Do You Have a Cockroach Allergy?

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, there are also cockroach allergens. Cockroaches can also 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.

Cockroach on fork

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 the 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 the 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the signs of a cockroach allergy?

    The symptoms of an allergy to cockroaches are similar to other environmental or animal allergies: sneezing; runny nose; itchy eyes, mouth, and throat; cough; and a skin rash. These would occur when you are exposed to cockroaches or their droppings.

  • How can I reduce the impact of cockroach allergies?

    You need to limit your exposure to cockroaches and their droppings in order to avoid allergic reactions to them. This may mean stopping the insects from coming in or moving around your home by filling up wall and pipe cracks while setting bait traps. In addition, you should cover all garbage receptacles tightly, do not leave dirty dishes or food crumbs around, clean counters, and avoid leaving pet food out.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pomés A, Mueller GA, Randall TA, Chapman MD, Arruda LK. New insights into cockroach allergens. Current Allergy Asthma Reports. 2017;17(4):25. doi. 10.1007/s11882-017-0694-1. Published April, 2017.

  2. Mattison CP, Khurana T, Tarver MR, et al. Cross-reaction between Formosan termite (Coptotermes formosanus) proteins and cockroach allergens. Ahuja SK, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(8):e0182260. doi. 10.1371/journal.pone.0182260. Published August, 2017.

  3. Pomés A, Mueller GA, Randall TA, Chapman MD, Arruda LK. New insights into cockroach allergens. Current Allergy Asthma Reports. 2017;17(4):25. doi. 10.1007/s11882-017-0694-1. Published April, 2017.

  4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Cockroach Allergy.

Additional Reading
  • Weber RA. German Cockroaches. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007;99(2): A4.
  • Weber RA. Oriental Cockroaches. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009;103(4): A4.

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.