What is a Dust Mite? Your Allergy Explained
Dust mites. They've been climbing to the top of the trend health topics over the years and preventive products are popping up left and right. But what are these elusive critters? We know they've been linked to dust allergies through a multitude of highly scientific research studies. Okay, got that. But what are they? Can we see them? Are they more like an ant or a spider or a giraffe? Well after some research and digging through a stack of articles loaded down with complex biology terms, here is the low-down on the creature causing red itchy eyes and sniffles across the globe.
Amazingly enough, the dust mite is an extremely primitive creature that has been found in fossils over 28 million years old! Even more amazing, it is only about Â¼ to 1/3 of a millimeter in length. Without the invention of the microscope, we'd never even know they were there. As a member of the arachnid order, the dust mite shares some relation to the spider with its 8 legs but that is about where the similarities end.
Dust mites are primitive to the point that they have no developed systems. That means no respiratory, digestive, and other various systems we take for granted. Somehow, without all these things, they do manage to enjoy a life span of 2 to 4 months simply moving, eating, and creating waste products. At some point during that awfully busy schedule they do find time to reproduce - the female lays an average of 100 eggs in her lifetime.
They have virtually no â¬Ënative' habitat and are found in ever continent besides Antarctica. While we can't blame them for skipping over the icy tundra, there is a scientific reason they cannot survive there. Dust mites can live almost everywhere but they really thrive under certain temperature and humidity conditions. Ideally they'd prefer their habitats to range between 68Â°F and 77Â°F and have the humidity be 70%-80%. However, they're able to live through everything but very low humidity and extreme temperatures. So penguins of Antarctica, rest assured that you will not have dust mite allergens. Now as for the rest of us in the worldâ¬Â¦
While they are not considered parasites, dust mites' main food source is our skin. More precisely, the 1.5 grams of dead skin cells we naturally shed each day. That alone will feed around 1 million mites and there is not much we can do to control the shedding. Now how can these skin cell vacuum cleaners be considered a threat to our health and cause so much trouble?
Surprisingly the dust mites harm us through their waste products and decomposing bodies, not through their actual contact with us. Scientists have determined that there is a certain protein contained in their waste that sparks an allergy attack within humans, dogs, cats, and even birds. Over their short life time, dust mites will produce over 200 times their body weight in waste and then go on to die and have that same protein manifest itself in their decomposing bodies.
So dust mites will irritant our immune systems both in life and death. To put into perspective, a single mattress will have over 5 million dust mites living within. That's over 5 million critters producing waste and creating baby mites over a 2-4 month span before they die. Then you have a new batch of mites doing the same thing while the old ones decompose and still manage to cause problems.
In summary: a dust mite is a globe-trotting tiny microscopic cousin of the spider that's sole purpose in life is to create waste, die, and create the most common household allergen.