Although asthma has been commonly associated with sensitivity to cockroaches, a clear causal relationship between asthma, allergy to cockroaches and exposure levels has not been extensively investigated. The objective of the present study was to determine whether asthma occurs more frequently in children living in homes with high cockroach infestation. The intensity of household infestation was assessed by the number of dead insects after professional pesticide application. Children living in these houses in the metropolitan area of Recife, PE, were diagnosed as having asthma by means of a questionnaire based on the ISAAC study. All children had physician-diagnosed asthma and at least one acute exacerbation in the past year. Children of both sexes aged 4 to 12 years who had been living in the households for more than 2 years participated in this transverse study and had a good socioeconomic status. In the 172 houses studied, 79 children were considered to have been exposed to cockroaches and 93 not to have been exposed. Children living in residences with more than 5 dead cockroaches after pesticide application were considered to be at high infestation exposure. Asthma was diagnosed by the questionnaire in 31.6% (25/79) of the exposed group and in 11.8% (11/93) of the non-exposed group (P = 0.001), with a prevalence ratio of 3.45 (95%CI, 1.48-8.20). The present results indicate that exposure to cockroaches was significantly associated with asthma among the children studied and can be considered a risk factor for the disease. Blattella germanica and Periplaneta americana were the species found in 96% of the infested houses.