Allergies can put a serious crimp in gardening: A runny nose, itchy eyes, or a wheezing and persistent cough can drive allergy sufferers indoors during the growing season.
But there are many things you can do to reduce those irritations and remain a dedicated gardener.
Start by determining what’s causing your allergies. See an allergist for tests to define the problem. Then you can garden smarter by avoiding plants that give off harmful pollen, and working only when fewer spores are in the air.
An estimated 50 million Americans have seasonal allergy problems, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The cause is pollen from plants, trees, grasses, weeds and mold spores.
Peak season usually is March through October, but that varies by region. Tree pollen can be a problem as early as January in the South.
Some allergy avoidance tips:
• Gear up. Medications suggested by a doctor or pharmacist usually relieve the symptoms, said Leonard Perry, an extension horticulturist with the University of Vermont.
• Wear a mask. Simple paper masks leak, said Dr. Richard Weber, an allergist and president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. For more sensitive allergy sufferers, he said, “it makes more sense to get the more sophisticated masks with respirators on each side of your face.”
• Check the daily pollen count. Avoid direct outside exposure on high pollen days when it is sunny, dry and windy, said Dr. Clifford Bassett, the director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.
• Eliminate problem plants, especially weeds that can aggravate late summer and fall allergies, Bassett said. Choose plants that are less likely to cause allergies, such as azalea, bulbs, cacti, daisies, dahlia, pansies and petunias, dogwood trees, hibiscus, boxwood and yucca shrubs.