We all know that microscopic organisms like bacteria can be found almost anywhere. But did you know that we also share our space with larger, more advanced (and creepy) creatures that are still invisible to the naked eye?

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Dust mites are microscopically small – around 0.25 millimeters in length – and their tiny bodies are also translucent, making them almost invisible to the unaided eye. Chances are, you’ve never seen one despite sharing your home with thousands of them. They can survive in any climate that humans can, thriving in arid as well as humid climates, and even high altitudes that dissuade other tiny critters. One of their favorite environments is the dust trapped in the bedding and furniture in your house. You may be sharing a bed with thousands of dust mites, and never know they’re there.

What are the symptoms of dust allergies?

Most people will never even know about these little guys unless they suffer from a dust allergy. If you are allergic to dust (usually presenting symptoms of sneezing and runny noses, but sometimes it can be so bad as to trigger asthma in people), most likely you are actually allergic to the mites that live in the dust rather than the dust itself. As you inhale or come into contact with the byproducts of the dust mites that live in your home, your body may respond with the same histamine defenses that it uses in many other common allergies. If you or someone in your family is sneezing, having a runny nose, or experiencing asthma, dust mites may be the culprit. See a doctor to be sure what’s causing it.

Why do dust mites cause allergic reactions?

Dust mites, like any living organism, naturally produce byproducts. They eat organic matter that exists in the dust of houses, like dead skin cells or pet dandruff, and produce protein compounds as waste. It is these waste proteins that trigger most people’s allergic reactions to dust.

Dust mite allergies are actually one of the most common, with one study in 2004 suggesting that they may affect up to 18% of all people worldwide. The body recognizes the foreign particles or chemicals as harmful (whether that is true or not), and responds with its natural defenses to try to eliminate or remove it. Responses like runny eyes or noses, sneezing, and coughing are all part of your body’s attempts to flush out or expel the foreign agent that is triggering its allergic defenses. More extreme reactions can include inflammation, swelling and puffiness, which is a response designed to defend against infections, which is what it thinks the allergen is. While inflammation can be part of your body’s healthy response to some kinds of diseases or infections, it can also be harmful, leading to asthma or other reactions depending on the severity of the allergic reaction and the location of the allergen.

Do dust mites bite humans?

Fortunately, since they live all around us and often outnumber us thousands to one, dust mites don’t actually bite. Unlike bed bugs, which may lead to lots of tiny itchy red bite marks, dust mites are perfectly happy to live in the dust and eat whatever they can find on their own level. If it wasn’t for the waste that they create in the dust they live in, they might actually be helpful – eating dead skin and other natural organic waste, much like their larger cousins like spiders eat pests like flies and mosquitoes. But since so many people are allergic to those byproducts, even though dust mites don’t actually bite people, they can still cause a lot of irritation.

How do I know if I have dust mites in my house?

You are almost guaranteed to be sharing space with dust mites. Because they are an organism that can live in any climate and they thrive in spaces where humans live, like houses and apartments, you most likely have dust mites in your home. Dust mites can live almost anywhere that humans do, as long as they have their food supply: dust. Not only that, they live especially well in the places where our bodies discard dead skin, and dust gets trapped, like padded furniture, bedding, drapes, and carpet.

How to get rid of dust mites?

The best way to reduce the number of dust mites in your home may seem obvious: reduce the dust! To do that, think about the kinds of materials in your home. Carpet is one of the most notorious sources of dust mites, where dust and other allergic particles get trapped, inside the fibers and underneath, where it is difficult to clean and remove. Mattresses, pillows, box springs and bedding are another source of allergic irritation. Some materials can reduce the number of dust mites in bedding (for instance feather pillows are actually better in some cases than polyester fiber). Frequently washing and drying bedding can also help.

Does laminate flooring help with allergies?

One of the best things you can do to help reduce dust allergies in your home is to make it easier to clean the floor. Carpets can trap dust and other allergens, allowing dust mites to thrive. Surfaces like laminate flooring are the most hypo-allergenic, because they don’t trap dust or pollen and they are easy to clean. Many people suffering from allergies report that after removing their carpet and replacing it with laminate flooring, their allergies improved significantly. Installing laminate floors, along with cleaning bedding and other sources of dust mites, can be very effective at managing allergies.