Dust mite allergies and children

Dust mite allergies and children

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), dust mites are one of the most common triggers for allergies in Australia, affecting up to 4 in 5 people with asthma, eczema, rhinitis or hay fever.

What are the Signs of Dust Mite Allergies in Children?

Respiratory Symptoms:
  • Frequent sneezing, especially after waking up.
  • A runny or stuffy nose, often with clear nasal discharge.
  • Coughing, which may be more pronounced at night or in the morning.
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing, particularly in children with asthma.
Skin Reactions:
  • Itchy skin or the development of a rash, which may indicate a skin allergy.
  • Eczema or atopic dermatitis, often exacerbated by dust mite allergies.
Eye Irritation:
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes.
  • Swelling around the eyes, especially upon waking.
Sleep Disturbances:
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent waking due to nasal congestion or coughing.
  • Overall restlessness during sleep.
General Discomfort:
  • Fatigue or irritability due to disrupted sleep.
  • Decreased concentration or changes in behavior, especially in school-aged children.
Exacerbation of Asthma:
  • Increased asthma symptoms, such as frequent or severe wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling in the chest.
  • Need for more frequent use of rescue inhalers in children previously diagnosed with asthma.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction:

  • Children have shorter and more horizontally positioned Eustachian tubes (the tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose) compared to adults. Allergic reactions, like those to dust mites, can cause inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes. This can lead to impaired drainage and ventilation of the middle ear, creating an environment conducive to bacterial or viral growth.

Fluid Accumulation:

  • Allergic rhinitis (nasal inflammation due to allergies) can lead to fluid buildup in the middle ear. This fluid can become infected, leading to what is known as otitis media (middle ear infection).

Sinus Infections:

  • Children with allergies may also be prone to sinus infections. These infections can further block the Eustachian tubes, increasing the risk of middle ear infections.

Weakened Immune Response:

  • Frequent allergic reactions can sometimes tax a child's immune system, making them more susceptible to infections, including ear infections.

Symptom Overlap:

  • Symptoms of ear infections, such as ear pain, trouble hearing, or a feeling of fullness in the ear, can sometimes be mistaken for or occur concurrently with allergic reactions.

Dust Mite Allergies and Asthma

According to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, dust mite allergens are a major cause of asthma symptoms in Australian children, with up to 50% of asthma cases in children aged 5-14 years being linked to dust mite sensitivity. The study found that exposure to high levels of dust mite allergens was associated with more severe asthma symptoms and poorer lung function.

Dust Mite Allergies and Eczema

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health found that dust mite allergens were a significant risk factor for eczema in Australian children. The study found that children with eczema were more likely to be sensitive to dust mite allergens than children without eczema, and that exposure to dust mite allergens could exacerbate eczema symptoms.

In addition to asthma and eczema, dust mite allergies can also contribute to chronic or recurrent sinusitis and middle ear infections. According to the ASCIA, exposure to dust mite allergens can trigger inflammation in the sinuses and ears, leading to congestion, pain, and recurrent infections.

Can Dust Mite Allergies Affect My Child’s Sleep?

The symptoms associated with dust mite allergies, such as nasal congestion, coughing, and itchy eyes, can make it difficult for a child to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.

Here are some key ways in which dust mite allergies can impact sleep:

  1. Nasal Congestion: Dust mite allergens can cause nasal congestion and stuffiness, making it uncomfortable or difficult for a child to breathe easily while lying down. This can lead to frequent awakenings or trouble falling asleep.

  2. Coughing and Wheezing: Allergic reactions to dust mites can trigger coughing or wheezing, especially in children with asthma. These symptoms can be exacerbated at night and disrupt sleep.

  3. Itchy Eyes and Skin: The allergic reaction can also cause itchy, watery eyes and itchy skin, which can be particularly bothersome at night, leading to difficulty in settling down for sleep.

  4. Poor Sleep Quality: The combination of these symptoms can lead to fragmented and poor-quality sleep. This can affect a child's mood, behavior, and cognitive function during the day due to lack of restful sleep.

  5. Sleep Apnea in Severe Cases: In some severe cases, allergies can contribute to conditions like sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, although this is less common in children.

To minimise the impact of dust mite allergies on sleep, it's important to reduce exposure to dust mites in the child's bedroom. This can be achieved by using dust mite-proof covers on mattresses and pillows, washing bedding regularly in hot water, maintaining low humidity levels, and keeping the room clean and free of dust-collecting items like heavy drapes and plush toys.

By managing dust mite allergies effectively and creating an allergen-reduced sleeping environment, the negative impact on a child's sleep can be significantly reduced. Remember, if your child is experiencing sleep disturbances due to allergies, it is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider for tailored advice and treatment options.

How Common is Dust Mite Allergy?

Dust mite allergies are notably prevalent in Australia. According to Allergy Queensland, dust is probably the most common cause of allergic disease in the country.

The warm and humid climate, particularly in regions like Southeast Queensland, creates an ideal environment for dust mites to thrive year-round, thereby increasing the likelihood of dust mite allergies among the population​

Are Dust Mite Allergies Hereditary?

Dust mite allergies, like many types of allergies, can have a hereditary component. This means that if a parent or close family member has allergies, including dust mite allergies, asthma, or other atopic disorders (like eczema), a child may be at a higher risk of developing similar allergies. However, it's important to note a few key points about the hereditary nature of these allergies:

  1. Genetic Predisposition: While there is a genetic predisposition to developing allergies, it is not specific to dust mites. Instead, a child may inherit a general tendency to develop allergic reactions, known as atopy.

  2. Environmental Factors: The development of allergies is also influenced by environmental factors. Even if a child has a genetic predisposition, exposure to certain allergens, lifestyle factors, and overall health can impact whether they develop an allergy.

  3. Multiple Genes Involved: There is no single gene responsible for allergies. The hereditary aspect of allergies is likely due to the interplay of multiple genes, each contributing to the overall risk.

When a child with a dust mite allergy inhales or comes into contact with the droppings of dust mites, their immune system overreacts, causing the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Children with asthma or other allergies are at a higher risk of developing a dust mite allergy. Other risk factors include living in a damp or humid environment, exposure to cigarette smoke, and having pets.

Can My Child Outgrow Dust Mite Allergies?

Dust mite allergies are generally not considered something that a child will outgrow. Unlike some food allergies which children may outgrow, dust mite allergies tend to persist into adulthood. These allergies occur when the immune system reacts to dust mites, common indoor allergens found in many households.

  1. Long-Term Condition: Dust mite allergies can be a chronic condition. Once an individual is sensitised to dust mite allergens, they usually remain sensitive throughout their life.

  2. Management and Treatment: While you can't "cure" a dust mite allergy, there are ways to manage symptoms. This includes using medications like oral antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, and leukotriene modifiers, and undergoing immunotherapy (allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy) to help the immune system tolerate dust mite proteins better.

  3. Symptom Reduction: The symptoms of a dust mite allergy can diminish or fluctuate over time with appropriate management, such as regular cleaning to reduce dust mite exposure, using allergy-proof bedding covers, and maintaining a dust-free environment.

  4. Healthcare Consultation: It’s important for parents to consult with healthcare providers for proper diagnosis and to discuss the best management strategies for their child's specific needs.

According to Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Allergy medications are effective, but they do not cure allergies. Allergen immunotherapy is the closest thing to a "cure" for allergies, reducing the severity of symptoms and the need for medication. This therapy involves gradually increasing doses of allergen extracts over several years to switch off allergies and make patients immune to allergens. Allergen immunotherapy requires a commitment of 3-5 years and cooperation with doctors to minimise side effects.

How Can I Reduce Dust Mites in My Child’s Environment?

Reducing dust mites in your child's environment, especially in areas where they spend a lot of time like their bedroom, can significantly help manage dust mite allergies. Here are some effective strategies:

  1. Use Dust Mite-Proof Covers: Encase mattresses, pillows, and duvets in dust mite-proof covers. These covers are made of tightly woven fabric that prevents dust mites from colonising or escaping from the bedding.

  2. Wash Bedding Regularly: Wash all bedding, including sheets, pillowcases, and blankets, in hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) weekly to kill dust mites. Dry them in a hot dryer.

  3. Maintain Low Humidity: Dust mites thrive in humid environments. Keep the indoor humidity below 50% using a dehumidifier or air conditioning.

  4. Remove or Reduce Carpeting: If possible, remove wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in the child's bedroom, as it provides an ideal habitat for dust mites. If removing carpet isn’t feasible, vacuum it regularly using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

  5. Regular Cleaning: Dust and clean the house regularly, focusing on areas where dust accumulates, such as floors, window sills, and furniture. Use a damp cloth or mop to avoid stirring up dust.

  6. Minimise Stuffed Toys: Limit the number of stuffed toys in your child’s room as they can harbor dust mites. Washable stuffed toys should be washed regularly in hot water.

  7. Use Air Purifiers: An air purifier with a HEPA filter can help reduce airborne dust particles.

  8. Avoid Heavy Drapes and Upholstered Furniture: Opt for washable curtains and blinds, and avoid heavy, upholstered furniture that can harbor dust mites.

  9. Pillows and Mattresses: Replace pillows and mattresses every few years. Over time, they can accumulate dust mites and their allergens.

  10. Freeze Non-Washables: For items that can't be washed, like some toys, placing them in the freezer for 24 hours can kill dust mites. However, this won't remove the allergens.

  11. Consider Hard Flooring: If possible, replace carpeting with hard flooring, which doesn’t trap dust mites as easily as carpets.

  12. Regularly Change Air Filters: In heating and cooling systems, regularly change the air filters to reduce circulating dust.

  13. For more tips, visit our dust mite allergy solutions page. 


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