A: Have you ever seen someone jump up and scream when they saw a roach crawling through the kitchen? You’d swear that they were allergic to cockroaches, the same way you’d joke that cats are allergic to water or vampires to garlic. Unfortunately, cockroach allergens are no laughing matter. For people with asthma, a cockroach allergy can have huge quality of life implications and even prove fatal.

A: Cockroaches are the source for one of the most common indoor allergens in the world. While the exact connection between roaches and bodily responses is still being explored, what’s clear is that the allergens produced by cockroaches can trigger some nasty allergic reactions.

Cockroach allergens are actually proteins that are specific to the insect – other insects might produce allergens, but not like these. These proteins are found in cockroach feces, saliva, eggs and shed skin. As roaches crawl throughout your home, they leave these proteins everywhere, which are then inhaled or ingested by humans. Since roach allergen contamination can be completely airborne, you might not even see the roaches that are causing these allergic reactions.

Children are most at risk to roach allergies, due to their still-developing immune systems. The heavier the cockroach infestation and more severe the child’s proclivity to produce an allergic reaction, the more dangerous these roach allergens become. Heavy infestations that cause these cockroach allergies are common in all parts of the United States. German roaches that live and breed indoors can be particular nuisances.

A: For those that do suffer from an allergic reaction to cockroaches, the symptoms can vary. Most who are affected have a predisposed heightened response to allergens, meaning their bodies genetically produce more allergic reactions when exposed to certain environments. This is called ‟atopy.”

Atopy is typically associated with asthma, allergic rhinitis (similar to hay fever) and atopic dermatitis. Allergens from cockroaches have been shown to trigger all three of these reactions. Asthma attacks make it difficult for a person to breathe. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, a cough that doesn’t go away and chest tightness. These attacks can be fatal, so the lung disease must be treated by a doctor.

According to the University of Colorado Health website, other symptoms experienced by those who are allergic to cockroaches include chronic stuffy nose, itchy eyes, repetitive sneezing, postnasal drip, sensitivity to light, frequent sinus and ear infections, decreased sense of taste and smell, wheezing, chronic coughing and a skin rash (atopic dermatitis).

While only a doctor can treat allergenic and asthmatic symptoms, treating the underlying causes,/i> of the reaction is crucial. Medical treatments will only help mask and soothe the symptoms, not prevent them from recurring – for prevention, you need to disperse of the allergens themselves. To get rid of the allergens cockroaches produce, you have to eliminate cockroaches in your home.