Relief may be on the way for the tens of millions of people worldwide who suffer from dust-mite allergy.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have developed a vaccine that blunts the human allergic reaction to dust mites, tiny creatures invisible to the naked eye but a virtually unavoidable allergen in homes across the world. Although the vaccine must undergo extensive further testing and scientific scrutiny, if approved it could bring relief to those suffering from dust-mite allergy, many of whom have no idea at all what’s causing their symptoms.
Closely related to ticks and spiders, dust mites are microscopic arachnids that live in the dust that coats the bedding, carpeting, and upholstered furniture of most homes. These tiny critters derive their nourishment from the dead skin cells humans shed on the common household furnishings that are home to the dust mite.
Dust-Mite Allergy Symptoms
Similar to those of seasonal allergies, the symptoms of dust-mite allergy stem primarily from inflammation of nasal passages, according to MayoClinic.com. These symptoms include coughing; facial pressure and pain; itchy, red, or watery eyes; itchy nose, roof of mouth, or throat; nasal congestion; post-nasal drip; runny nose; sneezing; and/or swollen, blue-colored skin under your eyes.
Particularly sensitive to dust-mite allergy are people with asthma whose attacks can be triggered by this allergy. This allergy may cause asthmatics to suffer from breathing difficulties; bouts of coughing or wheezing; chest tightness or pain; difficulty falling asleep because of coughing, difficulty breathing, or wheezing; and an audible wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling.
Vaccine Shows Promise
Early testing of the University of Iowa vaccine shows promise. According to an article posted at ScienceDaily.com, “the nano-sized vaccine package was readily absorbed by immune cells and dramatically lowered allergic responses” in animal trials and laboratory testing.
Iowa researchers published the preliminary findings from their study in the September 2014 issue of “The AAPS [American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists] Journal.” In animal tests, the vaccine stimulated antigen-specific immune response, meaning that immune response was triggered only when the animals’ immune system detected the specific antigen that is associated with dust mites. Antigens are substances that are foreign or toxic to the body. When their presence is detected by the immune system, it sends out antibodies designed to neutralize them.
Never Used Before
Of the Iowa researchers’ achievement, researcher Aliasger Salem said, “What is new about this is we have developed a vaccine against dust-mite allergens that hasn’t been used before.” Salem is a professor of pharmaceutical science at the university and corresponding author for the study.
Individual reactions to the dust-mite allergen vary significantly from one person to another. While some experience only mild upper respiratory symptoms, others — especially those with underlying respiratory illnesses, such as asthma — can suffer permanent lung damage after repeated episodes of dust-mite allergy.
Lung Inflammation Reduced
In animal tests, the Iowa researchers found that their vaccine reduced lung inflammation by a whopping 83 percent despite repeated exposure to the allergens. The research team contends that the key to the vaccine’s effectiveness is a built-in booster that alters the body’s inflammatory response to dust-mite exposure.
Because they are impossible to see with the naked eye, it is easy for most of us to overlook the ubiquitous nature of the microscopic dust mite. The ENT and Allergy Center of Missouri, part of the University of Missouri Health Care system, offers some fascinating facts and figures about dust mites and the damage they can cause:
- Eighty-four percent of all American homes have detectable levels of dust mites in beds.
- The average number of dust mites in a typical bed is 2 million. And a single speck of dust can play host to as many as 40,000 dust mites.
- Twenty-two million U.S. homes have dust-mite levels high enough to trigger asthma symptoms.
- Dust-mite levels in 44 million U.S. homes are high enough to trigger allergic reactions.
- Dust-mite allergy is considered the major trigger for 50 to 85 percent of all asthmatic attacks.
- Allergic disease, including dust-mite allergy, is responsible for 3.8 million lost work and school days each year.
A Novel Approach
Interviewed by a reporter for IowaNow, an online publication of the University of Iowa, Peter Thorne, another researcher on the project, said, “Our research explores a novel approach to treating mite allergy in which specially-encapsulated miniscule particles are administered with sequences of bacterial DNA that direct the immune system to suppress allergic immune responses.”
Thorne, a professor of public health at the university, went on to explain that the Iowa research study “suggests a way forward to alleviate mite-induced asthma in allergy sufferers.”
Hurdles Yet to Clear
The vaccine developed at the university must clear a number of hurdles before it ever becomes available to dust-mite allergy sufferers. Chief among these hurdles will be clinical tests to determine if the vaccine’s effects on animals can be duplicated in human test subjects.
In the meantime, currently available treatments for dust-mite allergy are similar to those used to relieve the symptoms of other nasal allergies, known medically as allergic rhinitis, according to MayoClinic.com. These include antihistamines, available in tablet form, nasal sprays, and syrups for children. Among the more widely used antihistamine medications are cetirizine (also marketed as Zyrtec Allergy) fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy), and loratadine (Alavert and Claritin). Antihistamine-based sprays include azelastine (Astelin, Astepro) and olopatandine (Patanase).
Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays
Corticosteroids in the form of nasal sprays can reduce inflammation and relieve the symptoms of dust-mite allergy. Among the most widely used of these nasal corticosteroids are fluticasone propionate (Flonase), mometasone furoate (Nasonex), triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ), and ciclesonide (Omnaris).
Patients who are particularly sensitive to dust mites can also reduce their allergy symptoms by reducing their exposure to dust-mite allergens. To that end, the ENT and Allergy Center of Missouri suggests the following measures:
- Wash all bed linens in hot (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) water weekly.
- Cover both the mattress and box springs in a zippered, dust-proof casing. Such dust-proof casings are usually made of plastic or plastic-like materials and contain a layer of material that keeps the dust mites within the casing. If there are multiple mattresses in a bedroom, make sure that all are covered by this casing, and further secure each casing by placing cloth tape over the zipper closure of each.
- Put all pillows in zippered, dust-proof casings, or alternatively wash the pillows weekly along with the rest of the bedding in water that is 130 degrees F. or hotter.
- To limit your exposure to dust-mite allergens lurking elsewhere in your home, avoid lying on carpets or upholstered furniture, which can harbor the microscopic arachnids.
Order Allergy Drugs Online
If you suffer from a dust-mite allergy and would like to purchase one of the allergy medications that can help to relieve its symptoms, eDrugstore.com is a dependable online vendor that sells only FDA-approved drugs that are sourced solely from U.S. licensed pharmacists.
Among the allergy medications available online from eDrugstore are Flonase, Nasacort, and Nasonex, all of which are corticosteroid nasal sprays designed to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Also available is Patanol, a prescription eye drop that treats allergic conjunctivitis — redness and itching of the eyes triggered by allergies, including dust-mite allergy.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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