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Your Environment. Your Health.

Dust Mites and Cockroaches

Introduction

miscroscopic view of a dust mite
cockroach

Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that commonly live in house dust. They feed on flakes of dead skin, or dander, that are shed by people and pets. These tiny creatures are a big source of allergens and can worsen allergies and asthma. Dust mites can live in mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains in your home.

Cockroaches are another source of indoor allergens. Researchers have found a link between the presence of cockroaches and an increase in the severity of asthma symptoms. These pests are most frequently found in urban areas and older dwellings.

Treatment

Traditional medications, such as antihistamines and inhaled steroids, may provide short-term control of allergy or asthma symptoms caused by dust mites or cockroaches. Immunotherapy, such as allergy shots and tablets, can change the body’s immune response to allergens and may offer long-term control.1 People who suspect they are allergic to dust mites or cockroaches can see their doctor and get tested.

Dust Mite Prevention Strategies

No matter how clean a home is, dust mites cannot be completely eliminated. However, the number of dust mites can be reduced by doing the following.

  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to maintain humidity levels at, or below, 50 percent.
  • Encase your mattress and pillows in dust-proof or allergen impermeable covers.
  • Wash all bedding and blankets once a week in hot water, 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill dust mites. Non-washable bedding can be frozen overnight.
  • Replace wool or feathered bedding products with synthetic materials, and traditional stuffed animals with washable ones.
  • In bedrooms, replace wall-to-wall carpeting with bare floors, and remove fabric curtains and upholstered furniture, whenever possible.
  • Use a damp mop or rag to remove dust. Never use a dry cloth, as it stirs up allergens.
  • Use a double-layered microfilter bag or a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner.
  • Wear a mask while vacuuming, and stay out of the vacuumed area for 20 minutes after vacuuming, to allow dust and allergens to settle.

Cockroach Prevention Strategies

  • Keep food and garbage in closed, tight-lidded containers.
  • Do not leave food, dirty dishes, or pet food and bowls out on countertops or floors.
  • Mop the kitchen floor and wash countertops at least once a week.
  • Fix leaky faucets and drain pipes.
  • Fill crevices around the house through which cockroaches may enter.
  • Limit the spread of food around the house, especially in bedrooms.
  • Use bait stations and other environmentally safe pesticides to prevent or reduce cockroach infestation.

What is NIEHS Doing?

Visit the Join an NIEHS Study Website
  • Allergic and non-allergic dust mite proteins – An NIEHS study provided new information about the characteristics of dust mite proteins that may help researchers understand the development of dust mite allergy and assist in the design of better allergy therapies.2
  • Bait traps and allergen reduction – Another NIEHS-funded study found the strategic placement of bait traps in homes resulted in sustained cockroach elimination and improved asthma outcomes.3
  • Dust Mite reduction study – A study by NIEHS researchers found that test kits, along with education, may help reduce dust mite allergen levels in homes.4
  • Prenatal exposure and childhood allergies – Researchers, funded by NIEHS, discovered prenatal exposure to cockroach allergen increased risk of childhood allergies.5

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Press Releases

Additional Resources

  • Cockroaches – Information from the American Lung Association
  • Dust Mites – Information from the American Lung Association

For Educators

Lesson Plans


  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 2014. Allergy Immunotherapy. [accessed 09/21/2018]. [Available: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 2014. Allergy Immunotherapy. [accessed 09/21/2018].]
  2. Ogburn RN, Randall TA, Xu Y,  Roberts JH, Mebrahtu B, Karnuta JM, Rider SD, Kissling GE, London RE, Pomés A, Arlian L, Fitzgerald MC, Mueller G, 2016. Are dust mite allergens more abundant and/or more stable than other Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus proteins? J Allergy Clin Immunol 139(3): 1030-1032. [Abstract Ogburn RN, Randall TA, Xu Y,  Roberts JH, Mebrahtu B, Karnuta JM, Rider SD, Kissling GE, London RE, Pomés A, Arlian L, Fitzgerald MC, Mueller G, 2016. Are dust mite allergens more abundant and/or more stable than other Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus proteins? J Allergy Clin Immunol 139(3): 1030-1032.]
  3. Rabito FA, Carlson JC, He H, Werthmann D, Schal C,. 2017. A single intervention for cockroach control reduces cockroach exposure and asthma morbidity in children. J Allergy Clin Immunol 140(2):565-570. [Abstract Rabito FA, Carlson JC, He H, Werthmann D, Schal C,. 2017. A single intervention for cockroach control reduces cockroach exposure and asthma morbidity in children. J Allergy Clin Immunol 140(2):565-570.]
  4. Winn AK, Salo PM, Klein C, Sever ML, Harris SF, Johndrow D, Crockett PW, Cohn RD, Zeldin DC. 2015. Efficacy of an in-home test kit in reducing dust mite allergen levels: results of a randomized controlled pilot study. J Asthma 53(2):133-138. [Abstract Winn AK, Salo PM, Klein C, Sever ML, Harris SF, Johndrow D, Crockett PW, Cohn RD, Zeldin DC. 2015. Efficacy of an in-home test kit in reducing dust mite allergen levels: results of a randomized controlled pilot study. J Asthma 53(2):133-138.]
  5. Perzanowski MS, Chew GL, Divjan A, Jung KH, Ridder R, Tang D, Diaz D, Goldstein IF, Kinney PL, Rundle AG, Camann DE, Perera FP, Miller RL. 2013. Early-life cockroach allergen and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposures predict cockroach sensitization among inner-city children. J Allergy Clin Immunol 131(3): 886-893. [Abstract Perzanowski MS, Chew GL, Divjan A, Jung KH, Ridder R, Tang D, Diaz D, Goldstein IF, Kinney PL, Rundle AG, Camann DE, Perera FP, Miller RL. 2013. Early-life cockroach allergen and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposures predict cockroach sensitization among inner-city children. J Allergy Clin Immunol 131(3): 886-893.]

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