Dust Mites vs Bed Bugs: What’s the Difference?

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Do you know much about dust mites and bed bugs? Often, these bugs are lumped into the same category in our minds; both are tiny, uninvited guests who make themselves at home where they are not wanted.

They cause those creepy-crawly feelings to travel down our backs. Do you suddenly have the urge to scratch just thinking about them?

Although they may seem alike, up close, (and under a microscope) they are very different.

First, let’s take a look at dust mites.

Quick Comparison: Dust Mites vs Bed Bugs

 Dust MitesBed Bugs
Family:8 legs - Pyroglyphidae6 legs - Cimicidae
Size:MicroscopicAdults are the size of an apple seed
Feeds on:Skin flakes - not a parasiteBlood - parasite
Found:Inside mattresses, pillows, carpet, upholstered furniture, stuffed animalsCracks, crevices, under mattresses, under cushions, and in dark places
Cause:Allergy symptoms, rashes, asthma flare-upsBites, psychological distress
Killed by:Hot water, direct sunlight, freezing, humidity < 45 %High heat dryer, steam, pesticides, sustained temps < 45 ºF
Can be reduced but not completely eliminatedCan be completely eliminated with chemical and non-chemical measures

What is a Dust Mite?


Dust mites are microscopic 8-legged arthropods, related to the spider. They mainly feed on flakes of human and animal skin.

Do not confuse dust mites with fleas, lice, etc. They are not parasites and will not bite, burrow into your skin, or attach themselves to you in any way.

Wondering if you have dust mites in your home?

Dust mites cannot survive in areas of low humidity, so the fortunate few who live in drier climates may be spared. The rest of us are sure to have dust mites occupying our living spaces. Even the cleanest homes will have them, but in lesser numbers.

They can be anywhere, but mostly accumulate in bedding, carpet, upholstered furniture, and stuffed animals. As we stir up dust during everyday living, they will also temporarily float through the air.

Why are Dust Mites a Problem?

Most of us have dust mites in our homes, but they only present a problem to those allergic to them. They are thought to be the most common trigger for year-round allergies.

Dust mites are also a factor in cases of asthma, COPD, and other respiratory conditions.

Secretions from the dust mite (digestive enzymes and feces) as well as dead, decaying dust mites produce an allergic reaction in the sensitive individual.

Symptoms of a Dust Mite Sensitivity

If your allergy symptoms (stuffy, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, red eyes ) seem to last throughout the whole year instead of changing with the seasons, dust mites may be the culprit.

A skin allergy to dust mites could produce a dry, red, itchy, eczema-type rash.

People with asthma may find their symptoms (wheezing, shortness, of breath, chest tightness, and cough) much worse in areas where dust mites are not controlled.

What Can be Done to Control Dust Mites?

Dust mites can never be completely eliminated, but they can be reduced.

Regular vacuuming with a high-quality vacuum and damp dusting of surfaces is a great starting place. Bedding should be washed weekly in hot water. For items that cannot be washed, direct sunlight, as well as freezing, may help kill off mites.

In order to make conditions less favorable for the dust mite, keep humidity levels less than 50% and room temperatures below 71ºF.

Specialty mattress and pillow covers may help as well.

Those with severe allergies may need to take more drastic measures. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has more detailed instructions for reducing dust mites in your home.

Now, What About Bed Bugs?


Now that you’re more familiar with dust mites, let’s take a look at bed bugs.

Bed bugs have caused quite a stir in recent years, mainly in the hotel business. However, they are not limited to hotels, but can be found in apartments, college dorms, and anywhere, really. Bed bugs are considered to be a public health concern, but they are not linked with the spread of disease.

Although bed bugs are small, mature adults can easily be seen with the naked eye. They are flat, brown, and oval-shaped; about the size and shape of an apple seed.

Starting as an egg, bed bugs progress through six developmental stages. In order to pass from one stage to the next, they must have a meal each time.

However, unlike the dust mite, bed bugs are parasites. They feed only on a host’s blood. Unfortunately, here’s where we, as humans, come in.

Looking for Bed Bugs

Bed bugs can be difficult to find. They are creatures of the night and prefer to remain hidden unless searching for a meal.

Because of this, you may not know they share your room until you wake up one morning with bites. Keep in mind, everyone reacts to bed bug bites differently. Some may have a severe allergic reaction while others may not react at all.

Do not panic if you wake up with a bite of some sort on your body. It’s best to look around for other signs of an infestation before jumping to conclusions.

The Best Hiding Places

If the infestation is still small, the evidence may be harder to spot.

Search for live, adult bed bugs, as well as eggs, egg shells, exoskeletons (from molting) and younger-looking bed bugs. These will be whitish in color.

Get down on the floor and do some detective work. Inspect all the cracks and crevices in and under the bed. Take off the mattress if needed and inspect the boxspring. (Are you fighting the urge to go peek under your bed?)

You may need to expand your search area. Bed bugs also lurk inside furniture, under cushions, near electrical outlets, inside closets, and countless other dark places.

I Found Bed Bugs. What Should I Do?

If you discovered bugs of some sort in your home, it’s important to be completely sure they are bed bugs. There are several look-alikes. When in doubt, ask a professional.

If you do have bed bugs, it can be challenging to get rid of them.

For best outcomes, the EPA recommends using a combination of intense clean-up and pesticides. They have a very detailed do-it-yourself action plan if you aim to exterminate the bugs on your own. A professional exterminator may be needed.

Can I Prevent Bed Bugs From Entering My Home?

A few simple strategies can reduce your odds of bringing bed bugs into your home.

First, always inspect second-hand items for signs of bed bugs. They are excellent hitchhikers and can travel, safely hidden, in used furniture, bedding, and even clothing. If environmental conditions are right, they can live several months without eating.

When traveling, keep luggage, clothing, and personal belongings up off the floor. If you feel the need, do a quick inspection of your bed and the surrounding areas.

Awareness is Key

As you can see, dust mites and bed bugs are very different. Becoming more aware of how they affect your health and household is your first line of defense. If these pests cause a problem in your home, you will be more equipped to handle it.

When in doubt, always seek professional advice.

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