House dust mites are tiny (up to 0.3 mm) animals related to ticks and spiders and live in house dust. They are not visible to the human eye, in fact they are so small that as many as 1000 of them could be placed on the head of a pin.
They are microscopic organisms that thrive in warm and humid houses. The mites prefer to live in beds and, because we spend about a third of the day in bed, we inhale large quantities of dust mite allergens. Where the atmosphere is warm and humid they breed quickly and it can be hard to reduce their numbers - millions can be found in every home, mainly in mattresses and bedding.
At least 10% of the population suffer from some type of dust mite allergy. It is not actually house dust mites themselves that cause allergic reactions, but a substance in their faeces which is inhaled and triggers a reaction in many people, (e.g. allergic rhinitus). Dust mites eat the skin we shed and leave droppings everywhere they go. Their droppings contain left-over enzymes which the mites use to digest the skin they eat. It is these enzymes that can trigger asthma and other allergy symptoms.
Some of the symptoms are sneezing, itchy watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, stuffy ears, respiratory problems, atopic dermatitis, eczema and asthma.
Around four million people in the UK suffer from some type of dust mite allergy.
What can you do?
Dust mite allergies are a year round problem, but there are many steps which can be taken to reduce exposure to them :-
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