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A recent study suggests that bed bugs produce large amounts of histamine that may be a health risk.

Most of us are familiar with antihistamines. They’re medicines that tame allergy symptoms. But what are histamines?

They’re natural chemicals your immune system makes. Histamines act like bouncers at a club. They help your body get rid of something that’s bothering you — in most cases, an allergy trigger, or allergen.

Histamines start the natural process that hustles allergens out of your body and/or off your skin. They can make you sneeze, tear up, or itch — whatever it takes to get the job done. They are part of your body’s natural defense system.

When you have allergies, some of your triggers — such as pollen, pet dander, or dust — seem harmless. But your immune system sees them as a threat and responds.

Your body’s intention — to keep you safe — is good. But its overreaction gives you those all-too-familiar allergy symptoms, which you then try to stop with an antihistamine.

Histamines Unleashed by Bed Bugs?

When you come across your allergy trigger, your immune system knows it and launches an immediate defense response.

First, it sends a chemical signal to mast cells in your skin, lungs, nose, mouth, gut, and blood. The message is, “Release histamines,” which are stored in the mast cells.

When they leave the mast cells, histamines boost blood flow in the area of your body the allergen affected. This causes inflammation, which lets other chemicals from your immune system step in to do repair work. Histamines then dock at special places called “receptors” in your body.

The result? If your nose was affected — say by pollen — histamines prompt thin walls, called membranes, to make more mucus. You can get a runny or stuffy nose. And you’ll sneeze. The mucus can also bother your throat and make you cough. Histamines can make your eyes and nose itch.

Did You Know?

When bitten by a bed bug, your histamines may kick in as part of your bodies defense system — in this case, because you really are under attack.

Histamine is a chemical compound the human body naturally produces that may cause inflammation and alert the immune system of any threats. Normal reactions to histamine production include allergic reactions with side effects like rashes or respiratory problems.

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment entomologists made eye-opening discoveries in a recent bed bug study, finding that bed bugs produce large amounts of histamine that may pose risks to humans.

A previous study showed links between excess histamine, especially in patients with a histamine intolerance, and health effects such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, irregular heart rate and asthma.

The Journal of Medical Entomology published a study that showed bed bugs can produce large amounts of histamine, with a single bed bug producing greater than 50 micrograms of histamine in just one week. Researchers found that in a hypothetical infestation of 1,000 bed bugs, the bugs could produce up to 40 milligrams in a week. That adds up to more than 2 grams of histamine per year without even considering natural population growth or the larger infestations that often happen in the real world.

Another important discovery was the role that bed bug diets play in histamine production. Researchers compared histamine production across three different diets including blood-fed, saline-fed and starved bed bugs. Researchers found that blood-fed bed bugs produced significantly higher amounts of histamine compared to the other groups.

Bed Bug Health Risk?

While bed bugs are a common problem in households across Phoenix, scientists typically don’t consider them a great risk to human health, aside from their bites, because they are not known to carry any pathogens. However, the issue of high-level histamine production raises a new potential risk from this pest. While scientists don’t know the specific health impacts of histamine produced outside of the human body like bed bugs produce, they suspect that bed bugs’ high level of histamine excretion may have negative clinical effects. The effects of such close, often direct, exposure to histamine, commonly seen in bed bug infestations, are also unknown.

Being exposed to high levels of histamine in our homes and more specifically in our sleeping areas where we spend large amounts of time is not a comforting thought.

Social justice implications? 

Anyone can get bed bugs, but not all of us have the resources to hire a professional exterminator to eradicate the problem. There is a significant portion of our population that will be left to deal with bed bugs on their own.  Getting rid of bed bugs is not your typical do-it-yourself project. Hiring a professional bed bug service can be expensive. Dealing with the health ramifications can be even more expensive and time consuming.

Phoenix Arizona’s Bed Bug Experts

If you have a bed bug infestation, give us a call. We will dispatch a trained and experience exterminator who can put you on the road to living bed bug free. Call for a free evaluation today. 602.308.4510

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