Cockroach allergies occur when an individual's immune system overreacts to proteins in the feces, saliva, and/or body of a cockroach.
Patients may develop a reaction after inhaling the cockroach allergens in the insect's feces or saliva or after the insect touches the skin. The allergens cannot be seen and they may become airborne, especially during vacuuming or sweeping. These allergens may persist in areas where the cockroach was present at one time. For instance, if cockroaches were eating from an open bag of chips on the kitchen counter, an allergic reaction may occur if the individual touches the counter.
During an allergic reaction to cockroaches, the patient's white blood cells mistake the cockroach allergens as harmful substances like bacteria. When the white blood cells attack the cockroach allergens, allergic symptoms develop.
Symptoms of cockroach allergy vary among patients. Common symptoms include itchy skin or nose and scratchy throat. Individuals with allergic asthma are the most likely to develop allergies to cockroaches. When these patients are exposed to cockroach allergens, they may have an asthma attack. The most severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, may cause shortness of breath, low blood pressure, and shock, all of which are potentially life threatening.
Cockroaches are considered one of the most resilient insects on the planet. They can live up to a month without food and can survive up to 45 minutes without oxygen.
Cockroaches are found all over the world. Cockroach allergy is most prevalent in urban areas and inner cities where they reside in high numbers. In fact, researchers at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) estimate that 23-60% of asthmatics who live in urban areas are allergic to cockroaches. Studies suggest that 78-98% of all urban homes have cockroaches. Cockroaches will eat virtually any food or garbage that is left uncovered in the home. Since more people live in urban cities, the cockroaches are more likely to find a suitable home in these areas.
Studies have shown that cockroach allergy is most prevalent among poor African Americans and Latinos. Researchers believe that this is because disproportionately high numbers of African Americans and Latinos live in urban areas.
Once a home becomes infested, the roaches reproduce quickly. It is estimated that an infested home or building may contain anywhere from 900-330,000 insects.
Allergy treatments for cockroach allergies depend on the severity of symptoms. The best way to relieve symptoms is to avoid contact with cockroaches. These insects are difficult to destroy and usually require the help of a professional exterminator. However, individuals can also purchase cockroach traps and poisons. If exposure is unavoidable, antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants, leukotriene inhibitors, and allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) may help relieve symptoms. Patients who have allergic asthma that is caused or triggered by cockroaches may benefit from inhaled corticosteroids or bronchodilators.
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