Cockroach Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Prevention

Cockroaches aren't only a nuisance, but also a health hazard. If you or your child frequently suffer from allergic reactions, it's time to think if cockroach allergens may be the trigger.

By Subhechha Chatterjee  • 8 min read

Cockroach Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Prevention

“My 3-year-old had been suffering from asthma-like breathing difficulty and a dry cough for over 2 months. I kept her away from dust and pollen, but the problem persisted. Then, the paediatrician suggested that my daughter probably had cockroach allergy. I was surprised. Till then, I had never heard about cockroach allergy!” shares Priya Sharma from Pune.

Most of us rush to get the broom or the insecticide spray whenever we see a cockroach crawling in our house. However, by the time we are back, the roach runs and disappears into its hiding spot, which is either hard to reach or not visible to us. Cursing our luck, we let it go.

But, none of us would do so if we knew about the health problems caused by cockroaches. You'll be surprised to know that cockroach allergy is quite common and affects both adults and children alike.

Cockroach and cockroach allergy

Cockroaches thrive in dark, moist and warm areas. Houses with a lot of wooden furniture, storage spaces, dark crevices and corners are potential breeding grounds for cockroaches. Moreover, not disposing daily household waste in a hygienic manner also attracts cockroaches. Homes with dirty washrooms and poor drainage systems are the most prone to cockroach infestation.

Cockroach allergens include cockroach saliva, excreta and body parts. When an individual is exposed to one or more of these cockroach allergens, an allergic reaction may get triggered.

Cockroach allergy symptoms

Some common symptoms of cockroach allergy that you should watch out for are:

  • chest discomfort
  • asthma attacks
  • breathlessness and wheezing
  • typical red, dotted and trail-like skin rashes
  • itching in various parts of the body, especially in the groin, underarms, neck and in-between digits
  • inability to sleep
  • ear infection
  • an aggravated sinus infection
  • persistent dry cough
  • constant sneezing
  • watery, red and swollen eyes

Sometimes, a cockroach allergy may even be life-threatening and manifest as dizziness, hives, inability to swallow, asphyxia and, at times, even anaphylactic shock accompanied by fits, nausea and vomiting or unconsciousness.

Diagnosis of cockroach allergy

It is not easy to diagnose cockroach allergy as the symptoms are similar to other allergies. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a doctor whenever you or your child suffer from an allergic reaction.

During the consultation, the doctor may inquire about allergy history, living conditions, medicine taken and so on.

If the doctor is still unsure of the cause of the allergy, he may suggest an Immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test. The IgE test is performed to check if the body has started producing antibodies against the allergen transmitted. Sometimes, a patch test, also called skin allergy test, can also help determine the cause of the allergic reaction.

Cockroach allergy treatment

In case of mild cockroach allergy, the doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter anti-allergy medication. Depending on the symptoms, some common treatment options include prescribing:

  • Antihistamines to reduce the intensity of the allergic reaction and prevent it from aggravating further. Commonly available antihistamines are in the form of tablets, nasal sprays and syrup.
  • Chemical-specific antagonists which block the chemical reaction responsible for causing the allergy. These could be prescribed depending on the manifestation and the form of allergy.
  • Decongesting agents to help thin the mucus that gets accumulated in the nose and lungs as a result of the allergy.
  • Immunotherapy if the allergy is persistent and lasts for a prolonged period.

Cockroach allergy prevention

Cockroach allergy can be prevented if precautionary measures are employed to keep cockroaches away. Follow these simple steps to prevent cockroach infestation in your house and its surroundings:

  • ensure proper segregation and disposal of household waste
  • clean and disinfect toilet seats, sinks and washrooms regularly
  • avoid keeping food in the open
  • ensure that cupboards and storage spaces are regularly cleaned and ventilated
  • fill cracks and crevices in walls or between tiles to prevent cockroaches from breeding
  • keep piles of paper or books in cool, dry places
  • disinfect kitchen cabinets routinely to avoid a musty smell
  • use good quality air-tight containers for storing food
  • spray pest repellents or use pest exterminators at regular intervals

Cockroach allergy and asthma

The presence of cockroach allergens can either cause an asthma attack or amplify an ongoing bout of asthma. Since cockroach allergens can be carried by air, they can be inhaled. And once breathed in, they reach the bronchial tubes and cause inflammation. Thus, for those susceptible to an asthma attack, ensuring that their surroundings are free of roaches is imperative.

Diseases caused by cockroaches

Apart from causing allergic reactions, cockroaches can also spread diseases. They harbour multiple harmful microbes on their body which can cause several health problems. Diseases spread by cockroaches are commonly referred to as cockroach diseases.

Some of the bacteria carried by cockroaches can cause life-threatening infections like typhoid, food-poisoning, E. coli disease, dysentery, diarrhoea and polio.

In case you feel you have developed an allergy which does not subside, contact your general physician or an allergist to understand the cause and receive the correct course of treatment. Also remember that, though cockroaches are present everywhere, you can take preventive measures to keep them away from your home. This way, you can also keep cockroach allergy at bay.

The article was published on 22 August 2019

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