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Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Cockroaches!

By Chris Williams on May 29, 2013.
Allergic to cockroaches

Question

My son has been sneezing and wheezing a lot lately. I thought he had a cold but it doesn’t go away. A friend told me that kids can get allergic to cockroaches. Is that true? We live in subsidized housing and, unfortunately, we do have cockroaches.

Answer

I’m not a medical doctor so I can’t diagnose your son’s condition, but I do know about cockroaches. Cockroach allergen is a very real problem, and something that we are learning more about all the time. In fact, even though cockroaches have always been a medical concern because they can carry disease pathogens on their bodies, their ability to cause allergic reactions and asthma is of far greater concern. In asthmatic people, roach allergens are second only to those from dust mites in importance.

Children seem to be more susceptible to cockroach allergens. In one study of 476 asthmatic inner-city children, about 50% of the children’s bedrooms had high levels of cockroach allergens present. These children were also found to have a higher rate of hospitalization for asthma than other children. It’s not just children though. Cockroach allergen is the most common cause of asthma in the elderly.

The actual allergen that causes the reaction is a protein from cockroach body parts—the shed skins that the nymphs leave behind, cockroach feces, eggs, dead cockroaches, even roach saliva, all contribute to allergic reactions and asthma. The allergens can become airborne and can be inhaled. They also settle on surfaces in the home. Most of the allergens remain hidden in cracks and crevices (where cockroaches hide), even after cockroaches have been eliminated.

The longer a cockroach infestation has gone on in a home, the greater the accumulation of cockroach allergen material, especially if there has only been basic cleaning. In studies, even professional cleaning was unable to remove all of the allergens. Although allergen levels were reduced, enough allergen remained after cleaning to still cause allergic reactions. The best treatment for cockroach-induced allergy or asthma is to prevent cockroaches in the first place.

Photo credit: dimitridf / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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