Bed bugs and dust mites are organisms found in the home that can cause skin irritation and allergies. Bed bugs are often confused for dust mites and the allergic reaction caused by dust mite faeces is regularly mistaken for the reaction caused by bed bug bites. Here, we uncover the differences between bed bugs and dust mites, the ways you can protect yourself and your family from them and how to spot them.

What are dust mites and what do dust mites look like?

Dust mites are microscopic spiders, barely visible to the naked eye. They have translucent bodies, eight legs and are less than half a millimetre long.

What are bed bugs and what do bed bugs look like?

Bed bugs are nocturnal parasitic bugs with six legs, have flat bodies and are a brown-reddish colour. They do not jump or fly, but crawl across surfaces. Although very small, they are visible to the naked eye. There are a number of signs you might have bed bugs including small brown stains on your bedding from bed bug faeces or red dots from where a bed bug has been crushed.

Where do you find dust mites and what do dust mites eat?

Dust mites are found in all areas of the home, but particularly in bedrooms and kitchens. Dust mites live on dead skins cells shed from humans and their pets. They love damp areas, so thrive in pillows and bedding, which absorb moisture from the skin while you sleep. You have lots of dead skin behind in your bedding so if you are looking to prevent dust mites, make sure you wash your covers regularly, replace pillows and duvets every few years and use bedding protectors.

Where do you find bed bugs and what do bed bugs eat?

Bed bugs are mainly found in the bedroom, they survive in small crevices around your bed, including bedding, headboards, wooden bed frames, mattresses and carpets. Mostly active at night, bed bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide and warmth you produce, biting your exposed skin to feed on your blood. Bed bug infestations can spread very quickly with females producing hundreds of eggs, so if you think you might have them you can find out how to eliminate bed bugs here.

Are dust mites and bed bugs dangerous to human health?

Dust mites and bed bugs are not known to transmit any human diseases but both can cause skin reactions. Dust mites do not bite, but the faeces and secretions they leave behind can cause a number of allergic reactions including:

  • eczema and skin rashes
  • asthma
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes

Not everyone will have a reaction to a bed bug bite so you may not be aware that you have them. Bed bug bites tend to occur on areas which are exposed while you sleep such as ankles, wrists and neck. Bites tend to be red and normally occur in clusters or lines. They can be painful and itchy and sometimes do not surface until up to two weeks after you have been bitten. Minor bites can be treated with antihistamines but see your GP is you are worried or in pain.

How do I protect myself from dust mites and bed bugs?

Dust mites are, of course, associated with dust, so cleaning duvets and vacuuming regularly can help minimise dust mites. Bed bugs however, are mostly associated with areas of high footfall, such as hotels and hostels, and are not more likely to occur in a ‘dirty’ home. We explain how to check for bed bugs here. Duvet covers, mattress covers and pillow covers are the best way to protect yourself from dust mites and bed bugs, as they create a physical barrier between the organism and you skin and help prevent them spreading. You can find products that eliminate and prevent the spread of bed bugs here. For more information and advice about bed bugs and other sleep issues, visit the SlumberSlumber sleep clinic.

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