Which Household Pests Can Aggravate Your Allergies?


Having allergies can be rough. Commonly, folks blame their sneezing, stuffy nose and red eyes on pollen and dander, but those may not be the only reasons for those “Achoos!” Common household pests may be to blame, or may make seasonal allergies even worse. Let’s take a look at which household pests can aggravate your allergies.

Pests Most Likely to Aggravate Allergies

You know certain insects, such as bees, wasps, and mosquitoes, can set off allergic reactions with a bite or sting. But these four household pests only have to be around your home to trigger congestion, itchiness, and even asthma episodes.

1. Cockroaches

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A cockroach allergy may be more common than you’d think. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) says that 63% of homes —  and 78% of city homes — contain evidence of cockroaches. It’s not one type of roach, either: There are eight common types of cockroaches that can be found in homes.

Besides making your skin crawl at the very sight (nay, thought) of them, roaches carry diseases, bacteria, and parasitic worms. In addition, they may spark allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms.

When breathed in, dust mixed with roach saliva, droppings, and body parts can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Skin rashes
  • Congestion, runny nose, or postnasal drip
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • For asthma sufferers, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or pain
  • Itchy, red, or watery eyes
  • Sneezing

2. Dust Mites

Photo Credit: Gilles San Martin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Thousands of microscopic dust mites feed on the dust around your home. This includes your floors, window sills, little-used furniture, and your bed. Dust mites’ excrement and shed body parts can trigger allergic reactions.

Dust mites allergy symptoms include: 

  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Watery, itchy eyes

Dust mites also can induce asthma attacks, and are the predominant cause of allergic reactions in asthmatics. In hypersensitive people, dust mites can bring on acute attacks of bronchial asthma.  This pest may even be why many children develop asthma in the first place, allergists believe.

3. Rodents

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Besides spreading disease and destroying property, mice, rats, and other rodents can trigger allergies. The main source of allergies to mice? Urine that contains pheromones, which helps them attract mates. 

Rodent dander and saliva also can initiate allergic reactions. Signs of allergic reactions include:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Itchy nose and throat
  • Rashes and hives
  • Asthma attacks
  • Allergic bronchitis

Rodents aren’t just an urban-area problem, as they also are found in suburban and rural homes. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), 82% of U.S. homes contain mouse allergens. 

So what can you do to keep rodents out of your home? Check out our article detailing 14 Ways to Eliminate Conditions that Attract Rodents.

4. Fruit Flies

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Often mistaken for gnats, fruit flies swarm around ripe and rotten fruits and other foods.

There’s no need to worry about fruit fly bites: They don’t have teeth. But some people get itchy red bumps and rashes should one land on them. Also, a 1986 study showed that exposure to fruit flies can set off respiratory symptoms in some people.

How to Know if You’re Allergic to Household Pests

If you’ve been exhibiting allergic symptoms for more than a season, it’s time to see an allergist. Before determining a treatment plan, your allergist will test to see what will trigger your allergy symptoms.

Skin prick test. This test, usually done on the forearm in adults, will check your response to 50 different substances at once, including:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander

Skin injection test. Your doctor will inject a bit of allergen extract into your skin; a reaction should be present within 15 minutes. This test is usually used to determine a penicillin or insect venom allergy.

Patch test. A patch containing 20-30 allergen extracts is placed on your skin and you’ll wear it for 48 hours. This test is generally used to determine if a substance causes allergies to skin. 

How to Get Rid of Household Pests and Their Allergens

Getting rid of household pests can go a long way toward easing your allergy symptoms. A good way to do that is to adopt an integrated pest management approach for your home. This works by making your home less appealing to pests.   

How to Get Rid of Cockroaches 

Removing food and water sources will discourage roaches from taking up residence. A few steps:

  • Wipe off counters and tables after food prep and meals.
  • Sweep the kitchen and dining room floors regularly.
  • Keep trash in closed containers.
  • Repair leaky faucets and pipes.
  • Don’t leave standing water in the sink for long periods; change pets’ water bowls frequently.

If you need a pesticide: Cockroach baits can be effective. They eat the poison-laced food contained inside and share it with others in their nests, killing them at the source.

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites

The bad news: You’ll never completely get rid of dust mites. However, you can lessen their numbers. A few things you can do:

  • Clean surfaces: Wipe down furniture with a damp cloth.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstery and sweep floors often. (Some experts suggest
    replacing carpet with vinyl or hardwood floors.)
  • Place mattresses, box springs, and pillows in a plastic cover that seals off allergens. And keep pets off the bed.
  • Wash fabrics (slipcovers, bedding, curtains) often.
  • Consider HEPA filters for your HVAC system. And change furnace filters regularly. 

If you need a pesticide. Sorry, but conventional pesticides don’t work on dust mites. Studies have found that benzyl benzoate will kill dust mites, but not for long.

How to Get Rid of Rodents

Removing food and water sources help get rid of mice, too. But it’s also important to seal off entry into your home. A few places to check and seal off:

  • Attic
  • Basement 
  • Crawl spaces
  • Pipes to and from and washing machines, hot water heaters, and furnaces 
  • Fireplace

If you need another method: 

  • Spring traps are a quick and humane way to dispose of mice. Place where mice are likely to travel.
  • Bait stations contain poisonous blocks or pastes that kill mice. Be aware that if the mouse eats the poison, it likely will die somewhere else in your home (and leave an awful smell).  

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Like roaches and rodents, the best approach is to make your home non-welcoming and prevent fruit flies from appearing in the first place. A few things to try:

  • Don’t leave out food. Put produce in the refrigerator or cover it.
  • Don’t leave out partially consumed sweet drinks.
  • Keep trash and garbage in covered containers.
  • Rinse items before putting them in the recycling bin.
  • Sweep up crumbs and mop up spills from floors.

If you need a pesticide: Products containing pyrethrins can be effective, but can irritate skin and eyes. These pesticides also can be toxic to pets.

FAQ About Household Pests

How Can I Make a Fruit Fly Trap?

There are several methods; this one is simple and effective:

1. Fill several juice glasses or small bowls two-thirds full of cider vinegar.

2. Add two drops of liquid dish detergent to each glass, then mix.

3. Place where flies like to congregate. The detergent cuts the surface tension of the vinegar, so the flies will sink (and drown).

Do Cats Really Scare Off Mice?

It’s possible. According to a 2010 study, mice became fearful when they smelled a compound secreted by cats (and other predators). And some cats will run off mice, or … er … dispatch them. However, mice can always find a cat-free zone to nest in. Or your cat might prefer hunting catnip mice to the real thing.

If you are considering a feline mouse deterrent, be sure no one in the house has a cat allergy. Also, be mindful about where you place Ninja’s food and water: You don’t want to bring in another type of pest.

I Have Asthma. How Can I Safely Clean My House?

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation (AAFA) offers some allergy-friendly cleaning tips: 

— Open windows and run fans while you clean.

— Use a damp cloth to remove dust or a cloth that traps dust. Dry dusting can spread allergens around the house.

— Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Watch air flow, since some vacuums can push allergens back into the room.

— Take a shower and change clothes after cleaning. If you wear glasses, clean them, too.

— Reduce clutter 

If you’re severely asthmatic, always check with your doctor about how to safely handle cleaning chores.

When to Call a Pest Control Pro

To ward off any invasion of home pests, your best defense is a good offense. But some pests, like cockroaches and rodents, can be extremely hard to eliminate. If you’re having a difficult time, consider calling a pest control expert. A local pest control service can find the best and safest methods of eliminating your pest problem so that you can breathe easy.

Additional sources:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Main Photo Credit: Pexels

Linda Wolfla-Thomas

Linda Wolfla-Thomas is a Midwest-based writer who got a crash course in home maintenance when she bought her first house. She enjoys learning new repair skills, like replacing light fixtures and fixing a leaky toilet, but she’s learned that some things, like putting down floor tiles, are best left to the pros.

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