If the thought of cockroaches makes your skin crawl, you may be uncomfortable to learn that you can have an allergy to cockroaches. In fact, it’s a very common cause of allergy and asthma in the United States.
There are more than 4,000 different species of this insect worldwide, with the most common ones causing allergy in the U.S. being the German, Oriental and American cockroaches. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 10% of children and adults in the U.S. have an allergy to the German cockroach, with the highest level of sensitivity found in the southern U.S.
Because they can live inside the home, cockroaches can contribute to allergy and asthma problems all year long. The National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing, a nationwide population survey, found cockroach allergens in 63% of homes, with higher concentrations in high-rise apartments, urban settings, older homes and low-income households.
Nevertheless, these insects can infest any home or apartment. Also, just because you don’t see them in your home, doesn’t mean the cockroach allergy can’t happen to you. You can develop an allergy to their decomposing bodies and to their saliva and feces floating in the air.
[Read: How to Treat Seasonal Allergies.]
Symptoms of a Cockroach Allergy
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, a cockroach allergy can trigger the same symptoms seen with allergies to pollen, dust mites and pets. ACAAI also notes you can suffer with sneezing, nasal itching, runny nose and congestion. Your eyes can get red, watery and itchy too. Cough, wheezing and shortness of breath can all be manifestations of asthma brought on by cockroach allergy.
What if you aren’t sure if you have cockroach allergy or a year-round dust mite, mold or pet allergy? Your health care provider or a board-certified allergist can recommend either a blood test or a simple, painless, skin prick test to determine what’s causing your symptoms.
[READ: When to See an Allergist.]
What to Do if You Have a Cockroach Allergy
First, try to eliminate them from your home environment. Cockroaches like damp areas and need sources of food. It’s important to keep the kitchen clean of food and crumbs and keep all food containers tightly closed. Make sure all garbage cans, inside and out, are sealed tightly as well. Any areas in the house where there’s dampness or leaking water should be corrected. Avoid piles of dirty clothes, newspapers, magazines and dirty dishes.
You can also check with a professional exterminator, but make sure they’re informed if someone in the home suffers from asthma before any spraying is done. You can try at-home pest control with boric acid and roach traps, but be careful if there are young children or pets in the house.
Eliminating cockroaches can be extremely difficult, as they can live up to three months without food and up to two weeks without water. A single cockroach may produce on average anywhere from 125 to 225 offspring during its life.
Seeking Treatment Options
Next, you may consider medical management. If you suffer from nasal and eye allergy symptoms, there are many effective over-the-counter agents, such as intranasal corticosteroids like Flonase and Nasacort, and second-generation antihistamines, including Allegra, Xyzal and Claritin. Anti-allergy eye drops, such as Pataday and Zaditor, can also help control eye symptoms. If you have allergies that are not responding to OTC treatment, or if you have asthma, then you should discuss the best prescription routine to control your condition with your allergist.
If cockroach eradication and medication are not giving you enough relief, check with your board-certified allergist to see if you’re a candidate for immunotherapy (allergy shots). This is the only treatment to modify your immune system to help you cure or significantly reduce the severity of your allergies to cockroaches.
Yes, cockroaches may be disgusting, but by having a plan of action for your allergies and asthma, you can conquer these insects.
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