Warning: this article may make you feel itchy. That’s because it covers information on a lot of bugs that cause itching, especially mites. Mites are small, insect-like organisms that grow on a lot of things — but not usually paper, contrary to popular belief.
This article will talk about paper mites and why they don’t exist, as well as about mites that do exist. You’ll also learn about the creepy-crawlies you might see in your paper products (called “booklice”), and how to get rid of them.
The Loch Ness monster, the Yeti, the… paper mite? All three of these are actually mythical creatures. The rumor that paper mites exist got started from people who work in offices with a lot of paper. They reported experiencing higher rates of itching. They assumed mites (tiny, microscopic bugs) must be to blame.
While that’s how the myth started, researchers haven’t confirmed the existence of paper mites (and they have high-powered microscopes that should be able to detect them). That’s why we’ve added them to the list of mythical creatures.
Like our own episode of “Mythbusters,” we’re here to tell you that paper mites don’t exist. There are, however, other mites that may live in your house, your skin, and on your paper products. One example is “booklice,” which are a type of insect known to thrive on mold and fungi — especially those that grow in moldy books.
Booklice are visible to the eye, while a lot of mites aren’t. While these insects aren’t exactly pleasant to see, the good news is they won’t try to live in your hair like other lice do. Instead, they prefer to eat your books, wallpaper, and other paper products in your home (like cardboard cereal boxes).
While researchers have described more than 48,000 different mite species, that represents only 5 to 10 percent of the total number of mite species — so there could be upwards of a million different kinds. Some common mites and pests in your home include the following:
- Chiggers. Chiggers are a mite type that commonly live in soil or on plants. They don’t actually suck a person’s blood but they (get ready for it) eat skin they liquefy with their saliva. Chigger bites can cause skin redness, itching, and even feel hard to the touch. They’re very small and may just appear like a speck of dust on your skin.
- Clover mites. Clover mites are a red, green, or brown mite that love to appear in the fall and leave a red trail over the areas they infest, including carpets and drapes.
- Demodex folliculorum. The name of these mites may give away where they live: on body hair, including some people’s eyelashes. While D. folliculorum mites don’t usually cause problems, excess amounts can build up on some people and cause problems like skin itching, skin sensitivity, and redness.
- Dust mites. Gross alert: Dust mites live off dead skin cells present in your mattress, pillows, and carpets. Unfortunately, the stool they produce after feeding off skin cells can cause allergic reactions like sneezing and breathing problems in adults.
- Rodent/bird mites. These mites may bite a human if they lose their rat or bird host. The bite can cause a small rash that irritates the skin and leads to itching.
- Scabies. Scabies mites are transferred by person-to-person contact or by person-to-animal (such as a dog) contact. These mites burrow in the skin, creating tunneled areas in the skin. They can cause severe skin irritation and itching. One of the telltale signs of scabies infections is the itching is worse at night.
- Straw itch mites. These mites live in straw, grass, leaves, and seeds. When you come in contact with them, they can make microscopic bites that lead to itchy, red skin. While these mites don’t live on humans, they can leave a mark if they bite you.
- Ticks. Ticks are a “cousin” to the mite and can live on your skin or your animal’s coat. They live off your blood and can carry diseases, such as Lyme disease.
Having mites doesn’t mean your house or you aren’t clean. Mites are literally everywhere. If you think you have an infestation, you’ll feel a lot better by taking steps to get rid of them.
You usually find mites on the trunk of your body and arms. If you have bites or redness with no known cause of the bite (such as seeing a mosquito on your arm), a mite could be to blame.
Since they’re so small, it’s hard to know a mite is the perpetrator without going to the dermatologist. Sometimes, a dermatologist can just see a bite and know it’s a certain mite (this is often the case with scabies). Other times, they may have to take a skin scraping and sample it or look at it under a microscope for mites.
Knowing what kind of mite it is helps you treat it, get rid of it in your home, and prevent it whenever possible.
If you identify you have a mite bite, some of the steps to reduce the redness and itching may include:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water. Keep it clean and dry.
- Apply an anti-itch hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. Resist the urge to itch — it will only make the area worse.
- Take an oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). This medication can help to reduce itching sensations.
- See your dermatologist if you think you have scabies. Your dermatologist will prescribe topical medications to kill the scabies and reduce symptoms.
If you’re concerned a mite bite appears infected (is warm to the touch or leaking pus), see your doctor. You may need antibiotics to treat the area.
If you have a mite or booklice infestation in your home, don’t panic. There are several things you can do to get rid of them. These include:
- Remove and throw away any infested items. If you have an item you don’t want to throw away, place it in a plastic bag in the freezer. Leave the item in there for at least 2 days — this will kill off most pests. Vacuum the item and throw away the vacuum bag after you’ve removed the item from the freezer.
- Use a dehumidifier in your home. This helps to reduce excess moisture that pests love to live in.
- Call a professional mold removal specialist or kill the mold yourself using household cleaning products such as bleach or vinegar. Be sure to wear a protective mask so you don’t inhale the mold, mildew, or cleaning chemicals.
- Take steps to reduce standing water, especially in your basement or bathroom — pests love to live there.
- Clean any previously infected areas frequently through vacuuming and other cleaning methods to keep them from coming back.
You may also wish to call a professional pest company. If you have a valuable item that’s been infested by book lice or other mites, you may need the company to help you get rid of the pests for good. Unfortunately, once mites get into an item, they’re more likely to get in there again.
The following steps may help to reduce mites in your home:
- Place protective covers over pillowcases and mattresses. These allergy friendly covers keep dust mites from key areas of your home.
- Vacuum and shampoo upholstered items (carpets and pillows) frequently to remove excess debris.
- Keep excess moisture out of your home by using a dehumidifier.
- Bathe your pet frequently and inspect their coat for ticks or other bugs to keep them from coming into your home.
While there are millions of mites, scientists don’t count paper mites as one of them. If you do have a bite, it’s likely from another mite type or insect. The only way you’ll know for sure is to visit a doctor so they can examine the bite.