House dust mites are members of the arachnid family, eight-legged creatures that include spiders. These microscopic insects are harmless, but their droppings contain proteins to which many people are highly allergic. In fact, about 80 percent of children with asthma are sensitive to dust mites, as is about 10 percent of the population as a whole.
Dust mites love to feast on protein products such as human and animal skin flakes (dead flakes, fortunately). Luckily, the human eye can't see this mite-ty picnic, unless it's held underneath a microscope. Huge gatherings (a typical used mattress may have anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million mites inside) will dine all day and night in bedding, carpeting, and furniture, especially when such hangouts are toasty warm and frequented by humans. Dust mites don't need drinks to wash down their feast. They absorb moisture from the humid air through special glands.
These ugly creatures don't fly, but their fecal pellets can become airborne, and that's the problem for the allergy prone. When you ruffle your blankets, fluff your pillow, sit on the couch, or walk across your carpet, millions of microscopic fecal pellets are propelled into the air and onto the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, and airway linings. Voila: an allergic reaction! And it doesn't help to hold your breath. Mite poop remains airborne for 20 to 30 minutes before settling.
Dust mites are everywhere in the United States except the desert and locations higher than 5,500 feet. They thrive at room temperature with humidity higher than 50 percent. In North America, the Gulf Coast region, especially sunny, humid Florida, and the mild and damp Pacific Northwest are favorite spots. Around the world, dust mites flourish in northern Europe, Venezuela, Brazil, parts of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
In the next section, we will conclude our look at allergic rhinitis with an overview of how cockroaches and pets can trigger allergic symptoms.
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