Dust Allergies: Causes, Symptoms and Relief

The dust has settled

Man vacuuming home

If you suffer from dust allergies, you already know about the sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes that impact your everyday life. The primary cause of indoor dust allergies is the presence of dust mites. These nasty little buggers feed off of the everyday dust found in most homes, and can make being indoors almost unbearable. A dust mite allergy can even trigger asthma and eczema flare-ups.

Throughout this page, you will find information about:

What is dust made of?

This may fall into the category of questions you don’t want to know the answer to, but here is the not-so-pretty truth: household dust is made up of dust mites, hair, dead skin cells, pollen, soil, and lots more icky stuff.

As you move around your space, you kick up the dust that has accumulated in your house. It floats around for a bit, then falls to the floor after picking up more substances (in other words, after making more dust).

Where does it come from?

The short answer is that dust comes from both inside and outside your house. Pollen and other airborne particles enter the house when you do. They can also get in when you open a window. Particles get on your clothes and shoes, which bring these unwelcome visitors inside. 

Things get a little bit more complicated when you take a closer look at indoor dust. Carpeting, upholstered furniture, pillows, and bedding are all made up of fibers. When these fibers start to decay, particles enter the air and contribute to the dust in our homes.

Now comes the part no one really wants to talk about. Specifically, the “other stuff” that makes up household dust. If you have pets in the house (more on this below), chances are the dust in your house is largely made up of pet hair. The rest of it is most likely comprised of a lovely mixture of dead skin cells, human hair, dust mites, and other bugs.

What you can do about it

Don’t worry; it’s not all doom and gloom. There are lots of easy, everyday things you can do to greatly reduce the amount of dust in your home. Some easy ways to do this include:

  Increasing the flow of outdoor air

  Using air cleaners with certified allergy and asthma filters

  Vacuuming frequently with certified allergy and asthma filters

If your allergies are flaring up, or you are particularly sensitive to dust, consider wearing a mask while doing your household cleaning. Also, keep in mind that while a good-quality vacuum with a clean filter is an excellent weapon in the fight against allergies, the opposite is also true; a poor-quality vacuum can actually put more dust back into the air.

Your furry friends

All cats and dogs — even hairless ones — contain allergens. That’s because the source of pet allergies isn’t actually in the fur, but in a protein found in a pet’s saliva or urine. Some dog and cat breeds contain fewer allergens than others, but when you hear that a pet is “hypoallergenic” it simply means that they don’t shed as much, so there is less fur for allergens to stick to.

If you already have a pet, or are looking to make your home a safer place for an allergy sufferer, here are three easy things you can do to greatly reduce pet allergy symptoms:

  1. Designate a room or section of your home as a “pet-free zone.” Pet hair loves to collect in soft places like bedding and upholstered furniture. Keep pets from entering certain rooms, and you will greatly reduce the chances of pet dander settling in those areas.
  2. Use HEPA air purifiers throughout your home. A good-quality air purifier, with a filter that’s changed often, is a great way to keep clean air circulating throughout your home. 
  3. Give your pets a bath at least once a week. Not all cats and dogs love bath time, but they’ll get used to it. You should also make sure to use a shampoo that is specifically designed for your kitten, puppy, cat, or dog.
A woman dusting her home

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    1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Editors. Dust Allergy, American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (acaai.org), 2021

    2. Chemical & Engineering News, Janet Pelley. Tracing the chemistry of household dust, Chemical & Engineering News (cen.acs.org), 2017

    3. National Public Radio, Joe Palca. The Dirt On Dust, National Public Radio (npr.org), 2009

    4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Editors. Control Indoor Allergens to Improve Indoor Air Quality, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (aafa.org), 2021

    5. Mayo Clinic, James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D. Pet allergy: Are there hypoallergenic dog breeds?, Mayo Clinic, 2019

    6. The Humane Society of the United States, Editors. How to live with allergies and pets, The Humane Society of the United States, 2021