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Cockroach Allergen is a Very Real Problem

By Chris Williams on September 23, 2015.

My 6-year old daughter is wheezing and sneezing with a runny nose all the time, even in winter. The doctor said he didn’t think it was outside plant allergies, but that my daughter might have asthma or allergies from cockroaches or dust mites. We do have cockroaches in our apartment. Could that be the problem?

J.T., Boston, MA

There’s no doubt that cockroaches have been implicated in childhood allergies and asthma. It is estimated that 85% of people who have asthma also have some form of allergy. A national study on causes of asthma in inner-city children found that cockroach allergen worsens asthma symptoms more than either dust mite or pet allergens (see Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Cockroaches!).

Asthma researcher Rebecca Gruchalla said, “Children who tested positive for, and were exposed to, cockroach allergen experienced a significant increase in the number of days with cough, wheezing, and chest tightness, number of nights with interrupted sleep, number of missed school days, and number of times they had to slow down or discontinue their play activity.”

 

What is Cockroach Allergen?

Cockroach allergen is made up of tiny protein particles that are found in cockroach feces, egg cases, their shed skins and dead bodies, and in their saliva and other secretions. In other words, cockroaches are covered with allergen and shed it everywhere they go. People living in a home with cockroaches also spread the allergen with their movements. The allergic reaction occurs when the allergen is disturbed, becomes airborne, and is inhaled.

 

Can You Remove Cockroach Allergen?

Unfortunately, tests have found that removing the cockroaches from a home doesn’t remove all of the allergen. Even very thorough cleaning doesn’t remove all of the allergen material. Since cockroaches spend much of their time hiding in cracks and crevices, that’s where much of the allergen remains, and in levels high enough to still cause a reaction in an individual who is already sensitized (see Cockroach Allergen Levels Remain Despite Efforts).

Preventing cockroach infestations in the first place is certainly the best medicine for preventing allergies and asthma. Getting rid of the cockroaches in a residence, along with deep cleaning, will remove some allergen and will prevent the accumulation of future allergen.

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