Vacuum sweeping up dust allergens on blue carpeting

Dust allergy symptoms and causes

Medically reviewed on August 1, 2022 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Dust allergies are some of the most common indoor allergies today. Toxins and debris accumulate all over our homes—in hallway corners, beside TVs, around flowerpots, and in the air itself—creating dust.

But house dust is more than just a household nuisance. When dust floats into our skin and airway, it can cause negative reactions commonly known as dust allergies.

Dust allergy symptoms can be frustrating. To combat the infamous itchy nose and uncomfortable sinus pressure commonly associated with dust allergies, it’s important to understand what causes these reactions in the first place.

Below, we’ll help you understand the basics of dust and house dust mite allergies, their causes, symptoms, and how to diagnose a dust allergy. Plus, we’ll equip you with a handful of medical and preventative solutions to help you ditch dust allergies for good.

What is a dust allergy?

When people experience dust allergy symptoms, what they’re often experiencing is a dust mite allergy. Dust is a vehicle for allergens. The dust in your home can carry pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and other kinds of allergens. [1] Though just one of many allergens, dust mites have a far-reaching influence affecting about 20 million Americans. [2]

A dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to this common household pest and its waste products. When you inhale or ingest dust mite particles, your immune system kicks into threat-fighting mode. The body releases histamine, a chemical released from cells responding to threats or offenders. The release of histamine triggers common allergic reactions like itchy eyes, watery eyes, and runny nose. [3]

What causes dust allergies?

Dust allergies are most common indoors. As homes are tightly sealed to keep external elements out, excess debris builds up and creates dust. With time and everyday activities, the dust in your home moves, grows, and agitates, sending it through the air and into your system.

There are many factors that may cause an increase of dust mites in your home, including:

  • Humidity – According to the American Lung Association, humidity is a strong catalyst for at-home dust mites. These bugs absorb moisture from the air to survive, so a humid home or indoor environment can be a prime breeding ground. [4]
  • Having a pet at home – According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, having a dog or cat at home may increase the presence of other allergens like dust mites. [5]
  • A rural, mobile, or rental home – Another study showed an increase in dust mite presence in rural, mobile, and rental homes compared to other types of homes. In the same study, dust mite levels were higher in southern and northeastern parts of the U.S. [5]
  • Unclean bedding – Beds are a dust mite’s ideal environment since they tend to thrive off warm temperatures and dead skin cells in your sheets. Going without washing your bedding gives dust mites the chance to nest and breed. [2]

Signs and symptoms of a dust allergy

Dust allergy symptoms can arise in mild, moderate, or severe cases, depending on the person. For example, dust mite allergens can be severe for people with asthma, especially after long-term exposure. [4]

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare, dust mite allergies typically appear from a younger age and remain through adulthood. Later in life, the allergic reaction can move into the lungs, triggering asthma. [3]

The most common dust or dust mite allergic symptoms are: [1]

  • Sneezing
  • Runny, itchy, or stuffy nose
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Congestion
  • Facial pressure
  • Hives
  • Asthma flare-ups or attacks

How long do dust allergy symptoms last?

The location of the symptoms in your body, the duration of the exposure, and your unique body composition all affect how long symptoms may last. When combating allergy symptoms, it’s important to pinpoint what’s happening and where so that an appropriate diagnosis and treatment can follow.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that, in many cases, nasal and sinus-related symptoms can clear up on their own within a few days. However, symptoms can last for a week or longer in more chronic cases. [5]

Hives and skin reactions

If a dust mite allergy leads to hives, an outbreak may vary between a few hours to several days. However, most cases are reported to clear up within 24 hours. [6]

Asthmatic reactions and attacks

An asthma attack is an obstruction of your airway that causes wheezing and difficulty of breath. An asthma flare-up can last just a few minutes, while more severe attacks can last hours or days. [7]

How do I diagnose a dust allergy?

How do I know if I'm having an allergic reaction to dust and dust mites? You can self-diagnose mild cases of a dust mite allergy by identifying those short-lived nasal, sinus, and congestion symptoms. If symptoms persist longer than a few weeks or become more severe, contact your healthcare provider to help formulate an action plan for your unique body and health history.

There are two ways you can learn more about whether you have a dust allergy:

  • Make an appointment – In a healthcare provider’s office, the likely first step to diagnosing a dust or dust mite allergy is a skin test. Skin tests analyze common indoor and outdoor allergens, like mold, pet dander, pollen, and shellfish, in addition to dust mites. However, these appointments can book out weeks in advance and may require follow-ups before any treatment plan is configured.
  • Take an at-home test – Taking an at-home dust allergy test can provide answers much sooner than waiting for an appointment. Once you have your results, you and your healthcare provider can more quickly create a plan to address your symptoms and help you find relief.

How do I treat a dust allergy?

Although there’s no cure for dust allergies yet, there are several approaches and treatment options you can take to relieve your symptoms. For dust and dust mite allergies, pairing preventative measures with medication like a nasal spray or allergy shots could be a viable way of soothing your symptoms.

Let’s start by exploring a few simple preventative steps you can implement at home.

Dust allergy prevention

Dust mites are incredibly common in U.S. households, and it can be difficult to rid your home of them for good. Nevertheless, a few thoughtful cleaning habits could reduce the number and spread of these mites.

Here are a few ways you can prevent dust mites from spreading and breeding in your home:

  • Use a dehumidifier – A dehumidifier can remove the extra humidity, or moisture, in the air that dust mites typically thrive in.
  • Wash your sheets regularly – The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends washing your sheets once per week in hot water. [8]
  • Dust regularly – Invest in a quality dust mop and add it to the weekly chalkboard of chores. Dusting regularly can help remove build-up where dust mite particles collect.
  • Design thoughtfully – Carpets and accent rugs may be cozy, but they’re prime areas for dust mites to nest. Opt for hardwood if you can, or wash these surfaces regularly.
  • Vacuum with a face mask – It may feel excessive, but vacuuming tends to agitate dormant allergens, dispersing them into the air. In order to protect your airway, try using a mask while vacuuming.
  • Ventilate and use air filters – Ventilating your home with windows or commercial air filters may help purify your air from allergens like dust mites.
  • Brush your pets – Pet dander can influence the spread of dust mite particles. So, to prevent pet dander accumulation, be sure to brush your furry family members often.

Dust allergy treatment

Treating dust and dust mite allergies usually involves medication when symptoms are already present. Fortunately, many medications exist in pharmacies today. Work with your healthcare provider to find the right one for you.

Some of the most common dust allergy treatment medications are:

  • Antihistamines – Antihistamine medications block the histamines your cells release in the effort to fight the perceived threat of allergens. These are your common over-the-counter allergy medications; they can relieve nasal cavity symptoms like sneezing, an itchy nose, watery eyes, and even hives. [9]
  • Nasal corticosteroids – Also known as nasal sprays, this medication can be used to relieve swelling and inflammation in the nasal cavity, which causes a stuffy and runny nose. You can often buy nasal corticosteroid treatments over-the-counter.
  • Mast cell stabilizers – You’ll often find this treatment in the form of eye drops and nose sprays, and it works to reduce or prevent histamine release. In eye drop form, this can help reduce watery, itchy, or redness of the eyes when dealing with dust allergy symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid cream – This is a common remedy for hives or skin rashes related to allergic reactions. When your skin breaks out in hives or rashes, that’s your skin cells attempting to fight off intrusive particles. A corticosteroid cream targets the affected area of skin directly to block histamine production.
  • Decongestants – If congestion is your primary allergy symptom, decongestants may work best for you. Decongestants work a little differently than other allergy treatments. Instead of blocking histamines, they attempt to relieve stuffy and runny noses by shrinking your nasal passageway. [9]
  • Asthma inhaler – These should only be used by people diagnosed with asthma. When asthmatic individuals experience dust allergy symptoms that lead to shortness of breath and chest tightness, inhalers directly target the lung and airways. [9]

Everlywell: understanding your allergies

Dust allergies caused by dust mites affect a large number of people every single day. If you’re experiencing dust allergy symptoms, you’re certainly not alone—but don’t lose hope. If you or someone you know is experiencing dust allergies, there are a number of solutions that can come to your aid. The first step to relief is diagnosing the issue—and we can help.

We’re Everlywell. We set out to design best-in-class allergy tests that you can take in the comfort of your home. Our easy, non-invasive finger-prick test can detect 40 common indoor and outdoor allergens. The results are quick, personalized, and actionable, delivered to your phone in just a few days.

Stop living with frustrating dust allergy symptoms and start living well. Take our Indoor & Outdoor Allergy Test today and get back to feeling better.

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  1. Dust Allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunity. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  2. Dust Mite Allergy. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  3. Dust mite allergies: Overview. National Library of Medicine. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  4. Dust and Dust Mites. American Lung Association. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  5. Rhinitis (Nasal Allergies). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  6. Hives/Urticaria. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  7. Asthma Attack. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunity. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  8. Control Indoor Allergens to Improve Air Quality. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  9. Allergy Treatment. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  10. Bedroom Allergen Exposure in U.S. Households. National Library of Medicine. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
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