New Allergen? Something Stinks!

Posted 12.20.12 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

Many Neocate families have to deal with allergens in the air and home as well as in foods. Even for people without food allergies, allergies to things in the air are pretty common. Some people have no allergy symptoms living in one part of the country, but experience new allergy symptoms when they move to a new area because the environment differs so much between different parts of the country. While it’s common to see new allergy symptoms appear in some people following a move, it’s not every day that you hear about a new allergen being uncovered that we didn’t know about before. When new allergy symptoms appear, allergists start asking questions. One question that’s been coming up recently has to do with an invasive insect species: the stinkbug!

Insects as Allergens

Most of us are aware that people can be allergic to things in the air, such as pollen. But did you know that people can also be allergic to insects? It’s true: about a quarter of people in the United States have some type of reaction to dust mites, and the same amount of people reacts to cockroaches. These insects are found in home environments, even if you don’t see them. So it shouldn’t be surprising for people to also be sensitive to other insects in the home environment.


Stinkbugs are officially called brown marmorated stinkbugs. They are an invasive species that came from East Asia, most likely arriving on cargo ships. They first appeared in the United States in the late 1990s. We call them stinkbugs because they have scent glands that produce a pungent odor that’s been described as cilantro-like. Because stinkbugs don’t have any natural predators in America, they have spread quickly in the past 15 years and have been spotted in over 36 states. Stinkbugs tend to migrate into warm homes in cold weather.

New Research

Research was published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that looked into whether or not people in a study group have allergic reactions to stinkbugs. The research team investigated this because of increasing suspicion of allergies to stinkbugs in the home, such as rhinitis and conjunctivitis. 

The authors tested a total of 15 subjects. 10 subjects had allergies and 5 had no allergies. Some of those with allergies were allergic to dust mites and some to cockroaches. All 10 subjects with documented allergies reacted to stinkbugs, and 1 of the 5 subjects with no prior allergies reacted to stinkbugs. This shows that stinkbugs are capable of inducing allergies, even in folks who haven’t had prior allergies, and is interesting information for allergists. You can find the full results of the research here.

The researchers conclude that stinkbugs represent a new “clinically significant indoor allergen.” Because stinkbugs are spreading fast and are often seen in high numbers, they may play an increasing role in allergies in the coming years. Especially as other allergens increase in the fall, including ragweed and fungi, it will be important for allergists to be aware that stinkbugs may be causing symptoms instead of other, more recognized allergens. Allergists could soon be asking their patients whether stinkbugs are present in the home if the allergy symptoms appear in the fall and winter in an area of the country where stinkbugs are common.

Do you or any members of your family have insect allergies and live in a state where stinkbugs have been spotted?

- Rob


Map: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology based on data from Penn State Department of Entomology 

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.