7 signs that you have dust mites in your mattress — and why that's bad for your sleep

A mattress with white crumpled sheets is shown in a bright, whiute bedroom - but are there dust mites lurking somewhere too?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dust mites are microscopic pests that dwell in four out of five homes in America — and even the best mattresses with the latest in hypoallergenic technologies aren’t immune to their presence. As their name suggests, dust mites lurk in the hidden dusty spots within our homes where they’re free to feast on our dead, shed skin. 

If you haven’t hoovered under your bed or washed your sheets in a little while, there’s a strong chance that you have mites feeding and breeding there. They can’t be viewed by the naked eye, but there are telltale signs of their presence. 

“If you notice you’re itching uncontrollably despite having no bite marks, it’s more than likely you’re sharing a bed with a horde of dust mites,” says Rebecca Swain, mattress expert at Winstons Beds. “While you can’t see the critters without using a microscope, their presence can be known if you’re suffering from a dry cough in the morning and itchy eyes.” 

What's more, dust mites can aggravate allergies and disrupt your sleep — so here’s how to spot them. 

7 signs that you have dust mites in your mattress

1. Your sleep is disrupted 

According to the American Lung Association, dust mites can aggravate existing allergies and cause respiratory issues, such as asthma. This can lead to breathing difficulties, as well as symptoms that closely resemble a common cold, such as swollen nasal cavities or a runny nose. This can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep, as well as causing snoring. Pay attention to your symptoms — are they more pronounced during the night? Dust mites can impact your sleep quality, so it’s important to keep your bed clean and their numbers down. 

2. You have a dry cough

A dry, lingering cough is a strong indication that dust mites could be making a nest in your mattress and bedding — especially if your cough is dry but your bedroom is humid. Dust mites don’t drink water, and instead rely on the moisture that we lose through our pores while we sleep, which can be anything between 0.5 and 1 liter per night. If you’re waking up with a sore throat and a dry, itchy cough it’s a strong indicator that the bed is infested with dust mites.  

3. You have itchy skin 

Dry, itchy skin is another sign that dust mites are dwelling in the soft furnishings within your bed. The critters feed on dead skin cells in the bed which is why it’s important to regularly wash bedding on a 60ºC cycle to prevent an infestation. Dust mites can’t live without moisture in the air or the soft furnishing that they burrow within. Don’t make your bed in the morning and leave a window open to disperse that moisture and keep humidity levels down.  

4. Bedtime makes you sneeze

Woman wearing beige shorts vacuuming her white mattress to get rid of bed bugs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A dust mite allergy resembles hay fever or a cold, so sneezing is common when dust mites are present — especially if your sneezing is more pronounced at night. Sleeping on an area of the bed which is infested with critters can stir up allergies and cause sneezing and runny noses, so don’t ignore those symptoms. It can be difficult to differentiate between a common cold and a dust mite allergy, but if your cold-like symptoms persist after a week, it could be a dust mite allergy.  

5. It's difficult to breathe at night

The presence of dust mites is one of the biggest indoor triggers for asthma, which can cause both mild and severe symptoms, including an asthma attack. This is because the allergens caused by dust mites (or rather, their feces) can cause your chest to tighten, making it difficult to breathe during the night.

Difficulty breathing or wheezing should never be ignored, especially if you have an existing respiratory issue. Make sure to thoroughly vacuum your mattress and bedroom to remove the dust mites, their feces and any excess dust particles. If the issue persists, seek the advice of a doctor. 

6. You have dry, itchy eyes 

Unlike bed bugs, dust mites don't bite or sting. Instead, they make their presence known by causing flu-like symptoms that make our eyes water and itch when we come near them. If you often wake up with itchy eyes, a dust-mite infestation could be to blame. 

7. There are visible signs of dust

Dust bunnies is a cutesy term for what could potentially be a colony of dust mites lurking in and around your bed. Dust mites spawn in soft furnishings, such as curtains, bedding and — if you don’t have a mattress protector — deep within your mattress. They feed on shed human skin cells and moisture in the air. If you can see dust, there’s a high chance that dust mites are present — even if you’re lucky enough not to suffer from any of the above symptoms.  

How to get rid of dust mites 

Dust mites thrive in dark, humid environments where they can stay sustained on shed skin cells and moisture trapped in soft furnishings. You can drastically reduce the number of dust mites dwelling in and around your bed by regularly cleaning your sheets and washing them at 60 degrees, vacuuming your mattress and investing in a hypoallergenic mattress protector to keep moisture locked out of your mattress. Remember, dust mites love humidity, so open the window wide and allow plenty of airflow through your bedroom, too.  

Nicola Appleton
Sleep Features Editor

Nicola Appleton is Sleep Features Editor at Tom’s Guide, specialising in quality news content surrounding sleep and wellbeing. Nicola cut her teeth as a journalist in a busy newsroom in Bristol, UK, 15 years ago as part of a team at Britain's largest independent press agency. Since then, her job as a journalist has taken her to the States, to Sydney, and then back to Blighty, where she has written and edited features for a whole host of prominent British and international brands, including  The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Refinery29, Stylist and more. As well as tackling the vast topic of sleep, Nicola will be joining the raft of expert mattress reviewers at Tom's Guide, helping steer readers towards the very best mattresses on the market.