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Cockroach Allergy

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Updated June 21, 2014

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Cockroach Allergy

Different species of cockroaches that are known to cause allergies.

© Centers for Disease Control
Cockroaches are insects that have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and are well-known pests that infest human dwellings. In addition to carrying various bacteria that can be transmitted to people, cockroaches are known to cause or worsen various allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis and asthma. While there are thousands of species of cockroaches, the American cockroach (scientific name Periplaneta americana) and German cockroach (scientific name Blatella germanica) are most likely to cause allergies.

Where are cockroaches found?

Cockroaches are found all over the world, particularly in warmer climates. Even in colder climates, however, cockroaches can be found, especially where humans live. Cockroaches can be found indoors and outdoors, and some species are dependent upon humans for their survival. Usually, cockroaches can be found near sources of food and water, such as in the kitchen or bathroom. They feed on table scraps, trash and pet food, but can eat other materials, such as paper goods and other forms of starch.

How do cockroaches cause allergy?

The major cockroach allergens come from droppings, called frass. The allergens tend to be heavy, similar to dust mite allergen, and are only likely to be airborne with activities such as sweeping or vacuuming. The airborne cockroach particles then enter the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and lungs, and set up an allergic reaction in people with allergic antibodies against cockroach.

How is cockroach allergy diagnosed?

Cockroach allergy is diagnosed in much the same way as other allergies, with the use of allergy testing. Skin testing is the most accurate and least expensive way to diagnose cockroach allergy, although testing the blood for IgE to cockroach can also make the diagnosis.

How is cockroach allergy treated?

The treatment of cockroach allergy involves three key steps: Avoidance, medications and immunotherapy. Avoidance of cockroach typically involves removal of food and water sources with common sense cleaning techniques, such as cleaning up scraps of food, taking out the garbage, and keeping pet food in sealed plastic containers. If there is a significant cockroach infestation, the use of commercially available insecticide sprays or bait traps may be useful, or a professional exterminator may be required.

If avoidance is not adequate to prevent symptoms completely, then medications may need to be used. The choice of medication for cockroach allergy is based on the symptoms that occur, rather than based on the specific allergen that caused the symptoms. Lastly, allergen immunotherapy with cockroach allergen has been shown to be useful for the treatment of various allergic diseases caused by cockroach allergy, and in many cases reduces or eliminates the need for allergy medications.

Learn more about the avoidance of indoor allergens.

Sources:

Weber RA. Oriental Cockroaches. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009;103(4):A4.

Weber RA. German Cockroaches. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007;99(2):A4.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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