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How Do You Know If You Have a Dust Allergy?

By Kristen Stewart

Are you one of the approximately 20 million people in the United States who suffers from dust allergy symptoms? If so, it may be worse than you think. The sneezing, sniffling, and congestion are bad enough, but consider this: You may be reacting to microscopic pests known as dust mites who share your bed and living quarters.1 They’re not exactly the stuff of sweet dreams.

Dust is one of the most common indoor allergens, and a dust allergy can make life miserable.2 But you can take steps to reduce your exposure and relieve your dust allergy symptoms. Read on to learn how to know if you have a dust allergy and discover what you can do about it.

Where Does Household Dust Come From?
Dust: 40% comes form 
indoors, 60% comes from outdoors

40% of dust particles come
from indoors.

This includes dead skin flakes,
carpet fibers, and other materials.

60% of dust particles come
from outdoors.

This includes dirt tracked into the
house or airborne particles.

Dust travels around the 
globe.

Dust travels around the
world on jet streams.

They are sometimes called
rivers of wind.

North Africa is the biggest
source of atmospheric dust
in the world.

A few times every year, giant dust plumes drift from the
Sahara Desert in North Africa to the United States.

Here are other well-known dust-producing regions:

Dust-producing 
regions
  1. Great Salt Lake, Utah
  2. The shore of the Caspian Sea
  3. Parts of Arabia and Iran
  4. Taklamakan Desert, China
  5. Lake Eyre Basin, Australia
Dust comes from space 
also.
An estimated 200 to 500
teragrams of dust enters
the atmosphere from space
each year.

(A teragram is equal to
one trillion grams.)
Dust comes from 
space also.
Dust particles with diameters between
0.2 and 2 micrometers can stay aloft
for 20 or more days.
Dust comes from space 
also.
Larger dust particles with diameters between 10 and 20 micrometers usually fall out of the sky within 24 hours.
sources: earthdate.org nesdis.noaa.gov sciencedaily.com
theconversation.com usnews.com

What’s a Dust Allergy?

Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a typically harmless foreign substance. Triggers can include anything from pollen to specific foods to insect venom.3 Dust also causes allergies for many people.

Usually, your immune system creates antibodies to protect you from unwanted invaders, such as pathogens. But when it comes to allergies, your body produces antibodies in response to something that’s normally harmless — in this case, dust. Then when your body subsequently encounters the antibodies, it overreacts and releases chemicals such as histamine, which cause familiar allergy symptoms.4

Why Does Dust Cause Allergies?

Household dust consists of a combination of many elements, including parts of insects, mold spores, dander from pets, dust mites, and more. A variety of these sources can trigger dust allergies, including:

  • Cockroaches

  • Pets

  • Pollen

  • Mold

  • Dust mites

Cockroaches

These pests are common. In the most recent American Housing Survey, Census Bureau workers documented evidence of cockroach activity in 12.5 percent of houses.5 The saliva, feces, and body parts of these bugs mix with the air and can cause allergy symptoms.6

Pets

Both cats and dogs can be dust allergy triggers due to allergens found in the dander (dead skin cells) they shed. Dander particles are tiny and can remain in the air for a long time and collect on upholstered furniture and clothing. Pet saliva can also be a problem because it sticks to rugs, bedding, and furniture, and it can circulate in the air after it dries. Urine and sweat can be triggers too.

As with cats and dogs, rodents and rabbits can harbor allergens in their dander, hair, saliva, and urine. Dust from the sawdust or litter in their cages can contribute to allergies as well.

Even pet birds can be possible triggers. Dander and dust mites can collect in birds’ feathers and spread when they move their wings. Their feces can also contain allergens.7

What is Dust Made of?

Dust is a mixture of different particles.

Dust Infographic
Person with allergy 
illustration

Many people develop allergies
to these dust components.

Mite

The protein in
dust mite feces

Cockroach

Cockroach saliva,
feces, and
body parts

Animal Dander

Animal Dander

Pollen

Pollen

Mold

Mold

sources: cen.acs.org sciencedaily.com

Pollen

You may think of pollen as an outdoor issue when it comes to allergies. But it can invade the home through open windows, and you may bring it inside on your shoes, hair, or clothing. Once pollen is indoors, it floats around like other dust particles and can cause allergy symptoms. Grasses and ragweed tend to be the most common sources of pollen. But you may experience a reaction to various weed pollens, such as sagebrush and tumbleweed, and trees, such as cedar, birch, and oak.8

Mold

Mold can grow nearly anywhere under the right conditions, and it can grow in household dust particles.9 Exposure to it can lead to indoor allergies. There are hundreds of different kinds of mold, and you’re not necessarily allergic to all of them. Only some molds cause allergies, and different people can be allergic to different types.10

Dust mites

These microscopic bugs are perhaps the most common cause of dust allergies. More precisely, the protein in their feces causes allergies. Dust mites dine on human skin flakes and live on bedding, mattresses, carpet, upholstered furniture, and curtains. These tiny pests can cause an oversized amount of misery. Each dust mite can create up to 200 times its weight in waste, which can cause allergy symptoms in susceptible individuals. To learn more about dust mites, visit our page What is a Dust Mite Allergy?

Do you have a dust allergy?

Sufferers often experience these symptoms.

Sneezing

Sneezing

Coughing

Coughing

Itchy Nose

Itchy nose,
mouth, or throat

Red eyes

Red, itchy, and
watery eyes

Runny nose

Runny nose

Stuffy nose

Stuffy nose

Swollen skin

Swollen skin
under the eyes

Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip

Facial pressure

Facial pressure

Dust and mites

If dust mites are causing your dust
allergy, you may notice symptoms more
often at night and in the morning

after spending time near your pillows,
bedding, and mattress.

Calendar

Allergy signs may happen all year
since you’re constantly exposed, or
you may notice more symptoms in
the winter when you spend more
time indoors.

sources: acaai.org my.clevelandclinic.org ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Do You Have a Dust Allergy?

A dust allergy can cause a variety of symptoms similar in nature to other types of allergies.

The best way to determine if your dust allergy is caused by dust mites or another allergen is to seek a professional diagnosis. In addition to asking questions about your symptoms and home, the doctor may examine your nose’s lining with a lighted instrument. If your nasal passages are pale, bluish, or swollen, it’s a good indication you suffer from an airborne allergy. Your doctor may refer you to an allergist for further testing to narrow down the cause. Allergists commonly conduct these two tests.

Skin test

During a skin test, an allergist pricks your forearm or back with tiny amounts of purified extracts of an allergen and then observes your skin for 15 minutes to see if an itchy red bump appears. If your skin erupts, it means you’ve reacted to the allergen.

Blood test

In some cases, if you’re taking certain medications that can affect the results of a skin test, your allergist may recommend undergoing a blood test that checks for antibodies to allergens such as dust mites.

Dust Allergy Treatment Options

Possible treatments for dust allergies include:

  • Antihistamines

  • Decongestants

  • Corticosteroids

  • Leukotriene modifiers

  • Nasal irrigation

  • Immunotherapy

Antihistamines

Antihistamines reduce your body’s production of histamine, a chemical that causes sneezing, itching, a runny nose, and other allergy symptoms. Compare different antihistamines with our Allergy Medicine Comparison Chart.

Decongestants

Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen tissues in the nasal passages. Learn more about how decongestants can provide relief from dust allergy symptoms here.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids in the form of a nasal spray can lessen inflammation and reduce allergy symptoms.

Leukotriene modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers are prescription medications that provide relief by stopping the action of specific chemicals in the immune system.

If you’re seeking relief from dust allergies without medication, you have additional options.

Nasal irrigation

Rinse dust particles from your nasal passages and sinuses regularly with a sterile saline solution. Using a neti pot or other nasal irrigation system can help remove airborne allergens and extra mucus.

Immunotherapy

You may wonder if allergy shots work for dust mites or can help you get rid of a dust allergy. The answer is yes — through immunotherapy. During this lengthy treatment, an allergist administers a series of shots to gradually retrain your immune system to be less sensitive to an allergen.11

What Else Can I Do to Help Prevent Dust Allergies?

While seeking treatment from an allergist and using medication can help control your allergy symptoms, you can also make changes at home to lessen your exposure in the first place. Here’s how to prevent dust in your house:

To protect yourself from dust allergies, clean your home regularly. Dust furniture with a damp cloth or cleaning spray at least once a week. Wait for dust to settle before you vacuum. Try using a HEPA filter or a double bag on your vacuum to help trap allergens. Also, wash throw rugs regularly and curtains twice a year.

Cleaning is especially important in the bedroom, a haven for dust. Pillows and mattresses hide microscopic dust mites. Wash bed linens in hot water, and vacuum the mattress and box spring and under the bed. For added protection, remove decorative pillows and stuffed animals, use dust-mite-proof covers on pillows and mattresses, and consider swapping carpeting for bare floors.

The fight against dust doesn’t stop there. In every room, you can minimize knickknacks and clutter that can collect dust. Remember, the best defense against a dust allergy is cleanliness.

Visit our page 5 Indoor Air Quality Tips for more strategies to reduce indoor allergens.

To learn how to decorate for the holidays without attracting or stirring up dust, visit our page Want to Decorate Without Dust?

Conclusion

While you can reduce your exposure to dust and other indoor allergens, it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. Fortunately, you can take simple actions and rely on medications to help find relief from your dust allergy symptoms.


Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart is a freelance writer specializing in health and lifestyle topics. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids and two very needy cats.


  1. https://asthmaandallergies.org/asthma-allergies/dust-mite-allergy/#:~:text=Dust% 20mites%20and%20their%20waste,Americans%20have%20dust%20mite%20allergy. Open link in new window
  2. https://acaai.org/allergies/types/dust-allergy Open link in new window
  3. 3 https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc- 20352192 Open link in new window
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK447098/ Open link in new window
  5. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/ahs/data/interactive/ahstablecreator. html?s_areas=00000&s_year=2017&s_tablename=TABLE5&s_bygroup1=1& s_bygroup2=1&s_filtergroup1=1&s_filtergroup2=1 Open link in new window
  6. https://acaai.org/allergies/types/cockroach-allergy#:~:text=The%20saliva%2C% 20feces%20and%20shedding,United%20States%20contain%20cockroach%20allergens. Open link in new window
  7. https://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/allergy-pet-bird Open link in new window
  8. https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/ Open link in new window
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm Open link in new window
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mold-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc- 20351519 Open link in new window
  11. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dust-mites/diagnosis-treatment/ drc-20352178 Open link in new window

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