HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Pollen isn't the only seasonal allergen that causes all that sneezing. The culprit could be lurking in your very own bed.
Widely known as dust mites, they are considered the number-one cause of allergy problems worldwide, according to Huntsville-based allergist Dr. Shashi Kumar.
The spider-like creatures live just about everywhere in a household.
"The highest concentration is in the house dust but especially in the bedroom - the bedding, the pillows, the mattress box spring," Dr. Kumar said. "Wherever we shed, there are dust mites."
Guntersville resident, Gwen Bowen, said she has been suffering from a dust mite allergy since she was five years old. Bowen experiences sneezing, watery eyes, and itchy ears as a result of her allergy.
"It's gotten worse in the later years," Bowen said.
The microscopic creatures are not visible to the naked eye. They are in the same class as ticks and spiders, but they do not bite.
Rather, it is the dust mites' digestive enzymes that trigger the allergy in humans, according to Dr. Kumar.
Dust mites feed on dead skin shed by humans and pets, and since they do not have eyes, they navigate by feeling their way toward humidity.
This is precisely why dust mites thrive during summer months. They love places where humidity levels are 70 percent or higher.
"I've taken the comforter off my bed because dust mites can get in that. Make sure the humidity stays below 50 percent because if it gets higher, dust mites love that," Bowen said.
Dr. Kumar said 10 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to dust mites. They are also known to exacerbate asthma symptoms. Dr. Kumar said 90 percent of asthma patients are sensitive to dust mite allergies.
The problem is dust mites are impossible to get rid of completely. Dr. Kumar said up to one million dust mites could live inside one pillow alone.
"You don't have to look for them. They're there. Everybody has dust mites, regardless of how clean you are. It doesn't matter," Dr. Kumar said.
But there are ways to put them in check.
Washing bed sheets regularly in hot water kills them. Dr. Kumar recommends doing this once a week. There are also special bed sheets and pillow cases that block them from access to you while you sleep.
Steps like this have helped patients like Bowen live with the mites that won't go away for good.
"I seem to be doing a little better. I've done several of the things Dr. Kumar asked me to do," Bowen said.
Dr. Kumar said the only way to confirm whether you have an allergy to dust mites is to have an allergy test.