Can Dust Mite Allergy Cause Itchy Skin?
Do you suffer from chronically itchy skin? Have you tried, in vain, to identify the source of your itching? Do you have a suspected or confirmed allergy to dust mites? If so, your itchy skin could be directly related.
Itchy skin: What causes it?
There are many reasons for itchy skin. Ordinary dry skin, certain medications, and underlying diseases or conditions may all cause itchy skin. Other various allergies to lotions, soaps, and insects may also produce that intolerable itch.
In recent years, researchers have been investigating the link between a dust mite allergy and itchy skin.
What is a dust mite allergy?
Dust mites are hidden microorganisms found in the majority of our homes. For most of us, we are not even aware of their presence. But those with a dust mite allergy are not so fortunate. Although tiny, these microbes can wreak havoc on a person’s everyday life.
Contact with dust mites mainly occurs when lying in bed, sitting in upholstered furniture, in heavily-carpeted areas, and even in the air.
Symptoms of a dust mite allergy vary, depending on the person’s sensitivity. Year-round cold symptoms, asthma, and itchy, eczema-type rashes are all associated with a dust mite allergy.
Let’s examine these skin rashes in greater detail.
Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by patches of red, itchy, swollen skin. Sometimes, fluid-filled blisters may be present; other times skin is dry and scaly.
There are several subcategories of eczema. A more specific diagnosis is based on the parts of the body involved, the pattern and look of the skin, and the suspected cause of a flare-up.
The type of eczema associated with the inhalation of allergens (including the dust mite) is referred to as atopic dermatitis.
A Look at the Research
Several research studies have investigated the link between atopic dermatitis and dust mites. Scientists examined how the two are connected, how an allergic response is produced, and what can be done to improve treatment for those affected.
The Link Between Atopic Dermatitis and Dust Mite Allergy
A literature review, published in Dermatitis (2008), stated that although more research is needed, the link between house dust mite allergy and atopic dermatitis was observed in several clinical and laboratory studies.
When dust mite allergens were introduced to a person’s skin, an allergic reaction was observed in several cases. Some patients’ atopic dermatitis also improved when they attempted to reduced the number of dust mites in their home.
In 2013, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology published an article further discussing atopic dermatitis and dust mites. They noted that half of all patients tested experienced an eczema flare-up when healthy skin was exposed to the dust mite allergen.
These results have been duplicated in numerous other studies.
What happens when the dust mite allergen is inhaled?
Dust mites can also produce allergy symptoms after being inhaled. Additional studies were conducted to determine whether inhaled dust mite allergens would cause similar reactions.
One such study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (1996), had their subjects (all of which had been previously diagnosed with atopic dermatitis) inhale the dust mite allergen to determine if skin changes occurred. 45% of those tested experienced obvious new outbreaks, even though their physical bodies never touched the allergen.
A more recent study found in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (2004), stated that “pruritus (itching) and skin lesions can develop after inhaling aeroallergens (like dust mites) in sensitive atopic dermatitis patients.”
How does a dust mite allergy cause itchy skin?
Researchers have also wondered just how, exactly, do dust mites cause itchy skin in the sensitive person? Is the body’s immune system reacting to the dust mites? Or are the dust mites entering through the person’s skin, producing a reaction there?
The answer is not straightforward. More research is still needed, but for now, atopic dermatitis seems to be a combination of both internal and external forces working together to produce that terrible itch.
When a person with a dust mite allergy is exposed, the immune system promptly reacts to the foreign invaders, producing allergy symptoms. For some, this includes atopic dermatitis. As the eczema flares up, skin becomes inflamed and damaged. Sometimes the body senses these injured skin cells and reacts to those as well, continuing the vicious cycle.
In addition, where there’s itching, there’s scratching. Scratching is harmful to fragile skin and can actually make atopic dermatitis much worse.
As the skin becomes more and more damaged, it’s defenses weaken against further foreign invaders, leaving the gates wide open for more microorganisms to enter the body.
Genetics may also play a role. Some individuals with atopic dermatitis have been shown to be deficient in filaggrin, an important protein involved in our skin’s protective barrier.
Investigating New Treatments
Hopefully, as research continues, more allergen-specific treatments will be developed.
One potential medication under inquiry is Forsythia suspensa, which is currently used to reduce inflammation.
Eczema-like lesions were produced in mice by exposing them to the dust mite allergen. The mice were then treated with F. suspensa and studied for results.
Results were positive, with the treated mice showing definite improvement over the control mice. Researchers concluded that F. Suspensa may be beneficial in the treatment of allergic skin disorders.
Another recent study published in Annals of Dermatology (2017), noted that some patients with atopic dermatitis also had lower vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy immunity. Lower levels could mean an increased sensitivity to dust mites.
This study suggests that treating some patients’ vitamin D deficiencies could also improve allergy symptoms.
How do I know if my itchy skin is caused by a dust mite allergy?
For those suffering from inflamed, itchy skin, identifying the root issue is the first step towards relief.
In order to know for sure if your itchy skin is caused by a dust mite allergy, it is best to see a medical professional. They can perform tests specific to the dust mite.
If this is not possible, do some “research” of your own. Be very aware of your surroundings, as well as the condition of your skin at all times.
When a skin flare-up occurs, take notes of where you were prior to the outbreak, as well as where it occurred on your body.
Does your itchy skin make an appearance after sitting in a certain chair or lying on carpet? Do you wake up itchy in the morning after lying in bed all night? How about after resting on a friend’s old dusty couch?
Also, take steps to reduce dust mites in your home and see if your symptoms improve. If so, it is highly possible your itching is related to a dust mite allergy.
Can a dust mite allergy cause itchy skin? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Is a dust mite allergy the cause of your itchy skin? This question is much more difficult to answer.
The relationship between dust mite allergy and itching (due to atopic dermatitis) is complicated; many factors play a role, including the severity of the allergy, genetics, environment, and more.
Continued research is needed to further explore this relationship, and hopefully develop more allergen-specific treatments. This, in turn, will greatly improve quality of life and help ease the suffering of those affected.