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Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) declares May to be “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.” It’s a peak season for those with asthma and allergies, and a perfect time to educate your patients, family, friends, co-workers and others about these diseases.

There is no cure for asthma and allergies, and many deaths are preventable with proper treatment and care. Ten people a day die from asthma. Asthma affects more than 24.5 million Americans. More than 6 million children under the age of 18 have asthma. More than 50 million Americans have all types of allergies – pollen, skin, latex and more. The rate of allergies is climbing. Please join us in raising awareness for these common diseases.

Allergies can be debilitating and keep us from experiencing life the way we’d like to live it. There are many options for treating your allergies ranging from simple trigger avoidance, at home remedies, to more aggressive and long term treatments like immunotherapy (allergy shots). While each option offers some level of relief from your allergies, each carries its own set of risks and expectations, and should be evaluated carefully.

Since your allergy symptoms will only occur in the presence of an allergen, one option for reducing symptoms is to simply avoid the allergen. With easily identifiable allergens such as drugs and foods, this may be a reasonable strategy. However, since airborne allergens exist in such high quantities in the air that they are nearly impossible to avoid when they are in season.

Taking steps to minimize your exposure can be helpful to reduce your symptoms. Some options are:

  • Avoid going into natural areas during pollen season
  • Keep your windows closed to minimize the amount of pollen coming into your home
  • Use an air filter in your home
  • Clean your home regularly to prevent the build-up of dust and other allergens
  • Use mattress and pillow covers and wash these frequently

It is good to supplement these interventions with other treatments, such as short term use of OTC drugs like antihistamine or seeing an Allergy Professional for a long term solution. If you have asthma or allergies, you don’t have to decorate your yard with stones and concrete. There are many plants you can use in your home garden that won’t affect your allergies. You can choose from several flowers, shrubs, trees and more.

To make your garden more allergy friendly, check out the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale System (OPALS). It is a standard that considers the likelihood that a plant – flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees – will cause pollen allergy symptoms. Each plant is ranked on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the most allergenic. That means the OPALS® ratings can help you as a consumer, a gardener and person with allergies to reduce local pollen exposure.

So, even if your garden is more allergy friendly, pollen may still affect you in your neighborhood and when you travel both close and far away. Learn more creative ways to become more allergy savvy and reduce your impact of seasonal allergens. Many plants mate by releasing up to billions of pollen grains into the wind during spring, summer and fall. These include certain grasses, trees and bushes. You’ll want to avoid planting these types of plants in your garden.

Instead, get plants that use only insects to pollinate. Their pollen grains are much heavier and don’t travel through the air as easily. Also, plant more female plants. Female plants don’t shed pollen and trap pollen from male plants.

Pollen from certain trees are more powerful than others. These include mountain cedar, olive and birch. Some flowers, fruit trees and shrubs also have powerful pollen. Ask a nursery expert or a local plant specialist to help you find allergy-friendly plants. Make a list of those you’d like to see in your garden.


Working Outdoors

When gardening, use these tips to reduce allergy symptoms:

  •  Start taking allergy medicine a couple of weeks before pollen season starts.
  •  Wear a NIOSH-approved face mask, hat, glasses, gloves and a long-sleeve shirt to reduce your contact with pollen.
  •  Use gravel, oyster shell or plant groundcovers, like vinca or pachysandra, instead of wood chips or mulch. Mulch can hold moisture and encourage mold.
  •  Ask family or friends who don’t have allergies to mow lawns and weed flower beds.
  •  Keep your grass cut around 2 inches.
  •  Be careful about using hedges since their branches easily collect dust, mold and pollen. Keep them pruned and thin.
  •  Keep your windows closed while mowing and for a few hours after.
  •  Garden on windless or cloudy days when pollen in the air is usually lower. Also, garden in the early morning when pollen counts are also lower.
  •  Shower and change your clothes right away when you go back indoors. Remember, if you are sensitive to poison ivy, sumac, etc., wash your gardening equipment too.
  •  If you or someone in your family has a peanut allergy, be careful what gardening products you use. Some potting soils contain peanut shells.

Allergy Friendly Plants

Flowering plants:

  • Begonia
  • Cactus
  • Chenille
  • Clematis
  • Columbine
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Dusty miller
  • Geranium
  • Dahlia (formal-double)
  • Impatiens
  • Iris
  • Orchid
  • Bird of paradise
  • Pansy
  • Periwinkle
  • Petunia
  • Phlox
  • Rose (unscented, tea-type)
  • Snapdragon
  • Thrift
  • Tulip
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia

Grasses:

  • St. Augustine
  • Female cultivars of buffalo grass (such as Legacy or UC Verde)
  • Male sterile hybrid Bermuda grasses

Shrubs:

  • Azalea
  • Boxwood (if kept pruned)
  • Female English yew
  • Female wax myrtle
  • Female pittosporum
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea
  • Viburnum

Trees:

  • Apple and crab apple
  • Pie cherry
  • Chinese fan palm
  • Female fern pine
  • Dogwood
  • Female English holly
  • Hardy rubber tree
  • Magnolia
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Female red maple