Allergies and Cockroaches: did you know cockroaches can makew your allergies act up?

Allergies and Cockroaches

As if they weren't despised enough already, cockroaches are now being recognized as a growing cause of indoor allergies. There are no reliable figures on how many people are allergic to the critters, but studies suggest that many inner-city allergy sufferers and asthmatics are sensitive. Millions of Americans may be affected. Some allergists, including Platts-Mills, fear roaches may be partly to blame for the rising incidence of asthma in urban areas. Rhinitis and skin rashes may also occur. In rare cases the allergy can be fatal.

Researchers are working to identify the specific cockroach proteins that cause the reaction. In the meantime, people who think they may be allergic can be skin-tested by an allergist.

While they are most prevalent in the inner city, cockroaches also thrive in suburban apartment buildings and may even colonize individual homes, especially in warm climates. One study in Florida found single apartments with more than 13,000 of the pests. However, roach allergy may actually be a bigger problem in the northern states, says Bann C. Kang, M.D., chief of allergy and immunology at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. The reason: Long, cold winters keep roaches and people cooped up inside with windows shut, exposing inhabitants to high levels of allergens. The insects, notes Kang, can also infiltrate public buildings--factories, dormitories, hospitals, restaurants, day care centers and motels.

The ultimate "roach motel" is a building near the University of Florida in Gainesville. Cockroaches are the only guests, but they pay the price of being spied on by Richard Brenner, Ph.D., an entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The building is equipped with sensors that allow Brenner to monitor temperature, humidity, air flow, allergen concentrations and roach activity. Already Brenner has discovered that cockroaches benefit from the same warm, humid conditions that have allowed dust mites to flourish. That's one reason researchers think roach populations are rising. Another is that most species have few natural enemies in America because they originated in Africa or Asia, arriving here only in the last two centuries on slave and other trade ships.

Unfortunately, cockroaches have become resistant to many pesticides; these chemicals may aggravate allergy symptoms as well. So Brenner has developed a more benign (to humans, anyway) approach to extermination: a poison bait roaches find irresistible. The toxins in these baits are micro-insulated and are released only when roaches chew on them. Brenner expects the new bait to be marketed next year. Also on the horizon: a nontoxic repellant that cockroaches find so repugnant they stay away, and an attic vent designed to let cool, dry air from outside into the spaces where roaches thrive. Deprived of moisture, the insects either dry out and die or strike out in search of more hospitable quarters. Until such products and devices reach the market, experts recommend that you control moisture by fixing leaky pipes and not leaving dirty dishes soaking overnight.

You may also want to check out the allergies produced by dust mites; and learn about the control measures available, such as enclosing the mattress top and sides with a plastic cover or other dust mite impervious cover (available here), thoroughly vacuuming mattress pillows and the base of the bed. Put an airtight plastic or polyurethane cover over your mattress. This tip is number one for a reason: it is in your bed that you are closest to the mites and their feces and enclosing the mattress and pillows in a dust mite cover virtually eliminates the mites here. There are allergy controls, like the dustmite-proof fitted sheets. Mattresses covered with "fitted sheets" help prevent the accumulation of human skin scales on the surface.

What Can You Do?

Control measures and Sanitation

A number of researchers, like those at the University of Nebraska, have studied control measuresand have a set of recommendations that are proven to be effective. Recommendations focus on "dust control." One must reduce the concentration of dust borne allergens in the living environment by controlling both allergen production and the dust which serves to transport it. For the bedroom environment you will want to use some or all of the following methods. Many dustmite measures also work well for cockroach allergans. We have listed them in order of practicality combined with effectiveness.:

  1. The most effective means is to enclose the mattress top and sides with a plastic cover or other impervious cover (available here, click on allergy bedding on the left in the new page), thoroughly vacuuming mattress pillows and the base of the bed. Put an airtight plastic or polyurethane cover over your mattress. This is the method recommended by Consumer Reports (see their article here ). This tip is number one for a reason: it is in your bed (including the baby's crib) that you are closest to the mites and their feces and enclosing the mattress and pillows in a dust mite cover virtually eliminates the mites here. Encasement allergy controls, like the bug-proof fitted sheets are very effective and inexpensive . Mattresses covered with "fitted sheets" help prevent the accumulation of human skin scales on the surface. These sheets have the advantage of being waterproof, too, which helps protect your mattress from spills, babies and toddler's waste, too.
    In a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers recommend investing in hypoallergenic pillows and bed covers.
  2. Wash your sheets, pillows and blankets in very hot water.  Wash the sheets and blankets at least every two weeks. Wash your pillow every week or put a dust mite-proof cover (available here) on it and wash once per year. Your pillowcase goes over the dust mite cover. How hot is hot? The water used to wash your sheets and blankets should be at least 130 degrees F (54 degrees C). Set your washing machine to it's hottest setting. If the water doesn't seem to be coming out hot, you may want to check your hot water heater - you may not realize that most household hot water heaters have a knob that can adjust the temperature of the water it produces. For fabrics that may not be washed in hot water; just pop it into the freezer for 24 to 48 hours to kill dust mites.
  3. When traveling, Take your own pillowcases - When you stay in hotels (or with less hygienic friends and family): Take a dust mite impervious mattress (available here) , and pillow case cover along for when you stay at hotels - just think how disgusting their pillows must be!
  4. Clean weekly: Weekly change pillowcases, sheets, and under blankets, and vacuum the bed base and around the covered mattress.   Clean flooring: Use a damp mop or rag to remove dust. Never use a dry cloth or broom, since this just stirs up mite allergens.When vacuuming, wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling allergens. Then stay out of the vacuumed area for 20 minutes afterwards to allow any dust and allergens to settle.
  5. Clean daily: Daily damp dust the plastic mattress cover.
  6. Frequently wash all bedding (blankets, mattress pads and comforters) in hot water (130 degrees F [or 60 degrees C] weekly).
    Cold and warm water won't kill mites. Also wash curtains.
  7. Steam clean surfaces and materials that cannot put put through the washing machine: Using pure steam dissolves dirt and grime, while removing germs and bacteria from the surfaces that you're cleaning. Steam is also an economical and environmentally friendly thing to do. There is no longer the need to use harsh and toxic chemicals. It is also a great way to kill dust mites and bed bugs. See this steam cleaner: New Vapamore MR100 Primo Steam Cleaner.
  8. Remove carpeting and install laminate flooring, wood, tile, linoleum, or vinyl floor covering. Remove cloth drapes and blinds. (If you have carpet, vacuum every day.) Vacuuming your carpets and upholstery every week can help. See the caution about vacuuming below under tips. Vacuums with high-efficiency filters pick up more dust mites, but even standard vacuums work well enough. .
  9. Air Purifiers: While it is better to stop the dust mites at the source, reducing the dust levels in the air is a good secondary measure. Some pest control firms sell air purifiers to eliminate the food source of house dust mites. Although ozone air purifiers emit a low level of ozone (activated oxygen) that attaches to fungus, mold, and bacteria on skin flakes, EHSO does not recommend ozone generators (neither does the US Food and Drug Administration). The same ozone that is oxidizes the dust mites is bad for your health. Air purifiers that use HEPA filtration are more effective and safe to use. Various types of air purifiers can be attached to the central air return to decrease irritants. Most filters remove 50 to 70 percent of material. HEPA filters will remove up to 99 percent of the material; not just dust mite feces, but also all types of other allergens, like animal dander, dust, pollen, cockroach feces, etc...
    See this page for information about selecting an air purifier.Filtrete Micro Allergen Defense AC Furnace Air Filter,
  10. Furnace Air Filters: Clean or replace the air filters on your furnace or air conditioner at least once a month. Filters that are rated to trap allergens are obviously more effective than plain spun glass.You can find them at Home Depot, WalMart, Lowes and, you can find the top rated ones in many sizes on Amazon here:
    Filtrete Healthy Living Ultimate Allergen Reduction AC Furnace Air Filter, MPR 1900, 16 x 25 x 1-Inches
    Filtrete Healthy Living Ultimate Allergen Reduction HVAC Air Filter, MPR 1900, 14 x 24 x 1-Inches
    Filtrete Healthy Living Ultra Allergen Reduction HVAC Air Filter, Exclusive 3-in-1 Electrostatic 3M Technology, MPR 1500, 14 x 14 x 1-Inches
    Filtrete Healthy Living Ultra Allergen Reduction AC Furnace Air Filter, Captures Pollen & Pet Dander, Protects your System, MPR 1500, 12 x 12 x 1-Inches
    Filtrete Healthy Living Ultra Allergen Reduction AC Furnace Air Filter, MPR 1500, 20 x 30 x 1-Inches
    Filtrete Micro Allergen Defense AC Furnace Air Filter, MPR 1000, 20 x 20 x 1-Inches,