Updated 12 April 2019

This potential health risk of a cockroach will shock you

We know cockroaches are nasty, but did you know they can cause breathing problems?

A cockroach scurrying across the floor is something you don’t want to see in your house. And not only do they indicate filth, but it has now been discovered that cockroaches can affect your breathing.

Not only are these critters associated with indoor dirt, but they also carry debris that can have a detrimental effect on those prone to asthma and allergies.

What is asthma?

According to Health24, the symptoms of asthma are recurrent tight chest, wheezing or cough. These are triggered by stimuli like allergens, cold air, smoke, and respond to asthma pumps or nebulisers. Asthma involves two major elements: chronic inflammation of the airways, and episodic tightness in the chest (bronchoconstriction).

People predisposed to allergies are more prone to asthma as any debris that enters their airways tends to cause an allergic reaction, creating the tell-tale asthma symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing.

Why is the cockroach a culprit?

Decomposed debris and faecal matter from cockroach bodies easily become airborne. This can be breathed in, increasing the likelihood of an allergic response in the lungs – resulting in asthma. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), the saliva, faeces and shed body parts of cockroaches can have the same effect on asthma sufferers as dust mites.

But wait, there’s more

Unfortunately, killing the culprit can have even more dire consequences for the asthma-sufferer. Home-pesticides and insect repellents often make asthma symptoms worse. The negative effect of insect repellents on the respiratory system has been studied extensively, and the increase in asthma with the use of industrial and home pesticides is well known.

Treating a cockroach infestation with insect repellent in the hope of relieving asthma symptoms is therefore a catch-22 situation as the body also regards the chemicals contained in the product  as an allergen.

How to prevent asthma symptoms

If you suspect that cockroaches might be to blame for your asthmatic and respiratory symptoms, you might want to go to get to the root of the problem instead of filling your home with more allergy-triggering substances.

You can take the following measurements to avoid a cockroach infestation:

  • Keep your house clean and pay special attention to areas behind fridges and stoves.
  • Avoid big piles of newspapers or magazines where dust and moisture can collect.
  • Dispose garbage regularly and keep the garbage can away from the kitchen.
  • Regularly clean out wardrobes and cupboards to prevent dust and moisture build-up.
Not sure if you have asthma? Your symptoms might not always be as simple as a cough and breathing problems. Consult your doctor if you are in doubt. 


Ask the Expert

Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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