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How to Check for Dust Mites

What are Dust Mites?

Dust mites are exactly what they sound like: a tiny bug that lives in house dust. A member of the spider family, dust mites live off of human skin cells that are continually shed and can make up a large part of dust particles in the home. While they can survive in all climates and even at most altitudes, dust mites thrive in warm conditions.

Dust mites are a nasty though, but typically harmless. However, in certain people they can cause allergies with a range of symptoms from mild to severe. These allergies are caused by inhaling the mites skin and fecal matter. You may be able to tell you have dust mites in the home, by a continual round of some of the following allergic symptoms:

  • Itchy nose
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Facial pain due to sinus pressure
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Postnasal drip
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Chronically itchy skin

Those with respiratory illness can fare far worse with dust mites. Those with asthma can experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest pain or tightness, and severe asthma attacks.

While allergies to dust mites are most often mild and they are not usually a huge problem, no one really relishes the idea of having an infestation of microscopic arachnids in their home. Fortunately, finding and identifying dust mites is a fairly cheap and simple process.

Checking for Dust Mites in Your Home

Dust mites cannot be seen by the naked eye, and most people are first made aware of their presence because of an allergic reaction. Dust mites can easily become an infestation, as they cling to clothing and travel from place to place in the house. They can be especially prevalent in bedding, as sleeping people provide a constant food supply.

You may check for dust mites in the home one of three ways. The first is by recognizing allergic symptoms and visiting an allergist to confirm that they are caused by dust mites. If you notice chronic sneezing, runny nose, or watery eyes, the doctor will give you a skin prick or scratch test that can tell you whether the symptoms are caused by dust mites or some other allergen. Allergies to dust mites may also show up as infantile asthma, or chronic nose rubbing in children.

You can also purchase a home testing kit. These can be purchased online, and some will require you to send a sample to a lab, others may give you a result at home using a solution or a test strip. In the second scenario, follow the directions that come with the kit to gather a dust sample and add an agent that will identify whether dust mites are present.

The third way to check for dust mites is to use a microscope to see them for yourself. To check for dust mites in the home with a microscope, gather the following:

  • A microscope with a 10x magnification lens (a compound microscope is better, but can be more expensive)
  • Clear tape
  • A dust sample

Though too small to see with the naked eye (only about .33 millimeters long), dust mites are easily visible through even a cheap microscope. You can pick up an inexpensive microscope from any store that sells toys, a hobby store, or a thrift store and use it to discover whether your home has dust mites.

First, you need to gather a sample of dust. Some of the best places to do this include:

  • Bedding, including pillow and duvet
  • Dusty places in a room--under a couch or chair, the corner of the floor, or a windowsill
  • Your own skin (especially if you notice symptoms like itching)

Take a piece of clear tape, and use the adhesive side to pull up a sample of the dust. Next, place the tape onto a slide, handling it with a microfiber cloth to avoid getting fingerprints on the glass. Place the slide under the stage clips located under the lens at the front of the microscope and then turn the microscope power on. Adjust the light intensity. Rotate the nosepiece of the microscope to 10x power objective and observe. If you have a stronger microscope, you may increase the power objective to get a clearer view.

You are looking for arachnids that look like tiny spiders, but are translucent and do not have eyes or antennae. Dust mites will crawl over each other, and have short hairs all over their bodies. You may also look for dust mite feces--these look like small rectangular pellets. If you see either of these things in your dust sample...congratulations, you have dust mites! But don’t despair--there are things that you can do to decrease and control their populations in your home.

How to Prevent Dust Mites

There are several ways you can make your home inhospitable to dust mites. Prevent and control dust mite populations in your home by implementing the following:

  • Purchase and install a HEPA filter
  • Don’t let dust accumulate--dust frequently with a damp or oiled towel. Keep floors clean with a mop, and vacuum dust from corners and ceilings.
  • Dust mites love warm and humid environments. Use an air conditioner and dehumidifier to keep house humidity between 30 and 50%
  • If possible, replace carpets with hardwood floors. If this isn’t possible, then be sure to vacuum all carpets thoroughly and regularly
  • Get rid of clutter (so dust doesn’t collect)
  • If you have children, purchase only washable stuffed toys and wash frequently
  • Clean upholstery and drapes often. Keep all window treatments clean and free of dust
  • Use allergen proof covers on all pillows, mattresses, and box springs. Wash bedding in hot water once a week and dry in a hot dryer or in natural sunlight.

Dust mites cannot be killed by pesticides, so prevention is the key to controlling them. You may not be able to rid your home of dust mites entirely, but vigilant cleaning and using quality air filters that are changed frequently can keep populations of dust mites under control.

To help prevent dust mites, it’s recommended that you change your air filters every two or three months. Check out Filter King’s online store to find your size and have it delivered right to your house!