Having a home infested with pests is a real annoyance. Pests like flies, cockroaches, and rats are known to transmit hundreds of types of diseases, and they also come with a general stigma of filth—for good reason, too. As if the diseases aren’t bad enough, pests are also known to cause allergic reactions that can lead to asthma attacks.
If you have a pest problem, you aren’t alone. A survey found that more than 80 percent of homes in America suffered a pest problem over a year, with many experiencing problems with flies and rodents. The frequency of pest infestations can mean that millions of Americans are potentially at risk to being exposed to pest allergens. Now let’s take a look at what kind of pests can cause these allergic reactions.
The Types of Pests That Impact Allergies
Cockroaches are some of the most common pests to be found in homes in the United States because they can live in a wide range of temperatures. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology points out that over 60 percent of homes in the U.S. contain allergens from cockroaches. That number can rise up to as high as 98 percent in urban and highly populated areas.
Cockroaches are also some of the most disgusting pests. They’re known to carry a range of diseases with them, including the plague, dysentery, and gastroenteritis. Bacteria attach to their nauseating, unsightly skins and get carried all around your home. Because of the range that these pests cover, they leave behind a lot of waste. This bodily waste—let’s call it dust from now on—can come from their feces, slimy saliva, or just general shedding of their skin.
Some of the allergic symptoms cockroaches can cause include:
- Skin rashes
- Ear infections
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Postnasal drip
Cockroach dust is also known to induce asthma attacks, where you can find yourself constantly coughing and wheezing, having a general feeling of anxiety, and feeling tightness in your chest. It’s been reported that up to 60 percent of people with asthma who live in cities are allergic to cockroaches, making it extremely important to take cockroach sightings seriously if you have asthma.
What sets apart dust mites from the rest of the pests discussed in this section is that you can actually see the other pests. Dust mites are so small, however, that they’re invisible to the naked eye. The only way you can see them is under a microscope. Despite their size, 20 million Americans are allergic to them. They can causes irritating allergic reactions like watery eyes, a runny nose, and endless coughing.
Dust mites excel in room temperature settings from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. As unsavory as it sounds, these mites feed on your dead skin, and this can be found all over your home. In other words, there’s no place that dust mites won’t try to set up camp. Their waste (there can be a lot of it) is what causes the allergic reactions as it can mingle with mold and cockroach dust.
Various forms of flies have also been found to cause allergic reactions. Flies are known to harbor and transport at least 65 diseases, and they’re some of the most notorious pests when it comes to coming in contact with food. They can freely fly from plate to plate and restaurant to restaurant, picking up bacteria and cells from foods you’re allergic to and transport them to your area. Some of these species of flies include:
- Fruit flies: In one study, 30 percent of workers in a laboratory were found to have respiratory issues and skin rashes after coming in contact with fruit flies.
- Common housefly: Though not exactly common (one study described the occurrence of allergies to a “highly specific” situation), house flies have been found to cause nasal allergies.
- Horse flies and deer flies: These flies can cause allergic reactions like wheezing, which is caused by the flies’ “salivary secretions.”
Rodents like mice, rats, and guinea pigs have the ability to trigger allergic reactions when exposed to humans. These allergies are caused by their droppings, urine, saliva, and skin. There is a wide-range of symptoms associated with rat allergies, including a stuffy nose, itchy skin, eczema, and nausea. Like many other pests, rodents are known to enable asthma attacks because of their connection to allergies.
Even though most houses have some form of rodent allergens that can affect adults and kids, inner-city housing developments are at the highest risk of suffering from allergies caused by rodents because of the high concentration of pests in those areas. This is backed up by a study done of the most rat-infested cities in the United States, and the top five include some of the country’s biggest metropolises (in order, courtesy of USA Today):
- New York City
- Washington D.C.
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose
Even laboratory workers who do studies on rodents before human trials have been found to suffer allergic reactions and asthma attacks when overexposed.
How Do You Know If You Have A Pest-Related Allergy?
The problem with knowing if you have an allergy related to pests is that many of the symptoms for a pest allergy are extremely similar to the common cold. Here are some symptoms of the common cold, according to the Mayo Clinic, that are similar to the symptoms from pest allergies:
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Slight body aches or a mild headache
The difference with a pest allergy is that these symptoms often occur for weeks or months on end, and it’s usually because the allergens that cause the initial reactions are still present in your household and prolong the symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek a doctor and mention to him or her the longevity of your condition.
Once it’s understood that you may have a pest allergy, your doctor may run one of two main tests to discover the real issue.
Common Tests to Determine Allergies
IgE Blood Test
An IgE blood test directly gets to the biological interactions between allergens and your blood. IgE stands for Immunoglobulin E, and it is the antibody created by your body when it is trying to combat something your body is allergic to.
For this test, doctors take a blood sample and then add specific allergens they believe you are being affected by, like those from cockroaches, rodents, and dust mites. Once these allergens are separately added to samples of your blood, doctors measure the amount of IgEs your blood produced to see if it is trying to combat an allergy it has to the substance.
A skin test is a more simple process that is done either on or just under the surface of your skin to see if you’re allergic to something.
A professional will place a drop of the allergen thought to be affecting you on your skin. A nurse or doctor then has the option to leave the allergen on your skin or poke the area with a small needle to push some of the allergen under the surface of your skin. If you have an allergy to the substance, you will start to develop redness or an itchiness within 15 minutes of the allergen coming in contact with your skin, according to the ACAAI. It’s also possible you will develop a wheal, which is “a raised, red, itchy bump” that surrounds the affected area.
If the skin tests indicate that you may have an allergy, doctors then compare the results to your overall lifestyle and living conditions just to make sure that the effects aren’t due to another reason. Many of these allergies can be controlled and subdued with simple treatment and medication.
How To Clear Your House Of Pests
The biggest key to getting rid of pests is keeping your house as clean as possible. Cockroaches, flies, and rodents all harvest on human waste like old food and dirt, so the primary step is cleaning up.
Primarily, you want to make sure areas like counter tops, stoves, kitchen and bathroom floors, sinks, and showers are the cleanest, because drains and places where food are prepared give pests the primary entry spot and reason to stick around and feed. Pests are also attracted to standing water, so make sure no cups of water or spills are left around. You can check the visible pipes to make sure there are no leaks as well.
You should also pay attention to your trash situation. It’s important to keep trash cans sealed and make sure to change them frequently. If you notice a stinky smell because of garbage, then it’s likely that the pests already have, too.
As for dust mites, prevention for them is a bit tougher, but there are some steps you can take to make sure you subdue them as much as possible. The Center for Disease Control suggests you:
- Use mattresses and pillow cases as a barrier between you and dust mites. They love to eat dead skin, and your bed is a prime spot for that to pile up.
- Don’t have too much clutter in your room, whether it’s in the form of clothes, stuffed animals, or sheets.
- Wash your sheets on the hottest setting. It will help provide a temperature too hot for dust mites to survive.
If all other prevention fails, it’s advised that you call a pest prevention professional.