Yesterday, my five-year old showed me the cockroach he so bravely stepped on while sweeping the front porch (yes, I use him for manual labor). I lovingly praised him with high fives and fist bumps but inside I was cringing. I’d like to think that in my mid-40s, I had outgrown sharing my abode with cockroaches. Those days were left to my decrepit studio in East Boston where I spent some of my twenty-something years.

As much as I hate to admit it, those nasty creatures are everywhere, even lurking around my grown-up-mortgage-bearing house. After a bit of research, I discovered my crunchy NorCal nemesis was the German cockroach (as opposed to the American cockroach, which prefers warmer climes). Be it Kraut or Yankee, he and all of his little friends need to go. Not just because they are gross (they are), or because they carry pathogens (diarrhea, food poisoning and dysentery are just a few of the fun results) – the main reason to ensure your home is cockroach-free is… ALLERGENS.

Wait, what? Allergens? Yes! The saliva, the skin, and the droppings of those buggers are well established allergen and asthma triggers.

“The leading [allergen] trigger tends to be insect-related. It tends to be dust mites, these tiny little bugs that live in our beds and pillows and carpets and all sorts of things, and larger bugs we can actually see, like cockroaches.” ~ Jorge P. Parada, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and medical director of the Infection Control Program at Loyola University

I apologize in advance for the creepy feeling that will stay with you days after reading this article, but as your mom would say, it’s for your own good. I’m helping here—truly. That borderline asthma plaguing your kid may be the result of houseguests you can’t see or hear. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), anywhere from 23 percent to 60 percent of people with asthma living in urban homes are sensitive to the cockroach allergen. To add insult to injury, the cockroach most commonly associated with allergies and asthma is my little fraulein friend, the German cockroach.

So how do you know if you or someone in your home is reacting to the cucaracha fiesta hiding somewhere in your home? Reactions depend on previous sensitization, the size of the cockroach population, and the home’s ventilation.

“Sensitization can take a few weeks or even months, so if you have no sensitization to cockroaches and they get in your house you might not see a reaction for some time,” he says. “If you get a big infestation, you’re already sensitized, and if the house is relatively sealed, you might have an asthma attack the same day.” ~ Jorge P. Parada, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and medical director of the Infection Control Program at Loyola University

One clue may be whether or not the allergies and/or asthma attacks are seasonal. If the symptoms occur year-round, the trigger is most likely coming from within the home. “Anyone suffering from wheezing, itchy eyes and nose, or a scratchy throat should visit an allergist or immunologist to determine what’s causing the symptoms. It’s not normal to feel that way.”

I sincerely hope this article caused more, “Ah” than “Ew,” although both reactions are expected considering the subject matter. Protecting your home—be it burglars or cockroaches—is a top priority, and arming yourself with knowledge is your best defense. Suit up—you may have a tiny six-legged army to fight.

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