Sneezing is just one sign that you may be sensitive to what's inside your house.

By Nancy Mattia
July 16, 2021
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Nobody likes dust. It collects in the corners of every room and always comes back, no matter what you do to contain it. But for people with a dust allergy, the particles make them feel miserable with cold-like symptoms. What's in dust that affects some people? "House dust may contain a variety of allergens including dust mites, pet dander, insect remnants, and perhaps pollens tracked in from outdoors," says Mansi J. Kanuga, M.D., a consultant in the division of allergic diseases at the Mayo Clinic.

woman covering mouth with napkin and cleaning modern living room with vacuum cleaner
Credit: LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

When people refer to a "dust allergy," they are typically referring to dust mites, which are microscopic bugs that tend to live in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpeting where they eat skin and dander shed from humans and animals. "Dust mites absorb water in the air so they thrive in humid environments," says Dr. Kanuga. They die when the humidity falls below 50 percent, which is why they're less common in dry environments. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms below, you might be allergic, too.

Ask yourself what symptoms you experience.

If you have itchy, watery eyes, you may have an allergy. According to Dr. Kanuga, individuals who are allergic to dust mites may experience nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing; for those with asthma, a dust-mite allergy can also trigger respiratory symptoms like coughing and wheezing.

Do you sneeze more after cleaning the house?

Dust mites can become transiently airborne after vigorous disruption, such as vacuuming, and trigger allergy symptoms. But don't give away your Hoover just yet. "Vacuuming regularly can prevent too much accumulation of dust mites in carpeting and thus is a recommended strategy for reducing dust mite levels in the home," says Dr. Kanuga. Using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter, which traps small particles like dust mites rather than recirculate them in the air, can help minimize allergies.

Get rid of dust mites.

While you won't get rid of every one of these tiny organisms, there are steps to take in your home that can lessen their numbers. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) suggests wearing a mask while cleaning the house. Remove wall-to-wall carpeting, curtains, and drapes, especially in bedrooms, where dust mites accumulate. Swap out your regular pillowcases and mattress covering for the dust-mite-proof variety. Washing bed linens frequently in hot water can reduce the number of organisms as well. A last tip? Try not to bring stuffed animals into your home.

Know when to see a doctor.

According to Dr. Kanuga, asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and allergic conjunctivitis can be associated with dust mite allergy. If symptoms are persistent, despite taking simple measure to reduce dust exposure, you may need to consider taking over-the-counter allergy medications, says Dr. Kanuga. "If these are not helpful, seek additional medical evaluation. Any concern for breathing difficulty should be evaluated promptly by a medical professional."

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