ShareThis Page

Can cockroaches help prevent asthma?

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Living with cats and cockroaches may reduce kids' asthma risk
Living with cats and cockroaches may reduce kids' asthma risk

Young children living in households with pests like mice and cockroaches along with pet cats might have a lower risk of developing asthma by age 7, a new study shows.

The research published last month in the journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology contradicts some previous findings that cockroach allergens cause asthma.

Pittsburgh pediatrician and asthma researcher Deborah Gentile said she's taking the study seriously.

“I'm not discounting this at all,” said Gentile, who works at of Pediatric Alliance health care system in Allegheny County. “There are some hypotheses about building up certain immunities through exposure to bacteria.”

Researchers examined 442 inner-city children living in St. Louis, Baltimore, Boston and New York City. They analyzed dust and found that those around higher levels of allergens as an infant were less likely to develop childhood asthma, a lung disease marked by inflammation of the airways.

Cockroach allergens were shown to protect most against asthma, with mouse and cat allergens also showing a benefit.

“Our findings suggest that primary prevention strategies for childhood asthma in low-income urban communities should probably not focus on home allergen reduction and that exposure to a broad variety of proteins in early life might have health benefits with respect to asthma,” researchers wrote in the study.

Gentile said the findings support a concept “hygiene hypothesis.” She said lack of exposure to allergens and bacteria in early childhood may hinder strengthening of the immune system, causing problems when it is later exposed.

Anecdotally, Gentile said she's treated patients who grow up in a home with cats and never exhibit allergy symptoms.

“They they go away for college, come home at Thanksgiving and all of the sudden they're allergic,” she said, explaining that their resistance may have depleted during time away from home.

By analyzing the childrens' umbilical cord blood, researchers also found that those who had been exposed to tobacco smoke in utero had a higher risk of asthma. Higher asthma rates were also connected to mothers reporting high levels of stress and depression.

Of the 442 children, 29 percent (130) had an asthma diagnosis by age 7. Higher amounts of cockroach, mouse, and cat allergens measured in house dust during a child's first three years of life were linked to a lower risk of developing asthma.

Gentile said the research could ultimately show that cockroach allergens possibly contain protective bacteria against asthma.

“There's still no clear-cut consensus with allergies, but we know that when babies first come home from hospital, they don't have allergies or asthma yet,” she said.

The study was federally funded and included researchers at Washington University, Boston University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, U.C. San Francisco and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.