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Allergies health centre

Gardening with allergies

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Gardening is a popular pastime, but allergies can sometimes spoil this simple pleasure. It’s hardly a relaxing and stress-free hobby if your eyes are itching and your nose is constantly streaming.

If that sounds familiar, you are not alone. There are more than 18 million people with hayfever and seasonal allergies in the UK. Asthma and eczema can also be affected by airborne pollen and mould spores.

There are ways for the green-fingered to minimise symptoms and still enjoy their gardens.

We asked for tips from Maureen Jenkins, clinical director of Allergy UK.

1. What precautions can gardeners with allergies take?

If they have nasal, eye or skin irritation or rashes, a non-sedating antihistamine may prevent symptoms. If this does not control the nasal symptoms, a nasal barrier gel or spray can help.

Glasses help prevent pollen from landing on the eye and anti-allergy eye drops prevent reactions and treat inflammation and irritation. For asthma symptoms, their usual preventer inhaler should be used regularly, plus a reliever inhaler if extra symptoms occur.

For skin reactions, gardening gloves help and long sleeves and trousers prevent irritating reactions from plants.

2. Are there any particular shrubs, trees and plants that should be avoided?

Trees and shrubs that have catkins spread the most pollen. These include alder, ash, beech, birch, elm, gingko, hazel, mulberry, juniper, oak, pine, poplar, sweet chestnut, walnut and yew. Of these trees, birch is one of the most potent. It can trigger not only hayfever, but also oral allergies (i.e. allergies to certain foods). In recent years birch has become very popular to plant as a street or garden tree, distinguished by its very attractive silvery bark.

Some of these trees and shrubs are dioecious, which means male and females are separate plants. For lower pollen levels in the garden, you should plant females rather than males of the species.

3. Are there any plants, trees and shrubs that are better for people with allergies?

The species with flowers that attract insects are the best. You should especially opt for flowers where insects have to search for the nectar. Often these blooms are trumpet-shaped. Many are large and highly coloured. Generally, double-flowers are better than single flowers for lowering pollen levels in the garden. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.

4. Should a grass lawn be replaced?

You can use artificial turf, shingle, flagstones, brick or decking. If choosing artificial turf, ensure that it is good quality with a well-perforated base so that pollens can wash through when it rains or if you hose it. Tree pollens can settle on it temporarily, but it prevents grass pollen from your own garden and avoids the need to mow the grass, which can exacerbate symptoms in those with grass pollen allergy.

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