Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)

Little Stinkers: Patients Report Worsening Asthma and Allergy Symptoms around Stink Bugs

Published February - 28 - 2011 Print This Post

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, AANMA Founder and President. “So AANMA asked an allergist who knows.”  

Allergy to insects (dust mites, cockroach, ladybugs) is common, and Faoud Ishmael, MD, of Penn State Hershey Medical Center says, “We expect stink bugs are also a significant allergen, given their increasing prevalence in many areas. About half the patients I’ve asked say they have nasal allergy and asthma symptoms when 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 just by hanging around. They plan to conduct a formal survey soon.

The solution to diagnosing possible stink bug allergy exists inside the bugs’ odor-ific little bodies. “We’re characterizing proteins from the insect and hope to have an extract to use for allergy testing and shots,” Ishmael says. (Stay tuned to www.aanma.org for updates.)

Voyage of the stink bug. Kevin T. Hathorne, BCE, answers questions for Terminix’s “Ask the Entomologist.” He describes the stink bug’s journey: It crawls into a home for warmth in fall, hangs out in nooks and crannies during winter and tries to get out when spring comes – but the little guys often forget how they came in, and scurry into living areas.

“Once they’re in the structure, it’s difficult to get rid of them,” Hathorne says. “There may be hundreds in the attic and wall voids. And they don’t all come out at once. You might vacuum and remove a few but others show up the next day. Using insecticidal sprays or dusts in wall voids while the stink bugs are in there will kill them – but you’ll have odors from the dead bugs, plus other insects, such as carpet beetles, come feed on them.”

Hathorne’s best way to control stink bugs: Plan a preventive treatment for fall.  

  • Don’t roll out the welcome mat – properly seal spaces around vents, pipes, chimneys, windows, doors and other entryways with caulk. Fix damaged areas, including siding, and replace moisture-damaged wood.
  • Trim vegetation; tree limbs and bushes touching the house are convenient little bridges for stink bugs.
  • A professional pest-control company can safely 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. As for potential allergy symptoms? “The most worrisome effects are worsening of asthma (shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing),” Ishmael says. “If these symptoms persist, see your doctor.”