Stink bugs may worsen asthma, cause allergy

How rude! They sneak into your home uninvited and when you scare or smush them, they release a foul-smelling substance. "When stink bugs pop up in homes, do they cause allergy? There's not a lot of public information about it," says Nancy Sander, founder and president of Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA), the leading national family-founded nonprofit organization for people with asthma, allergies and related conditions. "So AANMA asked an allergist who knows."

Allergy to insects is common, and Faoud Ishmael, MD, of Penn State Hershey Medical Center says, "We expect stink bugs are also an allergen, given their increasing prevalence. About half the patients I've asked say they have nasal allergy and asthma symptoms around the bugs."

That prompted Ishmael and colleague Thomas L. Mertz, DO, to study stink bugs and their potential to wreak havoc on human immune systems. The solution to diagnosing possible stink bug allergy exists inside the bugs' odor-ific little bodies. "We're characterizing proteins and hope to have an extract for allergy testing and shots," Ishmael says.

Kevin T. Hathorne, BCE, describes the stink bug's journey: It crawls into a home for warmth in fall, hangs out in nooks and crannies in winter and tries to get out when spring comes – but often forgets how it came in, scurrying into living areas.

"Once they're in the structure, it's difficult to get rid of them," Hathorne says. "You might vacuum and remove a few but others show up the next day. Using insecticidal sprays or dusts kills them – but you'll have odors from the dead bugs, plus other insects, such as carpet beetles, feed on them."

Prevention in fall:

  • Seal spaces around vents, pipes, chimneys, windows, doors and other entryways with caulk.
  • Trim vegetation; no tree limbs or bushes touching the house.
  • A pest-control company can apply insecticidal dust inside of the attic and repellent insecticide in potential entryways.

For now, removing stink bugs one by one is the way to go. "Most worrisome is worsening of asthma (shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing)," Ishmael says. "If these symptoms persist, see your doctor."


Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics

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