Dust mites live in most homes and while they can be found in beds as well, that is the extent of the similarities between dust mites and bed bugs. Dust mites can be found in beds, other furniture, carpets, and curtains as well. They tend to feed on dust formed by the dead skin cells shed by humans and pets. Additionally, they have an affinity for moist and warm environments; however, they can survive in a wide variety of climate and altitudes.
Bed bugs are considered parasites. As opposed to dust mites, they feed on live animals instead of their byproducts, feeding on mammals and birds. While dust mites are microscopic, bed bugs can be seen by the naked eye. As the name suggests, they are most commonly found in mattresses and bedding, though they can be found in other places as well, including in the upholstery of other furniture, closets, loose spaces in walls and floors, and luggage. Dust mites are considered part of the spider family, whereas bed bugs are part of the insect family.
While dust mites can be found in most types of spaces, bed bugs can be most commonly found in more densely populated buildings, especially those with high rates of turnover. Buildings such as hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings, nursing homes, and hospitals tend to have higher rates of bed bugs compared to other places given the fact that bedbugs can travel in luggage and that these places tend to have a higher turnover of visitors that may bring them in. The prevalence of dust mites is more dependent on how often old bedding and other textiles are replaced and cleaned.
Dust mites feed on dead skin cells of humans and animals and places where this tends to accumulate attracts dust mites. Upholstery, carpets, pillows, and curtains tend to hold onto dust and this is where dust mites aggregate. While dust mites do not bite, they can cause an allergic reaction, and it is estimated that about 20 million people in the United States are affected by a dust mite allergy. The allergy is an immune system response to the fecal matter and decaying bodies of dust mites. Additionally, materials that hold moisture attract dust mites, and bedding and other textiles and upholstered surfaces are ideal breeding grounds for dust mites.
While bed bugs are generally associated with unsanitary living conditions, they can live, and have been found, in meticulously maintained environments as well. They can thrive in densely populated areas and can be brought in via luggage. Bed bugs tend to avoid warm areas and come out at night to feed given the cooler temperatures, and bites tend to occur on the face, neck, arms, and hands.
Symptoms of dust mite allergies and bed bug bites
While dust can cause sneezing in most people, dust mite allergies are more specific and entail a longer list of reactions. Dust mite allergy symptoms include rhinitis, or runny/itchy nose; postnasal drip; itching; nasal congestion; facial pain and/or sinus pressure; eye irritation; coughing; eye inflammation; and trouble sleeping. Additionally, for individuals with asthma, additional symptoms may be present, including chest pain and tightness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty talking. An allergic reaction may also cause a severe asthma attack.
Bed bug bites tend not to be painful, and symptoms are considered to be mild when noticed. Bed bug bites are usually red, and can be flat or raised and may induce itching. Bites can become apparent any time from minutes to days after the initial bite and can be in a clustered or linear pattern. If there is long-term exposure to bed bugs, there may be scarring as a result of continuous bites. Additionally, continued exposure to bed bug bites can cause an escalation in reactions over time. These symptoms can include an allergic reaction which could be systemic and include severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, cardiac arrhythmia, swollen tongue, blisters, fever, nausea, and anemia. In addition, constant scratching of bed bug bites can lead to infection as well.
Limiting exposure to dust mites is the most effective method of treatment. Additionally, use of antihistamines is an effective way to reduce runny nose, sneezing, and itching due to a dust mite allergy. Nasal corticosteroids are effective to help reduce difficulty breathing. In addition, some medications are combined antihistamines and corticosteroids and can be very effective in mitigating the effects of a dust mite allergy. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, are also used in the treatment of a dust mite allergy.
While in mild cases, there is no treatment required for bed bug bites, there are instances in which the symptoms do need to be addressed. Topical steroid creams and antihistamines can be used if there is itching. If severe scratching leads to bacterial infection, antibiotics may be required as well. In the event of further allergic reactions due to sustained exposure to bed bug bites, allergy medications such as corticosteroids, antihistamines, and topical medications can be used as well. For systemic allergic reactions, anti-nausea and pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used for symptom control.
Given that bed bugs prefer moist and warm environments, use of a dehumidifier can help prevent the accumulation of dust mites. Also, regular cleaning and appropriate replacement of bedding and other materials that hold bedbugs such as pillows and duvets can be very effective in reducing the number of dust mites in a home. Additionally, using synthetic materials for bedding and other furniture filling removes more attractive places for dust mites to aggregate. When cleaning, it is important to use a damp rag instead of dry dusting as this can stir up dust mites and send them airborne, triggering an allergic reaction.
As with prevention of dust mites, proper hygiene is important in preventing bed bugs. Regular cleaning and appropriate replacement of bedding materials and other textiles where bed bugs tend to live is essential. When sleeping in a new place such as at a hotel, it is important to check the bedding to see if there are signs of bed bugs such as rust-colored fecal stains, bed bug skins from shedding, and eggs. Also, there can be an odor characterized as sweet and musty if bed bugs are present.
While dust mites and bed bugs can both be household nuisances, they manifest in different ways and have different ways of affecting an individual. Considering the size of dust mites, there is no danger of being bitten by them, though they can cause an allergic reaction, bed bugs do present an acute risk of bites. Given their attributes, steps can be taken to prevent bed bugs and while dust mites may not be completely preventable, there are ways to drastically reduce their numbers.