowcases, mattresses, and bedding, and feed on the skin flakes people shed as they sleep (yuck!). While almost every bed has dust mites, some people are sensitive to them, while others aren’t bothered. Dust mite allergy symptoms look pretty similar to seasonal allergy symptoms: sneezing, running nose, itchy and watery eyes, and congestion.
According to Dr. Eghrari-Sabet, year-round dust mite allergies could be priming seasonal allergy sufferers for more intense symptoms when seasonal allergies like pollen and ragweed start up. “Things are hiring on all cylinders, so when seasonal allergies come around, you’ll have a more exaggerated response,” she explains. A recent study conducted by Odactra, a drug that the FDA approved in 2017 to treat dust mite allergies, found that the drug also helped improved patients’ symptoms related to seasonal allergies (AKA hay fever). For those who are sensitive to both dust mites and pollen or grasses, treating the year-round trigger (i.e. dust mites) could help make allergy season a little easier.
How to Treat Dust Mite Allergies: Mattress and Pillow Covers
“There is no better therapy than avoidance,” says Dr. Eghrari-Sabet. When it comes to dust mites, that means investing in dust mite-proof covers for mattresses, box springs, and pillows. These impermeable, zippered covers create a barrier, trapping dust mites in the mattress or pillow. While these covers tend to get a bad rap for being stiff and making a crinkling noise every time you move, there are several options on Amazon that reviewers swear by, including this top-rated Allersoft 100-percent cotton mattress protector ($76, amazon.com). But don’t stop with the mattress cover—pillow covers are crucial, as pillows are also home to dust mites and it’s the closest thing to your nose as you sleep. Again, a zippered option is your best bet ($11, amazon.com).
For bedding that’s not contained in a cover, like your duvet or sheets, washing them once a week in hot water can help kill the dust mites living in them. While replacing your pillows every two years is a good idea for comfort, Dr. Eghrari-Sabet assures us it’s not as important to buy new pillows if you’ve already investing in high-quality covers for them. To learn how to clean pillows in the washing machine, follow our step-by-step instructions.
Check the Humidity
Dust mites thrive in a humid environment, so that humidifier you bought to help with your winter sniffles could actually be creating a happy home for dust mites. According to the American Lung Association, keeping your home below 50 percent humidity is ideal. And if you live in a humid area? A dehumidifier can help.
Consider Other Textiles in the Bedroom
While your bed should be your main concern when treating dust mite allergies, the rugs and curtains in your bedroom could also play a role. If you do yoga in your bedroom or spend time sitting on the carpeted floor, regularly vacuuming the rug or carpeting with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter can help. If it’s a small area rug, consider removing it from the room.
It’s a good idea to visit an allergy specialist, who can test you for specific allergies, including house dust mites. While avoiding the allergens in the first place is your first and best line of defense (hello, mattress covers), the doctor may also be able to prescribe a pharmaceutical assist.